Sunshine and zodiac tours watching transient Orcas - what a perfect start to this Sunday!
July 5, 2011
We had a fabulous morning to start our whale watching adventure today! The sun was shining bright, keeping us warm from the cool breeze as we motored along the very calm waters of the Juan de Fuca straight. We headed east out of Victoria to Haro Strait, we then turned north towards Pender Bluffs of South Pender Island. We were elated to spot the misty blows and shiny black dorsal fins of killer whales. Several different groups of 5 to 7 whales were off three different directions of the boat. We watched as one of the groups hugged the shoreline, displaying numerous tail slaps as they worked together to chase and catch salmon. It was amazing for all aboard when two of the whales spy-hopped, lifting their heads above the water, letting us see their unique white eye patches! A young whale named Star (J-46), spy-hopped, then turned towards the direction of the boat. She only got a few meters before her mom, Polaris (J-28) swam in front of the curious whale and steered her back to the herd! We also spotted the tall dorsal fin of one of our favourite J-pod males, Blackberry (J-27). He has become the new icon of J-pod, with his distinct saddle patch, and almost daily sightings. Amongst the whales we watched this morning there was a mix of the K-pod and J-pod families. Combined, these 2 pods make up 47 of the 89 whales that compose the southern resident population. Guests and crew all enjoyed the many whales that we could see in all directions. A beautiful morning was had by all who joined us on our trip afloat the Salish Sea!
This afternoon, we boarded the Pacific Explorer and headed out into Juan de Fuca Strait in search of orcas, humpback whales, and other marine mammals. We crossed Constance Bank, scanning the waters for the blows of humpback whales and the dorsal fins of killer whales. We continued our journey east, and arrived at Hein Bank, about 5 miles off the southern end of San Juan Island. Hein Bank is a special place and a great spot to find marine mammals. Upwelling from deeper waters to the shallow bank areas brings nutrients up, which helps in the production of plankton. Plankton is eaten by bait fish such as herring and sand lance, which in turn, is food for large fish and marine mammals like the minke whale. A huge abundance of sea birds, including rhinoceros auklets. pigeon guillemots and a variety of gulls were all positive signs for the presence of minke whales. Sure enough, Captain Lyle spotted a minke whale lunging through a nearby bait ball. We spent several minutes in the company of a minke whale, with the distince smell of the blow providing a unique olfactory experience. With the beautiful backdrop of Mount Baker and Mount Ranier, we had an enjoyable afternoon at Hein Bank. On our return back to the harbour, we enjoyed the company of another common marine mammal and watched several speedy Dall's porpoise near Seabird Point.
On the evening trip, we headed to Salmon Bank, a minke whale hotspot over the last several weeks and a popular feeding ground for minke and killer whales. A variety of sea life, including guillemots, auklets, gulls, and harbour seals showed just how rich these feeding grounds can be. We were sure that minke whales were nearby, and spent several minutes examining the flocks of birds and scanning the seas in search of any sign of a minke whale. Unfortunately, the moderate winds and somewhat choppy seas made spotting difficult and we left Salmon Bank to continue our search elsewhere. We crossed Haro Strait and arrived at Beaumont Shoals, where we spotted several porpoise - most likely harbour porpoise. Continuing our journey, we scanned the shoreline of the nearby islands for eagles and seals. We soon found a mature bald eagle perched in a nearby tree and watched several harbour seals swimming in the waters nearby. After that, we headed past Trial Island lighthouse with the scenic backdrop of the Olympic Mountain Range and headed for the harbour after another wonderful wildlife adventure on the Salish Sea.