Sunshine and zodiac tours watching transient Orcas - what a perfect start to this Sunday!
August 2, 2011
We never would have guessed such a calm trip would bring so much abundance and diversity of wildlife; however, the bright sun and sparkling sea gave light to a fabulous feeding frenzy this morning off of False Bay on the southern half of San Juan Island in Washington. There were resident L-pod Orcas feeding on salmon along the steep coasts of San Juan and we were able to identify the L12 group specifically. The L12 group consists of grandmother Alexis (L12), her two granddaughters Matia (L77) and Calypso (L94), her grandson Mega (L41), and last but definitely not least her great granddaughter (L113) who is Calypso's two year old daughter. They were diving and rolling around in the bright waters, hunting the Chinook and Coho Salmon that are migrating into the Juan de Fuca and Haro Straits and who are later to make their way into the rivers along our coast (primarily the Fraser River in Vancouver).
The Orcas were not the only creatures out this morning who were hungry; there was a female California Sea Lion not too far from our boat who caught fish after fish. She would take hold of the Salmon in her teeth and smash it on top of the water, hoping to dislodge the inner organs (sea lions don't like guts) so the protein rich meat would be left clean and ready to eat. She did this for several minutes while passengers and crew snapped photos of this fascinating phenomenon. Her actions did not go unnoticed by other creatures, in addition to us watching from aboard the Orca Spirit, a half dozen gulls appeared to pick up some scraps and swooping in from the shore a Bald Eagle! The Eagle soared around with the gulls, scanning the situation for just the right moment to soar in and steal the fish. After a minute or two it decided that this sea lion was unlikely the best spot for lunch and that it was too much energy chasing gulls and made way back to shore.
Meanwhile the Orcas continued to travel North, hunting and splashing their tails. We got some final farewells to the whales and the sea lion before cruising back towards Victoria. We stopped at some favourite spots to check out the Harbour Seals beached on the rocks. The Chain Islands and Trial Island were awash with seals, gulls, and cormorants, all drifting in the Bull Kelp beds or perched on rocks. Finally back to Victoria! The only complaints this morning's trip brought were sore eyes from having too much to see at once!
Today proved to be a fantastic day on the water! We cruised out of the harbour on calm seas and headed towards San Juan Island, WA where we had seen orcas earlier today. We spotted the iconic black dorsal fins belonging to the killer whales. We seen whales grouped in several areas along the coast, apparently more of L-pod came into the area since the morning when we had the L-12 matriline with us. L-pod is the largest of the 3 resident pods with 42 family members. Naturalist Elizabeth was quick to identify the L-22 family group, headed by mom Spirit, who was born in 1970. She was accompanied by her two sons L-79 or Skana, born in 1989, and Solstice or L-89, born in 1993. These males are known to sandwich their mom between them, demonstrating how close orcas remain to their mothers and other immediate family their entire lives.
It is not every day that we get to see so many adult males as the population of males to females in the community is much lower. This is just one of the many ill effects that the live capture trade, where killer whales were stolen from wild populations to put into aquariums. All the aquariums wanted males with the charismatic 6-foot dorsal fin, so they removed almost every reproductive male in the population in less than 10 years. Fortunately there are now adult males in all 3 pods once again. On our way home we stopped to look at the Harbour Seals relaxing along the rocks, light coloured pups beside their moms. We would like to thank all our guests for choosing to view whales in the wild with us today; we know everyone enjoyed their day!
This evening we boarded the comfy Pacific Explorer with some wonderful guests! After a runway fashion show featuring our lovely orange life vests, we headed east towards San Juan Island for the 3rd time of the day. But I must add that no matter how many times we see whales, it never gets boring, there are always new things to see. As we approached Trial Island, we found a juvenile bald eagle perched on a post. We also spotted several chunky Harbour Seals lounging along the seaweed covered rocks. We moved on in search of whales, and success was near. We found ourselves of the western banks of San Juan Island when the first glance of killer whales occurred. We had the pleasure to watch members of L-pod, one of the 3 pods that make up the southern resident population. The whales appeared to be in a relaxed mood, cruising slowly south. Earlier this morning the whales encountered salmon making there way to the fresh water streams to spawn. The whales must have had a great feast and were spending time digesting the day's feast.
Our guests were eager to learn all about the whales, and nothing makes a naturalist happier than guests wanting to know more about our favourite animals. Guests were curious to know how whales sleep, by shutting down one hemisphere of their brain to rest, while the other half controls movement and breathing. We also discussed how sensitive the orca families are to the coming of new calves, and the care they provide to new family members. It was such a fun night talking about orcas as we watched them gracefully swim through Haro Strait. We always need to remember that we are privileged to see an endangered population in their own habitat, doing what whales want to do! Thanks again to our awesome group of guests; you were all wonderful and unforgettable!