Captain’s Blog

4 Unique Orca Behaviours to Watch for this Summer

July 9, 2015

Imagine you could live anywhere in the world. What would your home look like? Would you live on a secluded island where you’d search for fresh fruit and hunt for wild game? Or would you hide yourself deep in the forest in a cabin, chopping firewood and living off the land?

Warm-blooded mammals, whether they walk on two legs or swim with two flukes, are dependant on the environment in which they live. Orca behaviour off the coast of British Columbia is a prime example of wild animals who get to choose their habitat.

The Orca whales living off the coast of British Columbia, in the straight of Juan De Fuca, have a choice, and they choose to make our back yard their home.

Here’s the four main activities you’ll see in our marine neighbours this summer.

1. Travelling

Out of every possible climate and environment on the planet, orcas keep coming back to the waters surrounding Vancouver Island, specifically the capital city of Victoria, BC. Like every mammal on Earth, BC’s orcas travel in search of food first and foremost. As the salmon run begins in March or April each year, families gather in large numbers to feed heavily for six months.

As you can imagine, orca families can eat. A lot. Occupying the top of the food chain for hundreds of years requires quite the appetite.

So how do they make sure everyone gets fed?

2. Transmitting

“Orcas can be travelling anywhere between ten and 20 miles per hour and spread out over great distances and still understand jokes being told by their cousins,” says Sheenah Duclos, the Head Naturalist at Orca Spirit. “The whales are social animals, they live together and work together to keep everyone safe and happy. Orca behaviour is dependant on their society – how they speak to each other is a crucial component of their survival.”

The vocalization range of a pod of orcas is not only gigantic, but possesses different dialects amongst different groups. In fact, according to Lisa Stiffler, the variation in dialects in pods of orcas can be as distinct as Russian and Greek. Some groups even have their own accents.

3. Feeding

And what does all that travelling and communication lead to? Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Just like getting up from the couch to make a sandwich, right?

Well, maybe not quite the same.

Orca whales searching for food are divided into two groups; transients and residents.

Transients. Like a pack of wolves, transients rely on stealthy hunting tactics to take down larger mammals such as porpoises and seals. Learn more about transient orcas.

Residents. More vocal than their transient counterparts, residents stay closer to the pod and use echolocation to find fish and the occasional squid. Learn more about resident orcas.

The transients and residents still swim in the same waters, the main difference is that transients will roam in a wider area in the search for food.

4. Diving

One of the most important orca behaviours to predict the location of a pod is diving. Orcas typically dive for 2 or 3 minutes in a common direction, so once the surface pattern is established, tour groups can follow along and watch the whales go about their daily business.

“There’s nothing quite like seeing a whale breach for the first time,” says Sheenah. “Actually, I’ve been watching it for years and it still gets me every time.”

Watching orca behaviour like travelling, speaking, eating and playing is like opening up the roof of a house to take a peek inside. Their intelligence, their ingenuity, their grace – watching a family of orca whales in their natural habitat is a beautiful experience.

An experience that just might encourage you to think twice about the next place you choose to live.

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