Captain’s Blog

The Whales Are Migrating! What Can You Expect to See?

November 11, 2015

There are few sights more powerful than witnessing a life take its course beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean. Especially when it involves witnessing life as it’s lived by one of our planet’s largest, oldest creatures.

Watching whales migrating is a dramatic reminder of the energy required by these majestic animals to maintain their health and prosperity, and it’s fascinating to note the reasons for their movement. It’s mid-November and all eyes are on the migration patterns of coastal British Columbia’s whales, and thankfully they don’t mind the attention!

So why do Grey Whales, Humpbacks and Orcas swim to waters all over the world? Well it all comas back to a mammal’s basic reasons for existing: mating, feeding and raising a family.

Breeding

The Grey Whales living off the coast of British Columbia follow basic baleen whale migration patterns: they breed in warm low attitude waters close to the equator so offspring are born in calmness and solitude. In October and November, Grey Whales make the trip south from Alaska to Californian and Mexican waters.

Because of the unique temperatures in the Pacific Northwest, some Greys stick around Victoria and Vancouver throughout the year as well.

Feeding

There’s nothing like the feasts in colder, higher attitude waters. After breeding, Grey Whales pick up and make the return 20,000km trek back along the pacific coast to feeding grounds in Alaska and the high arctic circle. Humpback whales follow similar migration patterns, though they’re known to take their time, socializing with the pod along the way. Might as well make the trip an enjoyable one, right?

When it comes to Orca whales, their travelling habits are also dependant on nearby food sources, but studying the Southern and Northern Residents living off the coast of BC has proved these animals don’t stick to a predetermined route if it doesn’t serve them.

Orca Migration

While larger whales are migrating south for the winter, Orca whale migration patterns tend to be a bit less predictable in the winter months.

Off the coast of Vancouver Island, the Southern Orca Resident community has been tracked as far north as the Queen Charlotte Islands all the way to the central Californian coast. Orcas travel to follow their primary food source, but they also seem to visit places for no particular reason other than it fits the needs and desires of their pod. While orcas might follow sea lions to ensure a nearby food source, outside of their predictable movements between April and November, the Southern Orca Residents seem to have longevity figured out.

Case in point is an Orca named Granny who was measured at 101 years old in the summer of 2012. Granny is the oldest known Orca in the entire world!

This winter you might be able to catch a glimpse of Granny and the rest of J-Clan at their favourite spot, the western side of San Juan Island in Washington State.

Orcas can also mate any time during the year, which is important when your gestation process lasts up to 17 months. This is one of the reasons Orcas aren’t known for the long trips as seen in Grey and Humpback Whales.

The Migration of Mammals

There’s no replacement for a warm, comfortable spot far from home during the wet or snowy winter months.

And I’m not just talking about whales!

The weather has a significant impact on warm-blooded mammals whether it be whales migrating through the waters of the Pacific or people walking the streets of Victoria and Vancouver. While we share some striking differences (such as flukes and flippers vs arms and legs), our similarities are obvious as well. We both prefer to have children in a comfortable place and ultimately we’ll follow our food source.

Sure, we might not drive 20,000km’s for a chinook salmon dinner, but ultimately human beings are at the mercy of available food sources just the same as our marine counterparts.

So who’s up for a trip to California?

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