Transient Orcas and Harbour Seals
July 30, 2018
As we departed the inner harbor this morning we headed out west into the Strait of Juan de Fuca in search of marine life. Not long into our journey we heard word on the radio of a pod of Transient killer whales in the area. When we arrived in the area where the whales were last spotted our breaths were taken away as two of the largest male killer whales we have ever seen emerged from the water. Their dorsal fins towered six feet tall as they cut through the surface of the water. The pod was made up of four individuals – the two large males, a juvenile, and the matriarch female, who is likely mother to the rest of the members. The whales traveled at a fast speed, porpoising through the water as they went.
After enjoying time with the whales we turned our course east and headed towards the Chain Islands in hopes of getting a glimpse of the Transient whale’s favorite prey source – harbor seals. It was low tide as we pulled into the cluster of islands and lots of harbor seals were hauled out on the rocks sunning themselves. We even got to see a tiny seal pup nursing from its’ mother. The residents of the Chain Islands have all had babies lately and we also saw a mother seagull feeding her fuzzy grey chicks.
The large population of harbor seals and other pinnipeds we have living in the Strait of Juan de Fuca allows a large and very successful population of Transient killer whales to inhabit our waters. The Chain Islands is just one of many areas where we can expect to find large colonies of harbor seals.
This afternoon we departed the inner harbor aboard the Pacific Explorer and headed east – crossing Victoria’s waterfront on our way out to Haro Strait and the San Juan Island archipelago. From our sightings network we knew that there was a pod of Transient killer whales in the area that had just finished hunting harbor seals off of Oak Bay. We caught up with the pod of four whales in Andrew’s Bay off of San Juan Island. The pod consisted of two very large males, a juvenile and the matriarch female.
Having just fed the whales leisurely cruised the coastline, moving quite slowly and not taking extended dives – they must have been very full! Harbor seals are the favorite prey source of Transient killer whales within our waters and Victoria boasts a very high population of seals. On our tours this season we have seen countless female harbor seals with pups. This helps to ensure that there will remain to be a large population of seals in our waters and – as a result – a healthy population of Transient killer whales in years to come.