Humpback Whale, Transient Orcas, Seals & Sea Lions
September 22, 2018
Fall was settled in on the Salish Sea, bringing calm waters and cooler days. We left the bustle of the city behind as we cruised west on the peaceful waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We were just past Race Rocks Lighthouse when we spotted the blows from a little humpback we call Gherkin. Gherkin is a very small humpback to be seen without his Mom, so we think that he sadly lost his Mom since he was born, likely some time last winter. He is doing well though as we usually see him diving down and gulping tiny herring and krill.
We then shifted our focus to the land lubbers at Race Rocks Lighthouse. Here we are fortunate to see hundreds of sea lions, both Steller and California species reside here between August and May, only leaving to go charm the ladies at distant female rookeries. We also spotted the much smaller Harbour seals taking some time to relax on the islands and then we spotted Ollie the sea otter, resting in the kelp beds. He was holding his latest river otter victim on his tummy. Beyond cute, sea otters have a mean streak in them as well!
As we cruised back towards Victoria, we received a radio call that orcas were spotted just south of us! Not wanting our guests to miss out on a killer whale siting, we extended our trip a bit and turned around to go see the transient killer whales. We knew right away that they were mammal hunters by looking at their dorsal fins and closed saddle patches. They go up and down the coast, searching for unsuspecting prey like seals, porpoises and sea lions. It was interesting to see the differences between humpbacks and orcas in once trip!
With orcas sighted at the end of our morning tour, we were ready to relocate the black and white whales once again this afternoon! We took a turn to the west where we caught up with transient or Bigg’s killer whales. This eco-type of orca travels in matrilines rather than pods, needing to stay in small groups to stay stealthy for hunting mammals like seals, sea lions and porpoises. They could even take out baleen whales, something not seen often, but they are always on the menu for transients!
As they made their way further west, we spent some time at the 158 year old lighthouse known as Race Rocks. The black and white tower stands tall, guarding the hundreds of seals and sea lions that live on the islets surrounding the designated Marine Ecological Reserve. Here the Steller sea lions growled and roared, while the California sea lions barked into the afternoon air. Harbour seals also use the area as a haul out, taking some time away from the chilly waters to soak up some sun.
Bait balls were also seen all over, easily spotted by the hundreds of marine birds that flock over the large groups of bait-sized fish. Also harvesting the rich food source are humpback whales! We got to experience a Double Creature Feature as a humpback was spotted surfacing with it’s huge misty blow. A massive tail fluke rose from the waves as the humpback lunged down to gulp up some more food, prepping for it’s long journey to Mexico, Costa Rica or Hawaii that usually begins in November. It was another amazing afternoon with west coast wildlife.