Bald Eagles, Humpback Whales, Orcas, Seals, Sea Lions
October 7, 2018
It was a rainy Sunday morning but lucky for us, marine mammals are already wet! We took the Pacific Explorer west of Victoria and scanned the water’s surface for puffy, white exhales, dark fins, and foamy white splashes. We made it out to Race Rocks Lighthouse, a marine ecological reserve that is just 9 nautical miles from Victoria’s harbour. At first we spotted one giant of the sea- a humpback, but then there was another and another and another! We actually counted 5 different humpbacks foraging in the vicinity of the lighthouse.
To think that these majestic whales were once hunted to the brink of extinction but now grace our local waters from March until November is incredible. Humpbacks are lesson in the power of conservation as the population has rebounded significantly since they were protected from whaling activities globally. Today they continued to feed on fat-rich herring, preparing for their upcoming journeys to Mexico, Costa Rica or Hawaii.
One of the most exciting events during the trip were the Steller sea lions who were tossing their fish around in different groups! Sea lions eat many different kinds of fish, but like us, they don’t like the guts. To free their fillets of guts, they toss the fish around and slap in on the surface of the water to cause the belly to split open and spill out the less desirable insides. The gulls have a hayday as they get a free meal. In nature, nothing is wasted!
We also got to see more sea lions at Race Rocks Lighthouse, including the dark brown California sea lions. But no one can top the adorable face of Ollie, our local sea otter. He was all wrapped up in the Bull Kelp and napping in the drizzle. He tends to tuck his paws close to his face when sleeping, making for very cute photos. Ollie keeps warm in the cold waters and cool air temperature by having one million hairs per square inch on their body. We waved good-bye to all the wonderful wildlife and headed back to the harbour.
It was an exciting afternoon on the flat calm waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca! We got really lucky because mammal-hunting orcas known as the T065A family were hunting along the shorelines of Chatham and Discovery Islands. This family has one teenage male – T065A2 – who is sprouting a tall fin with a large nick near the top. His youngest sibling is just four years old and we do not yet know if this little one is a male or female. The leader of the family is their mother, T065A, who has done a fabulous job of raising 4 offspring in her lifetime. She could still have more babies as she just 32 years old. Female orcas usually go through menopause around the age of 39.
We also spotted Harbour seals in the water and lying on the rocks. Harbour seals are very abundant locally and provide an excellent food source for the Threatened transient killer whales. They are part of a delicate food web of predators and prey. Without healthy seal populations, we will not have healthy transient orcas. The abundance of Harbour seals is helping the mammal-hunting orcas to increase in population size. We hope that someday these apex predators will no longer need to be on the Species at Risk Act.
We had flippers, fur and then the feathers appeared! We saw 3 different Bald eagles in a small area! One was on a tiny rock near Chatham Island, one was on a slightly larger island near Victoria’s shoreline, and one was getting a good view from the top of Seabird Point Lighthouse. Eagles have also increased significantly in number in the Pacific Northwest in recent years, making them a more common sight on our tours. Their size and distinctive colours are always impressive against the rugged background of the islands. Check out pictures from our trip my visiting our Flicker page.