Victoria Whale Watching Report: Killer Whales & Humpback Whales
June 28, 2019
This morning we left the Cruise Ship dock heading West through the Juan De Fuca Strait.
After a short time, we arrived with a pod of Transient (Bigg’s) Killer Whales! This type of killer whale specializes on hunting marine mammals. They were moving quite fast, but we were able to see them coming up to breathe several times while we were there. We believe this pod of whales was the T77 family. The largest dorsal fin we saw belonged to a male born in 2000, so he is not quite full-grown yet! Believe it or not, his dorsal fin will still get taller.
Killer whales have unique dorsal fin and saddle patch combinations that allow us to identify individuals.
We were lucky this morning because there were Humpback whales around as well! We saw three of them in separate spots. We saw them show their flukes several times and one was continuously breaching in the distance! We could see huge splashes from quite far away. When we got closer to this very active whale, it seemed to have tired itself out. However, it was close enough to our boat that we could hear it breathing.
After spending time with the Humpbacks, we went to Race Rocks to look at even more wildlife! This area has been an ecological reserve since 1980 and is home to the second oldest lighthouse in the Canadian Pacific.
Here we saw two Bald Eagles perched on a rock, and several Harbour Seals hauled out on some rocks lower down. We even managed to find Ollie the Sea Otter! He is the only one we have in southern Vancouver Island.
As we were leaving, we were also fortunate enough to see an Elephant Seal splashing around in the water.
We then headed back to the dock, after a very special morning of wildlife viewing!
This afternoon was beautiful as we ventured out into the calm waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
We travelled south and it wasn’t long before we spotted our first humpback whale of the day!
For humpback whales, our waters are a feeding ground during the summer months. Here, these 30-tonne animals will eat over 1 tonne of krill or small schooling fish per day! They must do this because during the winter breeding season down in Mexico, Costa Rica and Hawaii, they don’t eat at all! Humpbacks are filter-feeders. They have about 800 to 1000 individual plates of baleen (made of keratin) that filter out their prey from 20,000-litre mouthfuls of ocean water! We were able to identify the individual whales we saw today as Hemlock and MMZ0041 from the pigmentation patterns on their flukes. We could also see the blows from numerous other humpback whales in the distance. We were surrounded!
We then got a report of killer whales west of us and headed that way. We came upon a large group of transient (Bigg’s) killer whales – the mammal-eating ecotype that feeds on seals, sea lions, porpoises, whales and other dolphins. Usually, we only see transient orcas in small groups of 2 to 6, but this was a very special occasion. This was a group of 13 orcas – the T046’s and T046B’s, consisting of 3 generations! T046, a.k.a. Wake, was the oldest of the group and is the great grandmother to the newest member of the T046B family, T046B1B a.k.a. Tl’uk. This young whale is particularly special and unusual because he’s light grey! He’s drawn a lot of attention from whale watchers, researchers and news stations because of this.
We usually do not see the T046’s and T046B’s together, so this was a particularly special moment for us all!
What an incredible afternoon!
It was looking like it was going to be a beautiful evening for a sunset cruise! After boarding our vessels Catalina Adventure and Orca Spirit II we made out way into the Juan De Fuca Strait! This body of water is shared between Vancouver Island and Washington State and is considered a whale highway; many different types of whales frequent the area. This highway is home to Humpback whales, two types of Killer Whales, Grey Whales, Minke Whales, and a few others less frequently.
Our journey didn’t take too long this evening as there was a family of Bigg’s Killer Whales just along the waterfront of Victoria. They were travelling along the shoreline of Beacon Hill Park.
The family of whales we got to spend the evening with is one of the biggest families of Bigg’s Killer whales that frequent the Juan De Fuca Strait. They are known as the T046’s and the T046B’s. There are 13 whales total in these two families and do not frequently travel together. T046, commonly known as Wake, was estimated to be born in 1964 and was part of the last live capture that happened in Puget Sound in 1976 but was released. T046 now is a great grandmother and today we got to see her travelling with them. T046B’s family has been in the news frequently as her grandbaby was born light grey and is the topic of fascination with the whale watching industry and the news channels.
After watching the sunset while we hung out with this fascinating family we made our way into the inner harbour and did a little cruise learning all about the history of Victoria.