Victoria Whale Watching Report: Humpback Whales & Bigg’s/Transient Killer Whales
July 23, 2019
8:30 am TOUR
It was a bit of a blustery morning on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but wind and waves are no worries for the whales! We set out to look for signs of whales, which could include big white clouds of mist coming from giant whale nostrils, white water from splashing, or dark fins cutting through the surface of the water. We did find spouts in the distance and moved in slowly to see who was taking these big breaths.
It was soon apparent that the largest species of whale that we are so fortunate to see here was present- it was a humpback whale! Humpbacks belong to the baleen family of whales who eat krill, plankton and fish. They bulk up in cold waters, gaining an average of 17 tonnes from spring through fall so that they can survive off their fat stores while migrating to warmer waters of Mexico, Hawaii or Costa Rica where they give birth and mate. We were excited to see this humpbacks enormous tail flukes that were all black on the underside with a few white dots.
After an exciting visit with the humpback whale, we cruised over to Race Rocks Lighthouse where Ollie the Sea Otter was successfully found napping contently in one of the Bull Kelp beds. He slept through the loud growls and roars of the giant Steller Sea Lions who were enjoying a sunny morning on the islets. Another creature caught our eye, one with feathers rather than fur. It was a juvenile Bald Eagle scouting the area for a meal! Race Rocks Lighthouse is home to so many interesting species, it was a perfect way to end our tour on the Salish Sea!
10 am TOUR
This lovely morning we went east and turned the corner of Vancouver Island into Haro Strait. From here, we travelled north towards Stuart Island (USA). When we arrived, we spotted a group of 5 mammal-eating killer whales. This ecotype of orca is called the Bigg’s or Transients and they will eat seals, sea lions, porpoises, small whales and other dolphins. All hunting is done cooperatively and their food is shared among all the members of the group! Usually, we see Bigg’s killer whales in groups consisting of a mother and her offspring. Today, we had an 18-year-old mother (T124A2), her 6-year-old son (T124A2A), her 3-year-old daughter (T124A2B), her 23-year-old older sister (T124A1), and her 27-year-old uncle (T124C)! Usually, T124C travels with his other sisters’ family, so it was cool to see him with T124A2 and T124A1!
The way we identify these individuals is through the shape and markings within their saddle patches (white patches behind the dorsal fins), their dorsal fins, and even their eye patches! They act like a fingerprint, making photo-identification and reliable and non-invasive way to keep track of the killer whale populations, as well as individual killer whales and their groupings, behaviours, health, distribution etc.
We got to watch for a long time as these killer whales cruised by Stuart Island until it was time for us to return home. The smooth ride home was the perfect way to wrap up a fantastic morning trip!
1 pm TOUR
While the wind had picked up, the Catalina Adventure guests and crew were ready for just that, an adventure! We made our way into the Juan De Fuca Strait. This body of water is shared with Washington State and is considered a whale highway. Over the last month, there has been a large number of humpback whales in this body of water!
We came across a few sleepy Humpback Whales once we got away from the inner harbour, but this was not enough! Captain Liz could see a very active humpback off in the distance, so off we went! We showed up on scene with a humpback named Tulip, this particular whale is seen around Victoria frequently in the summertime and is known for being fairly active. Tulip breached over and over again during this trip and even included some tail lobbing and pec slapping. It was an incredible sight! Because of the angle that Tulip breached on this trip, we were able to identify that she is, in fact, a female!
Humpback Whales do not breach as frequently in our water as they do in the warm waters of their mating and calving grounds. We think this is because when the whales are in our cold nutrient-rich water they are so focused on eating that they don’t socialize. Breaching is known to be a socialization tool but is thought to also be the result of a few other things. We think that these whales could be trying to break off barnacles from their bodies, or maybe even burp themselves when they breach in their feeding grounds. However! The most likely cause of these whales breaching in our area is for fun! Swimming and always eating would likely get boring after a while, there are likely times when playtime is acceptable.
It was a spectacular sight to see! A 30-40 tonne animal tossing itself out of the water so effortlessly, and continuously doing it over and over again.
2 pm TOUR
This afternoon we headed West out of the harbour into the Juan De Fuca Strait.
Our first stop was to collect some Bull Kelp! Our first mate Tristan was demonstrating how long it can grow (and that it’s edible). A few of you were even brave enough to try some!
We then passed through Race Rocks which has been an ecological reserve since 1980. We saw several Harbour Seals hauled out on the rocks as well as Steller and California Sea Lions!
The lighthouse here was built in 1860 and is the second oldest in the Canadian Pacific. It is no longer manned but there is a woman who lives on Race Rocks who acts as a Guardian for the wildlife.
We spotted a Humpback Whale right ahead of us so we went to check it out! Unfortunately, it was too choppy for us to stay for long and we left to go find some other whales.
We headed back to calmer waters and ended up spending time with a mother and calf Humpback Whales! This mother is named “Zephyr” who is the daughter of “Divot” who also frequents our area. We saw this baby tail lob which was really lucky to witness!
It was then time for us to head back to Victoria!