Victoria Whale Watching Report: Humpbacks, Race Rocks and Killer Whales!
July 21, 2019
This morning we began our trip by finding a humpback whale in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, about 15 minutes out of the harbour! Humpbacks can reach about 50 feet long and weigh 35-40 tonnes! They are filter feeders and have 800-1000 baleen plates hanging from their upper jaw to filter out their prey – krill and small schooling fish – from big mouthfuls of water. in one mouthful, a humpback can hold about 20,000 L of water. That’s the equivalent of about 66 bathtubs! Humpbacks are identified individually by pigment and markings on the underside of their tail flukes, as well as their dorsal fins. Today we saw Scratchy who has big scratch marks, or rake marks, that were left by killer whales!
We then went to Race Rocks Lighthouse and saw many harbour seals, Steller sea lions, Ollie the sea otter and even a huge elephant seal!
The seal and sea lion species found at Race Rocks are on the menu for the Bigg’s/Transient killer whales! They will also hunt porpoises, whales and other dolphins.
We ventured into Beecher Bay where we were lucky enough to find a group of Bigg’s killer whales in the midst of hunting seals! When hunting, they will start diving quickly and constantly in different directions. Most of the action happens below the surface and all members work together, then share the food! The group we saw today are known as the T109A’s and T097. T097 was the big male travelling with this group. He was born in 1980, making him 39 years old! He usually only travels with another male, T093, so it was interesting to see him with the T109A’s!
We were lucky to see so many cool species today!
It was a perfect day to be on the Salish Sea with the sun shining and eager guests aboard! We decided to start our search southwest of the Capital City where we soon spotted the tall black fins of orcas! After a glance or two at this family, we knew we had the local Bigg’s killer whales who are mammal hunters. Bigg’s orcas live in matrilines which means a female and her offspring. Among the family there was a mature male with a tall dorsal fin, reaching six feet into the sky.
As the family made their way southwest, we got to view them from the side and then as they turned in our direction, we got to see what they look like head-on. We slowly moved back and to the side so that we were not in their path, but it was interesting to see how wide they really are. Bigg’s orcas range from Alaska to California and they prowl the coastline in search of Harbour Seals, sea lions, and porpoises.
We said goodbye to the orcas and went to Race Rocks Lighthouse where we were greeted by the sights, smells, and sounds of pinniped species galore! We had the cute and quiet Harbour Seals with caring mothers nursing their little pups on the islets and Ollie the bachelor Sea Otter enjoying the up-and-down motion of the sea. Below the boat ramp, we spotted the biggest seals in the world- Elephant Seals! Three bulls weighing up to 6,000 pounds impressed all with their size and we even watched as one blew bubbles in the water. Last but not least, the group of Steller Sea Lions was a sight to see as they are the largest sea lions in the world. Many of these males look pretty beat up with fresh wounds from the mating season where they compete for access to females.
The fun didn’t stop at the lighthouse as we discovered a humpback on the way back to Victoria! After this behemoth of the sea showed us her or his tail, we knew right away that it was Scratchy! Scratchy has become a well-known humpback in our area, spending lots of time foraging between Race Rocks Lighthouse and Victoria. With scars from a past attack by orcas, Scratchy is easy to ID and we love to watch as he or she surfaces for air while foraging for tasty fish and krill! Another Double Dip Trip was in the logbook!