Victoria Whale Watching Report: Killer Whales & More
July 31, 2019
This morning, we headed out aboard the Catalina Adventure in search of orcas and other cetaceans. It would prove to be a fantastic trip! Not long after leaving the harbour, we encountered members of the T46B group of Bigg’s killer whales. Unbeknown to us at the time, this group of orcas had split up. We encountered a group of 5 Bigg’s killer whales, led by the matriarch T46B which included one of the youngest calves in the transient community, T46B5. We learned later that T46B1 was travelling with her two offspring in San Juan Channel. What caused the group to split? One theory suggests transient groups split to maintain an optimal pod size that makes foraging for their marine mammal prey more successful. The theory maintains that large groups of Bigg’s killer whales are more easily detected by their prey and therefore, hunting success goes down. Anyways, back to the encounter – it was incredible!
As we arrived on scene, we heard from our Captain Liz that Akela (T46B2) had just killed a porpoise near one of the other whale watching vessels. We were able to actually see the porpoise in her mouth! It was an incredible start to a great trip. We witnessed some amazing behaviours as she rejoined the rest of her matriline that was foraging a short distance away, including an amazing spyhop! We also spotted one of the newest young orcas, T46B5.
After leaving the orcas, we headed south of Race Rocks. Dozens of harbour porpoise were foraging in the calm seas. We were also able to spend time with a lone humpback whale Southwest of Race Rocks. A visit to Race Rocks with viewings of harbour seals, California and Steller sea lions and one massive elephant seal was a great way to conclude an incredible trip!
This afternoon we headed west to begin our search. Not long after leaving the harbour we received a call regarding blows seen just south of Race Rocks ecological reserve. Once on scene, we noticed it was a pod of transient orca!
As whale watchers and researchers we can identify different ecotypes by looking at how many are in a pod. We also identify orca individually by looking closely at their dorsal fins and saddle patches. While we were watching this group, we had identified them as the T46B group. Recently this group has split into two matriarchal groups. This is common for this ecotype as they keep smaller groups to stay stealthy when hunting. The T46B group is made up of Mom with five daughters. It is t46B1 that has split with her two offspring, one of which is known as T’luk, famous for being the local white whale.
While with the T46B group we were able to get some great views of this group of ladies before heading to Race Rocks. At Race Rocks, we passed a variety of wildlife including the sunbathing seals and chatty sea lions. On our travels back towards Victoria we cruised the lush coastline of Vancouver Island.