Victoria Whale Watching Report: Humpback Whales & Race Rocks Ecological Reserve
August 2, 2019
8:30 AM TOUR
This morning we started our search by heading west in the Juan de Fuca Strait. With the Olympic Mountains on our left and Vancouver Island on our right, we looked for fins, blows and splashes. Big, white splashes are what caught our Captain and Chief Mate’s attention- a humpback was breaching in the distance!
As we came on scene, this baleen giant stopped jumping, but she was still exciting to watch as we watched her surface through the waves and raise her flukes high in the air. Once we got a good look at her tail, we soon realized we were with Scratchy! Scratchy is a humpback that bears the scars of a past orca attack, evident from the white scratches on each tip of her tail. Scratchy found a pile of Bull Kelp and started rolling in it, lifting her head out of the water over and over again. We got some great pictures of her chin, covered in tubercles, barnacles, and whale lice! It was so cool to see her throat pleats along her chin.
After leaving Scratchy to explore the ocean for more seaweed wrap opportunities, we headed to Race Rocks Lighthouse. The giant Steller Sea Lions took over HelivopterRock while the newly returning Californa Sea Lions enjoyed the island with the lighthouse on it. One Steller Sea Lion looked as if he was relaxing in a hot tub, though the waters here are more of an ice bath at 12 degrees Celsius! We cruised back to Victoria excited about our encounters and great photos of west coast wildlife.
10 AM TOUR
This sunny morning we departed Victoria harbour and travelled west once in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Our first stop was Race Rocks Ecological Reserve. Here, we can often see 4 different species of pinniped – elephant seals, harbour seals, Steller sea lions and California sea lions – all of which were here today! Right away we saw a California sea lion on a rock in fairly close proximity to a large male elephant seal, giving us a great perspective for their size. A male California sea lion can reach 800 lbs, whereas a male elephant seal can be easily 6 times that, up to about 6000 lbs! We then saw a large group of Steller sea lions, many growling at one another. These males can reach 2500 lbs! Scattered on the rocks near the water was the most common snack for the Transient killer whales, harbour seals! Weighing in at 200 lbs, a killer whale could eat between 1 and 3 of these seals a day!
We then continued west for a while before encountering a humpback whale named Mogul! Humpback whales are filter-feeders that prey on krill and small schooling fish. They use a keratin substance called baleen to strain out their prey from large (20,000 L!!!) mouthfuls of water! These 50 ft long, 40-tonne animals can ingest 1 – 3 tonnes of food per day while here on their summer feeding grounds. We identify humpback whales individually based on the pigmentation and scarring patterns on their tail flukes, as well as the shape, pigmentation and scarring of their dorsal fins.
The whale we saw is known as Mogul and is easily distinguished by the “L” on the left side of its fluke. We watched as Mogul wrapped itself in some ribbons of kelp, and showed off a few tail-slaps before going on a final long dive.
We then made the trip home to Victoria with the wind at our stern, making for a smooth ride back!
It was a blustery evening on the Juan de Fuca Strait, but we started our search along the shoreline of Vancouver Island where the waters were calm. The rugged shores of the island are beautiful with their jagged rocks and mix of temperate rainforest trees including Arbutus, Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock and Western Red Cedar. We spotted a Bald Eagle flying low along the water, possibly looking for a fish to catch close to shore.
We passed Race Rocks Lighthouse before the waters changed and became wavy. We decided to turn east and check out the lighthouse area before continuing east to search in more cooperative waters. Race Rocks Lighthouse was built in1860 and looks beautiful in golden sunsets with its black and white stripes. The Steller Sea Lions were enjoying the warm evening as they rested on the islets. We finally have the smaller California Sea Lions back from mating season! These chocolate coloured pinnipeds were piled in a heap, not fussy about having any personal space.
Even the Harbour Seals were out on the rocks, new mothers nursing little pups. They range in colour from silver to cream to black, their pelts blending in well with the rocks. The red-footed Pigeon Guillemots did not seem bothered by the fast-moving waters as they surfaced from the depths with mouthfuls of fish.
We checked out Chain Islands to the east, passing by the younger Trial Island Lighthouse that was built in 1906. As we admired the seaside houses of Oak Bay, we rounded the Ogden Point Breakwall and took our guests on a tour of the inner harbour of Victoria where the historic buildings and beautiful lights were beautiful to see from the water.