Victoria Whale Watching Report: Humpback Whales, Orcas & More
August 1, 2019
Our covered vessels headed out on our morning trips with reports of orcas near Race Pass. Our vessels were able to catch up and spend time with a group of 3 Bigg’s killer whales, the T46B1 matriline that includes T’luk – the baby “white” orca! T46B1 split off from her mom two days previously. Our vessels spent time with the group as they journeyed past Sooke.
Race Rocks was spectacular as always. With each passing trip, the number of sea lions continues to increase. Several California sea lions have arrived to join the mix. It was a great morning on the Salish Sea!
We set out this afternoon into the glass calm Strait of Juan de Fuca. We travelled west past Metchosin, Race Rocks, and Sooke until we were in line with Otter Point. Here, we were lucky enough to find a group of 3 Bigg’s/Transient killer whales. This ecotype preys on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises and whales, and therefore, need to be very stealthy hunters. This is why we see them travelling in small groups, usually with just mom and her offspring! This particular family is known as the T046B1’s. The mother, T046B1 “Tread” was born in 2003 and had her first calf, daughter T046B1A, in 2015. She now has a son as of this year, T046B1B “Tl’uk”. His name means “moon” which is very fitting for his rare genetic pigmentation condition that makes him light grey! He really stands out from the bunch and has become famous as a result! His colouration also allows us to see the follicles from the whiskers killer whales are born with, which they lose a few days or weeks after birth.
This sighting today was meaningful on another level because it was the second day that T046B1 and her offspring were seen separated from her mother, T046B, and the rest of the family. It’s likely that these groups will now stay separate to keep group sizes small, so hunting can be quiet and efficient! When female killer whales start having babies of their own they will separate from their mothers. Male killer whales usually stay with their mothers forever – big momma’s boys!
We then spotted a humpback whale nearby. At 50 feet long, humpback whales are double the length of a full-grown killer whale! They are migratory animals, spending May through November here on the feeding grounds, and the remaining months in the breeding grounds of Hawaii, Mexico or Costa Rica. We watched as this whale surfaced a few times before lifting its 18-foot tail out of the water for a deep dive!
After these two beautiful and peaceful encounters, it was time to head back to Victoria. The calm seas made for a lovely ride home!
This evening we left the cruise ship dock, heading South into the Juan De Fuca Strait.
We were very lucky with our conditions this evening, with almost no wind and sunny skies. With calm waters, we were able to spot many Harbour Porpoises! These are the smallest cetaceans in British Columbia, with a maximum length of 2 metres.
After a bit of travel, we ended up with two Humpback Whales! From Spring until late Fall we are able to see these amazing animals in our waters because this is their feeding grounds. They are eating things such as krill, sand lance, herring, and other small schooling fish. They will leave here in the Winter for their breeding grounds in warmer waters such as in Mexico and Hawaii. They undertake one of the longest migrations of any animals! Moving to warmer waters allows them to use up less fat reserves and is especially important for calves. It also allows them to avoid predation by Killer Whales since they are found in greater numbers in higher latitudes. The females are larger than males, reaching on average 12.3 metres and 40,000kg!
We spent quite a bit of time with these two whales before leaving them to find some more wildlife!
Our next stop was Race Rocks. This has been an ecological reserve since 1980 due to the rich communities of subtidal and intertidal life resulting from strong currents. Here we were able to see plenty of Harbour Seals hauled out on the rocks as well as Steller Sea Lions! These sea lions seemed to be in an aggressive mood, fighting each other off for space on the rocks. All of them are males and are very hostile towards one another.
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 here. It is made from granite blocks and the black striping was an addition to help vessels see it amongst the fog.
Unfortunately, it was then time to head back to the Cruise Ship after a beautiful evening at sea!