Victoria Whale Watching Report: Humpback Whales, Killer Whales & Race Rocks Ecological Reserve
August 10, 2019
Our first stop this morning was Race Rocks Ecological Reserve. Which in the rain, was still stunning as always. Here we got to see many different species of animals that are native to the Salish Sea. The sea lions are always a favourite of the guests as these big guys can be very animated. One type seen on this trip is known as Steller Sea Lions, the biggest sea lion we have in our waters. These guys can get to be 2,400 pounds of blubber and are bigger than a Grizzly Bear! The skulls of a Steller Sea Lion are very similar to a grizzly but bigger even. Smaller, but still large is the Californian Sea Lions, who weighs in at around 600 pounds. These chocolate brown creatures bark like a dog and are the most commonly seen sea lions in an aquarium.
After Race Rocks, we went and looked for humpback whales! While searching we came across 3 individual whales. Two of these whales we were able to identify! One is known as Titan, and the other is known as Aerie. The third, because it only very lazily showed its tail, we were unable to identify. Humpback whales can be identified by the back side of their flukes or their tails and by their dorsal fins. The back side of their tail is made up of black, white and grey markings and scars from other animals and barnacles. These form to create a very unique pattern on the tail, which helps ID and categorizes the whales. Whales with 20% or less white are given a number with an X in it, 20-80% white is a number with a Y in it, and over 80% white is a number with a Z in it. For example, Aerie’s scientific number is MMY0106. Humpback Whales come to cold nutrient-rich waters of Vancouver Island to eat and gain back all the weight that they lost in their mating and calving grounds.
The whales and the rest of the wildlife made for a great trip. Filling everyone’s cameras and hearts full of memories.
This afternoon we set out with overcast skies but glass calm water and great excitement! We began our journey west, passing Race Rocks and Beecher Bay, eventually ending up a few miles off of Otter Point. Here, we were lucky enough to come across an exceptional number of Transient killer whales! This ecotype hunts marine mammals, and therefore usually travels in small groups of 2-5 animals to reduce their noise and increase stealth. This time, there were 12! These individuals are known as the T046’s (minus T046D), T046B’s and T046B1’s!
All together, these groups are made up of four generations! This matriline is particularly well known and loved for many reasons. Firstly, T046 “Wake” survived captivity in Budd Inlet of Puget Sound in 1976. She was held for weeks, but was released and went on to have many strong offspring, and now a long lineage of exceptional reproductive females! One of the newest additions to her lineage is her great-grandson, T046B1B “Tl’uk”. His name means “moon” in Coast Salish which is very fitting for his unusual light grey pigmentation. Little “Tl’uk” has made headlines because of his colour which is likely caused by a genetic pigmentation condition called leucism. This is like albinism and affects multiple types of pigment, but not in the eyes.
We watched these killer whales as they travelled in 3 slightly dispersed groupings, joining and separating freely as they raced west.
When it was time to head home, we motored away slowly because we had seen many humpback whale blows ahead. We stopped briefly to watch a whale which we soon identified as Hemlock. Hemlock was actually “logging” which is their version of sleeping! They are voluntary breathers, meaning they have to actually think to take a breath, and therefore can’t ever go fully to sleep! Instead, they sleep with one half of the brain at a time and float at the surface…looking just like a log! When Hemlock woke up it surfaced slowly a few times before showing its unique fluke and doing for a deep dive.
Happy to have had wonderful encounters with two species of Cetacea, we made the smooth ride back to Victoria.
This evening we headed West into the Juan De Fuca Strait.
After a bit of travelling, we ended up with a Humpback Whale! There were also several more around us. We were able to figure out that the whale we spent time with was “Aerie” (MMY0106). Each humpback has a unique fluke, which is how we tell them apart. They vary in the amount of white pigmentation and have different shapes and patterns! These whales spend time in our area from Spring until Fall and use these waters as their feeding grounds. In the Winter time, they will leave to go back to places such as Mexico and Hawaii, which are their breeding grounds. They do not eat in their breeding grounds, so they spend this time of year gaining as much weight as possible to get them through the Winter. They have their calves in warmer waters because they would have a hard time surviving in our cold waters due to a lack of blubber and more predators! The Transient Killer Whales in our area prey on mammals such as humpback calves. We spent quite a bit of time with Aerie and enjoyed a beautiful sunset, before passing through Race Rocks to look at some more wildlife.
At Race Rocks, we were able to see some of our Pinniped species! There were several Harbour Seals hauled out on the rocks, as well as Steller and California Sea Lions. As we passed through this area we could hear the sea lions very loudly and several of them were fighting each other. They were very active tonight.
We then headed back to Victoria after a beautiful evening at sea!