Captain’s Blog

Victoria Whale Watching Report: T65A2 in the Victoria Harbour!

August 8, 2019

9:30 AM TOUR

Days like today are wonderful on the water! The sun was shining, there was basically no wind, and there were so many whales!

To start the trip off we made a stop at Race Rocks Ecological Reserve. Here we got to see lots of the coolest creatures that the Pacific North West has to offer. There were Steller Sea Lions, Californian Sea Lions, Harbour Seals and Bald Eagles. Bald eagles mate for life and Race Rocks has two nesting pairs! These eagles are not bald because they have no feathers on their heads, but because the feathers are white. The term Bald came from the Latin word Pibald which means white-headed.  These birds aren’t white-headed until they are around 5 years old, before then they are brown and moulted looking, similar to a Golden Eagle.

We moved on to a Humpback Whale named Scratchy! This whale is a very special whale to the area and is one of our most commonly seen Humpbacks. Scratchy is a big whale which leads your naturalists to believe that it is a female, and because of the grey pigmentation of the whale, we think that she would be quite old. Humpback Whales are being seen during the summer are relatively new to the area, as prior to 2016 we would have maybe seen Humpback in the spring and maybe in the fall.

After visiting with Scratchy, we had gotten reports of a group of Killer Whales in our area. These whales are known as Biggs Killer Whales, these guys are of the mammal-eating variety. The family we got to spend the afternoon with was the T137’s. This family is made up of four whales; a mom and her three kiddos.

Once we finished our double creature feature we made our way back to the Cruise Ship.

10 AM TOUR

With high hopes and excitement his morning, we began our search for whales by heading south into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We soon happened upon a humpback whale. Humpback sightings are always excited for us because it is a relatively new thing for our region! Until 2016 we had very few humpbacks that frequented the area, but now there are hundreds! We believe that these whales realized finally that these waters are packed with food and, without whaling, are no longer dangerous. These 50 foot long, 40 tonne gentle giants are migratory as well, so they are only here from roughly May through November to feed on krill and small schooling fish, and down south in Hawaii, Mexico and Costa Rica to breed and give birth.

We left this humpback and found a pod of Bigg’s killer whales. This ecotype hunts marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, porpoises, whales and other dolphins. They rely on sneaking up on their prey so they are always in stealth mode! To reduce noise, they travel in small family units (mom and her offspring), don’t vocalize often, and aren’t surface-active while searching for food. Using photo-ID, Individuals are identified by their unique saddle patches, dorsal fins and eye patches. The four we saw today are known as the T137’s. T137, the mother, was born around 1984. She had her first calf, T137A, in 2002. This is the only known male in the group, with the big tall dorsal fin. Her other two offspring, T137B and T137D, were born in 2006 and 2012, respectively. Their genders are not yet known. If either of them is male, they are not quite old enough to be sprouting that characteristically huge dorsal fin! This usually begins around 13 years old.

On our way back to the dock, we stopped again to have some last looks at the humpback whale from before. It was an awesome morning, getting great looks at both humpbacks and killer whales!

 

AFTERNOON TOUR

Our afternoon trips on the Salish Sea were able to spend time with Bigg’s killer whales. The T137 group that had been discovered in the morning had continued to make their way west north of Port Angeles.

The matriline, led by the matriarch T137A, is a crew favourite.    At only 17 years old, the male T137A is already huge.  We do not yet know the genders of the other two offspring but will be watching the dorsal fin of T137B over the next couple of years.  If the whale is male, it’s dorsal fin should start to sprout.  We stayed with the whales for quite a while as they travelled.  This afternoon, they definitely appeared to be in travel mode.  There were very few changes of direction and it appeared that the harbour porpoise around lived to see another day.

We next journeyed to Race Rocks where we viewed lots of sea lions hauled out in the early afternoon sun.  Both Steller and California sea lions were enjoying the afternoon.  Race Rocks continues to astound.  However, a highlight of the trip was our encounter with Ollie!  The local sea otter was seen grooming himself, an absolutely critical behaviour.  Their dense fur is crucial for keeping them warm.

Needless to say, it was a great way to conclude another amazing wildlife experience on the Salish Sea.

 

EVENING TOUR

Well, it was a first for the crew aboard the Pacific Explorer- we had a killer whale in the harbour!!! We basically got all our excited guests boarded and untied the boat and turned around to find T65A2 cruising the harbour, looking for an unsuspecting Harbour Seal. This mammal-hunting orca is 15 years old this year and has sprouted quite a tall dorsal fin! He still has another five years or so to grow, but he is proving to be a strong lad.

T65A2 has a common name from the Tlingit First Nations language, Ooxjaa, which means windy. He is the son of T65A who is also known as Fingers. She is a very successful mother with three other youngsters in tow. With T65A2 being the oldest, he is starting to split off from his mother’s family. Too many family members can decrease their hunting success as marine mammals have keen senses to detect their predators. So far this season we have seen T65A2 with his mother and siblings and also with his Auntie and her two little ones. He may not be quite ready to be fully on his own. After all, male orcas will spend their entire lives next to their Mom if at all possible.

We watched as T65A searched the Vancouver Island shoreline, dipping into the mouth of Esquimalt Harbour, scouring the Bull Kelp beds for a tasty seal. The historic Fisgard Lighthouse made for a perfect background with its gleaming white tower and gorgeous attached red house. This is the oldest lighthouse on the Canadian Pacific, fist operational on November 16th of 1860. It was a very memorable tour with T65A2 starting off in the Victoria Harbour, one crew and guests will have a hard time forgetting!

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