Victoria Whale Watching Report: Orcas, Humpback Whales, Seals & Sea Lions
September 1, 2019
This morning we headed West out into the Juan De Fuca Strait.
It didn’t take long before we encountered a family of Bigg’s (Transient) Killer Whales! This is one of two types of killer whales we see around our area. These ones eat mammals such as seals, sea lions, porpoises and even other whales! They travel in families comprised of a mother and her offspring. Male killer whales are with their mothers for life and the females will only split up after she has calves of her own. They don’t want their group size to get too large or it will make it harder for them to sneak up on their prey.
We saw them swimming right up against the shoreline, likely looking for a meal. This particular family is known as the T109As. We are able to identify individuals by their dorsal fins and saddle patches because each of them are unique. They will often have scratches and nicks in their fins from hunting which help us distinguish them. After spending some time with these animals, we decided to continue on to find some more wildlife!
Slightly further South of us, we came across a Humpback Whale! These whales are migratory and only spend time here from Spring until Fall. Our waters serve as their feeding grounds and they are basically trying to gain as much weight as possible before heading South for the Winter. During their migration and while they are in their breeding grounds, they will not be eating.
The Humpback Whales we see out here will mostly go to Hawaii and Mexico for their breeding grounds. This is where they will mate and give birth. They don’t have their calves in our waters because there are more predators around and the newborn whales would not yet have enough blubber to stay warm. This whale was going on some long dives, so we decided to leave and head to see some other wildlife at Race Rocks.
Race Rocks ecological reserve is where we see our Pinniped species. We saw both Steller’s and California Sea Lions, as well as Harbour Seals. Some were hauled out on the rocks and others were swimming around. They were being very vocal today; we could hear the Steller’s growling and the California’s barking.
We were also able to spot our resident male Sea Otter, Ollie! He has lived out here for around 6 years now and is the only one of his kind in Southern Vancouver Island.
Shortly after we left Race Rocks, the killer whales we were with earlier passed through to find some food! Whenever these animals enter Race Rocks all boats are required to leave and allow them to hunt. We watched them from a distance and then had to start heading back.
We made our way back to Victoria after a beautiful morning at sea!
This afternoon we headed East out into the Juan De Fuca Strait.
We had a special encounter out by the San Juan Islands with THREE families of Bigg’s (Transient) Killer Whales all travelling together! There was a total of 15 killer whales here when usually they are travelling in family groups of 2-6 members. These groups would consist of a mother and her offspring. These families were identified as the T46Bs, T100s, and T18/19s. We are able to identify individuals based on their dorsal fins and saddle patches. The T46B family, however, is one of the easiest to identify because one of the youngest members has leucism. This causes a partial loss of pigmentation and so he is grey rather than black. He has been named T’luk, which means moon!
There are 8 members of the T46B family, but he is the only male. There are four members of the T100 family. The mother of this family was born in 1979, her oldest son was born in 2002, she has a daughter born in 2009, and in 2014 she had another calf whose gender has yet to be determined. T18 was born in 1955 and her daughter, T19, was born in 1965 and has two sons of her own. These two were born in 1995 and 2001 and they are very large males. This family is well-known because they have been documented hunting other whales, such as Minke Whales and Grey Whales! Seeing all of these animals swimming side by side was incredible. We spent a bit of time with them, before travelling slightly West, to see some more wildlife.
Our next stop was amongst the Chain Islands, where we could see lots of cormorants and Harbour Seals on the rocks. We also pulled up some Bull Kelp to show everyone. This type of kelp has one of the fastest growth rates of any organism! It can grow up to 25cm in a day. The long stalk is hollow and filled with carbon monoxide gas, which results in a bubble at the end with fronds branching off for photosynthesis. There is enough of this gas inside the stalk to kill a chicken! This Bull Kelp is also edible and a few of you were brave enough to try some.
The killer whales we were with earlier had almost caught up with us, so we went to spend some more time with them. Seeing so many of these animals travelling together was something I’ll never forget!
After this exceptional afternoon, it was sadly time to leave these animals and head back to Victoria.