Victoria Whale Watching Report: Hunting Orcas
September 3, 2019
This morning we headed east to hang out with a family of Biggs killer whales that reside around Vancouver island. The Biggs orca statistically ranges from southern California to northern Alaska, however, each family travel patterns vary. We were with the T60 group, a family of a mother, three sons, a daughter, and a brand new baby, born within the last couple of weeks of August. This pod specifically has been identified spending a lot of their life travelling the northern and southern tips of Vancouver Island. We can identify each pod by looking at the numbers and the individuals. While we take pictures on tour, we can match up saddle patches and dorsal-fin size, shape, and knicks to photos in our guide book. The large male in this group has a huge dorsal fin with a knick in the lower half, and the Mother of this group has scratch marks on the top of her saddle patch behind her dorsal fin. These are clues as to how we find exactly the pod we are with, similar to matching a fingerprint to a human.
While we travelled with this family they made a few kills. Tail slapping and even a breach were involved in stunning their prey. With the Biggs orca, their diet resides around mammals including seals, sea lions, porpoise, and sometimes small whales. This all depends on where they spend most of their life, and what their mother has taught them to eat. With orca, it is a matriarchal lead no matter what ecotype it is. These families are very close and spend most of their lives together. Males will only leave to mate and return to their mothers, where females are known to split off and create their matriline. While watching this family hunt we were able to see their kinship in how they surrounded their food, worked as a team, and split their food up amongst the pod members.
After watching this pod for a while, we headed home, touring the beautiful coastlines between Canada and the United States. We passed by San Juan island and headed west past Discovery Island, a place resided by only a lone wolf. Then, the rocky beaches and luxury homes of Victoria became our last looks before turning in to the harbour.
It was a gorgeous day to be on the water as we set out on the Salish Sea! We turned to the east where we made our way past Trial Island Lighthouse and Chatham Island, entering Haro Strait. With the Gulf Islands on one side and the San Juan Islands on the other, we enjoyed the scenic views of the islands and rugged coastline. Once we rounded the corner of D’Arcy Island, we started to spot the tall, black fins and white exhales of killer whales!
It only took a minute to recognize that we were with the T60 family, who belong to the mammal-hunting population of orcas that frequent our waters. This is a large family with mom, T60, leading her brood of five children! She is actually the newest mother we know of, with little T60G born less than 2 weeks ago. Orcas are born with a colour pattern that is black and orange rather than black and white. We were ecstatic to watch this little bubbly babe surface alongside Mom, sporting its baby colours.
The family was patrolling the shorelines in search of Harbour Seals amongst the Bull Kelp beds. The forested island made for a beautiful background with their misty exhales super prominent in the sunshine.
With so many bellies to fill, this family needs to spend lots of time hunting.
Eventually, they became very active and we were treated to the sights of tail slaps, cartwheels, and then it happened…..A DOUBLE BREACH! Two of the youngsters both breached at the same time and one was a rare nose-dive breach or as we like to call it- a Rainbow breach! Normally the whales jump out of the water and land on their side, but a nose-dive breach is when they jump out of the water and make a perfect arch in the air, landing nose-first. It was spectacular and our naturalist Taylor was able to capture it all! Nothing could beat that experience and we reminisced about it all the way back to Victoria!