Captain’s Blog

Victoria Whale Watching Report: Mama Humpback & Calf & The Southern Resident Killer Whales

October 29, 2019

Afternoon Tour!

As the end of October nears and our covered vessel tours wind down for the season, we are extra, extra excited to be on the water!  We boarded the speedy Orca Spirit and traveled east in the Juan de Fuca Strait before turning north into Haro Strait.  This area is very beautiful as you are surrounded by the San Juan and Gulf Islands.

We had reports of two humpback whales ahead, a mother and her young calf!  The mighty blows that escape the giant nostrils atop their heads exploded high in the air, giving away their location.  We slowed down to a crawl and shut our engines off so that we could listen to them breathe and eliminate any noise from us.

The calf began logging at the surface with its back exposed and then raising its nostrils every few minutes to exhale and inhale deeply.  It is amazing to see the size of what is considered a calf!  Humpbacks are born weighing one tonne and measuring 4m in length.  This little one was born last winter and has just a few more months with its mother before taking the wide-open ocean on by itself.

After many beautiful tail flukes and surfacings, we began to move south.

Something special caught our eye while we were traveling near Henry Island- the black, triangular fins of orcas!

After cropping in on some initial shots, we realized we were with members of J-pod and we had spotted Blackberry (J-27)!  A familiar boat was closeby, a research vessel with Jack, an Australian Shepherd, aboard!  Jack has a very important job.  He has been specially trained to sniff out whale poop!

Once Jack detects the “whale trail”, the scientists can collect a sample and take it back to the lab to do all kinds of important tests. Scat samples provide DNA samples and paternity tests can be done. Pregnancy and stress hormones can be detected and scientists can see if the whales have any bacteria, viruses or parasites. All of this is very important information in tracking and monitoring the endangered Southern Resident Orcas, but it does not cause any harm to the whales.

As we looked out across Haro Strait, there were orcas spread out all over. We saw a large group of females and juveniles swimming close together. There was a lot of playful behavior from the family with tail slaps, spyhops and even some big breaches!

The breaches were from a mature female.  We know this because she breached with her belly facing us and we could see the unique pigmentation that females have on their belly, along with lines that mark where her mammary glands are located.

It was a breath-taking experience and we were very grateful to have the opportunity to spend time with both humpbacks and orcas today! They are very special creatures and we strive to share their stories with the world, spreading the importance of conservation and respectful wildlife viewing. We know our guests enjoyed the day and took home wonderful memories. Be sure to check out the photos we captured on our Flickr page!

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