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Captain’s Blog

3 Other Whales You Might See on an Orca Adventure

October 14, 2015

The staggering variety of the lower mainland’s wildlife was one of the best things about moving here a few years back. Diverse, too. The different types of animals all living in their own unique way was a real opener.

And that was just the animals on land.

Growing up on the prairies in Alberta was nice and all, but searching for gophers on the side of the highway gets old quickly. I remember two or three instances of seeing a moose, but that paled in comparison to the visions of whales and other sea life I read about in books.

You see, as a youngster, I thought most of those ocean-faring creatures were myths. There was no way our country’s back yard was home to such mysterious, intelligent animals, right?

So wrong, 7 year-old me.

Well, the magical thing about orca watching off the coast of British Columbia is not only experiencing orcas in their natural habitat, but all the other whales who share that environment with them.

Even if they’d rather not.

1. Humpback Whales

Just like orcas, humpbacks are migratory animals. They can be seen swimming through the Strait of Juan de Fuca from mid-summer until November each year as they feed on rich plankton and herring blooms. Before the water temperature drops late in the fall and the humpbacks travel over 9,000 km’s to the Hawaiian islands to mate and calve, they employ a peculiar form of fishing called bubble-net feeding. This involves a group of whales gathering below a school of fish before they drive upwards, releasing a spiral pattern of bubbles trapping the fish inside before they’re caught.

2. Minke Whales

30 Minke Whales return to the coast of British Columbia between Vancouver and Victoria each year. Like the humpback, the minke is a baleen whale, though a smaller species. The subspecies that swims through our waters is spotted by the unique white band strapped to their short pectoral fins. Depending on how strong your nose is, this next fact is either a bonus or a problem: Minke Whales are famous for the rather strong odour they emit when they exhale. Whale watchers will typically smell a minke nearby before they actually spot them with their eyes. A treat for the senses, these whales are!

3. Gray Whales

Yet a third type of baleen whale that takes summer vacation in the waters of the North Pacific, the Gray Whale is a treat to witness because of the humongous distance it’s travelled to be there. The Gray Whale has the longest migration pattern of any marine animal in the world – they travel over 20,000 km’s every year from the Bering Sea to Mexico and back again. And the good news is that all that travel keeps them young. Our naturalists say that Gray Whales can live to be 70 years old. That’s almost 1.5 million kilometres! That’s worth a quick hello, don’t you think?

Learn more about the feeding patterns and distinct markings of all these whales.

It’s difficult for human beings to comprehend the level of intelligence of these animals, particularly a curious young kid who’s never seen a seal before.

For instance, the Minke Whale, a smaller, shy species of baleen whale, has been spotted interacting with resident orcas in Haro Strait, indicating an understanding of the difference between the fish-eating Orcas and the transient hunters that make the area home as well.

Whether they’re smelling like the Minke, travelling like the Gray or singing like the Humpback, these whales are sure to captivate all five senses while capturing your imagination, too.

And even though I once doubted their existence, they’ve certainly been capturing my imagination for as long as I can remember.



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