August 12, 2017 – Transient Orcas, Seals & Sea Lions
August 12, 2017
August continues to be an exciting month on the whale watching front. Today was no different as we were fortunate to find black fins slicing the waters near Race Rocks Lighthouse. Their sharply pointed fins gave away that they were our mammal-hunting orcas that are also known as Bigg’s or transient orcas. This eco-type of orca has a solid diet of mammals like seals, sea lions and porpoises.
They hunt cooperatively in their matriline and will even join with other matrilines to catch their meals. There is no aggression what so ever between different families, they actually love to socialize with each other, a time when we see lots of chasing, rolling, fin slapping, breaching and spyhopping.
After we watched the top predators of the sea stalk the shallow kelp beds, we took a tour through the islets of Race Rocks Lighthouse. Nothing is more endearing than the big, round eyes of dozens of harbour seals looking out at you, making sure you are not an orca! This area is a favourite haul out for these furry seals as well as both the Steller and California sea lions.
Every day we get a few more of our bachelors back on the rocks. Soon the islets will be covered with between 500-600 sea lions, all vying for the best place to nap on the rocks. The black and white tower of the lighthouse is the second oldest on the Canadian Pacific, standing tall since 1860. Another great summer morning on the water and our cameras were full of great pictures to capture the memories of the day!
A consistent theme in whale watching is that our tours are consistently different every time! We received reports of more transient, meaning mammal-hunting, killer whales JUST east of the Victoria harbour. It is not every day that we get the opportunity to watch the whales so close to the city.
With so many spots to look for harbour seals in the area, these whales were in good territory to find an afternoon meal. By looking at all the nicks in the dorsal fins of these orcas, we were able to determine that we had two families together, known as the T65A’s and the T10’s. This is not uncommon as killer whales are very social animals, who love to play with each other, hunt together, and of course- mate. We are sad to note that one whale is missing from the T10 family, T10B, a male born in 1983. T10B had a very large dorsal fin that curved out on the back edge, something not found in many males, making him very easy to identify.
As we had lots of time to view the whales, we spent some time at Chain Islands, admiring the sights of Harbour seals, a.k.a orca lunch, and all the marine birds that use the collection of islets as nesting grounds. Long-necked cormorants dried their wings in the the “batman pose”, while 12 different species of gulls watched for easy opportunities to earn a meal. We ended our tour feeling grateful to encounter such an amazing ocean predator so close to our home. Victoria is a truly unique place to live or visit as it is so close to the wild!
Nothing tops a cool summer evening spent with whales! We cruised out onto the Strait of Juan de Fuca and soon joined a small family or Bigg’s killer whales. They are also called transient orcas, eating only mammals. In local waters, the main sources of prey for these black and white predators are the abundant harbour seals, the giant sea lions, and the speedy porpoises. The Pacific Northwest is home to cold waters, only reaching temperatures of 10-12 degrees Celsius, and the orcas travel approximately 75-100 miles every 24 hours. These factors make their energy demands high. They need to eat about 385 pounds of food a day to stay healthy.
This evening we spotted the dorsal fins and saddle patches belonging to the T10 matriline, a family consisting of 53 year old mom and her 18 year old son, T10C. Normally this family is seen with T10’s older son, T10B, but he is now missing. We are not sure what has happened to him, but we assume the worst as sons rarely separate from their mothers, especially when the family is this small.
We captured images of T10C’s tall dorsal fin, knowing he could grow even bigger as he heads into his twenties. His mother will likely be by his side for decades to come as female killer whales have an average life expectancy of 60-80 years. As the sun tucked behind the hills of Vancouver Island, we had to say good-bye to the graceful orcas and head back to port. It was an amazing experience to share a moment in time with these intelligent and beautiful whales.