Port Renfrew Whale Watching Report: That’s a Wrap on the 2020 Season!
September 24, 2020
Written by Matt Burnaby, Zodiac Captain
This summer in Port Renfrew was unlike any other we have experienced in the last four years. Open ocean swell and vast fog banks are the primary challenges we overcome while exploring the rich marine ecosystem of the area’s surrounding offshore waters. During our voyages the experience provided by such forces of nature enhances the sensation of adventure, remoteness, and accomplishment in finding wildlife here. Unlike most years, the waters offshore were calm and the foggy days were fewer in-between. The stress and turmoil brought on by year 2020 was not represented there, allowing an escape into gentle seas, clear skies and life changing encounters with whales.
Due to this, our wildlife sightings often reached peak volume and far exceeded normal expectations for a whale watching excursion. Our presence on the water becomes trivial as we are surrounded by whales busily foraging and as they dive, there is no pause while the pelagic seabirds and boisterous sealions snatch fish all around us. For the first time, Sarah and I were completely overwhelmed trying to document the animals we saw as we were unimpeded by waves and mist.
Not surprisingly to us, our success rate in finding whales was 100% for the entire season. Each trip guaranteed a sighting of any combination of humpback whales, killer whales, or grey whales. Privileged to observe their lives and interactions with each other. Most notably an encounter with 20 humpback whales feeding offshore, appearing and disappearing through the thick smoke of distant forest fires. Not a breath of wind and water, so glassy it resembled mercury enveloped in the sepia toned smoke and blazing orange sun rays that tried to penetrate it. Nothing resembled any other place on earth, we listened to whales breathing out of sight as others breached the surface nearby:
“Killer whales!” – our passengers excitedly pointing as five transient killer whales crossed in front of us. Immediately after them a dozen huge humpbacks trumpeting loudly to announce their displeasure with the orca’s presence. With no warning we found ourselves witness to humpbacks chasing orca and displaying their strength with mighty breaches and tail swipes directed at the killer whales. Despite being the ocean’s apex predator, these killer whales had to dodge and evade the humpbacks charges. Even more fascinating was that it appeared playful to the superiorly agile killer whales. They almost appeared to encourage the chase and when things slowed down they’d circle and allow their presence to further antagonise the humpbacks and reinvigorate the chase. After 45 minutes watching, it was time for us to leave and the whales disappeared into the smoke while we listened to their sounds fade into the distance. The entire boat was silent, everyone overawed by what they witnessed. This was a highlight for us among many others this season.
Now fall has come, an important time as many animals here prepare to migrate. Torrential rain pours down on Port Renfrew while winter storms blow gales across the waterfront and massive waves crash onto shore. A reminder that nature chooses when we visit and for 2020 she has closed the door. We reflect on our encounters and begin processing the thousands of pictures taken. Already we miss it and cannot wait to see these animals again next year.