Captain’s Blog

Port Renfrew Whale Watching Report: The Marine Circle of Life

September 1, 2020

September Whale Watching – 9am/1pm Zodiac Vessel Tours

As we transition from August into September, we begin to see dramatic changes around our remote coastal town. The pressure systems between Alaska and California collide offshore as seasonal temperatures begin to change in our hemisphere. On the water we experience these changes as wind from the northwest blows away the fog and reveals blue skies overhead. The air becomes cool and refreshing and our warm cruiser suits become a welcome piece of gear as we head out to sea.

This time of year represents maximum productivity in the ocean around us. Phytoplankton, the foundation of our marine ecosystems, use sunlight to grow and reproduce and by September have reached peak density of the tiny organisms. They change the color of the sea to deep brown, red and green depending on which plankton are productive at that time. During the night some of these plankton create bioluminescence which illuminates the shoreline with vivid glowing emerald and turquoise light. Undoubtedly this amount of biomass in the ocean creates many opportunities for krill, fish and other animals who come here for a bountiful feast, most notably the humpback whales, orca and sealions.

Often we find ourselves watching whales who are busy foraging for food, only then to be surprised by a sudden visit by the many sealions who follow these whales. Two species, california and steller’s sealions are regularly seen offshore and following whales. While the behaviour is not fully understood it would seem that the sealions must be getting fish to eat by pursuing the humpbacks whereas they smartly avoid any orca that pass by. These sealions are adaptable and opportunistic, two things that often makes animals a pest for human activities. They know very well to check behind boats and to snatch up any salmon caught on hook. It is a welcome experience when these character animals catch sight of us and divert their attention from the whales to come over and investigate our vessel. Often getting very close and peering into the boat, they’ll soon realize we have no fish for them and continue foraging around us. Other times we will find one tearing apart a salmon or octopus at the surface by throwing it repeatedly out of the water, this attracts many seabirds who dive in to steal some of the sealions catch.

The sheer amount of energy that goes into this feeding frenzy requires some rest in-between and on the outskirts of the area we’ll find sleepy sealions floating amongst kelp and driftwood in a big “cuddle-puddle”. The whales will drift quietly at the surface, taking slow methodical breaths that seem to rise with the swell that passes over their heads. A short rest is all they can afford as they need to eat and prepare for the long migration ahead.

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