Victoria Whale Watching Report: Humpback Heaven!
August 22, 2019
This morning we headed out West into the Juan De Fuca Strait.
After a bit of travelling, we arrived at our first stop with Humpback Whales all around us! This was such an amazing sight to see. Everywhere we looked, we could see small groups of these whales swimming together and fluking. There must have been at least 20 of these animals all just in this one area. This type of whale is solitary, but they are also social. Seeing so many of them in one area is just indicative of lots of food, not that they are related to each other! When we see them going on dives, they show us their tails. This allows us to flick through our identification guides onboard and figure out which individuals we were with.
This morning, we spent time with “Cinder”, “Aerie”, “MMY0074” and “MMZ0020” to name a few. They are all categorized based on the amount of white pigmentation on their tails, from X to Z. Other than colouration, they also have unique patterns and markings that help us differentiate them. Because they are all unique, we do not have to tag them to figure out where they go on their migration routes. The Humpback Whales that we see in our area will travel South to areas such as Mexico, Hawaii, and Costa Rica for their breeding grounds in the Winter. We are fortunate to be able to see them here from Spring until Fall, as this area is their feeding grounds. Their goal here is to gain as much weight as possible before beginning their migration and not eating until they return. It was such an amazing experience to witness so many of these animals this morning. Sadly, after spending time with them, we had to start to make our way back to Victoria.
We were able to pass through Race Rocks, which is an ecological reserve, on our way back. This is where we see our Pinniped species! This morning we saw plenty of Harbour Seals, Steller’s Sea Lions, and California Sea Lions. The visual differences between these two types of sea lions are in colouration and size. The Steller’s Sea Lions are larger and a paler brown colour than the Californias. Audibly, we can distinguish them because the Steller’s Sea Lions make a growling sound and the Californias make a barking sound! They are very aggressive and we often see them fighting each other up on the rocks.
We then headed back to the dock after a spectacular morning of wildlife viewing!
Have you ever had to pinch yourself to be sure what you are seeing is real? Well, that is how we felt on today’s tour! We whisked our guests away on the Juan de Fuca Strait, heading west to look for the most giant inhabitants of the sea. We soon began to see the giant clouds of mist emulating from the blowholes of humpbacks….then another, and another, and another! We were in Humpback Heaven!
Humpback whales have become a prominent sighting in local waters and people are amazed by their size, grace and acrobatic behaviours. We are very fortunate to even have humpback whales as they were a major target of the whaling industry. It is estimated that the global population was reduced by 90-95%, leaving very few left by the time a moratorium on hunting humpbacks was implemented in 1966. A full moratorium on whaling was signed in 1986 by nations belonging to the International Whaling Commission. The North Pacific population now contains between 20-24,000 humpbacks.
With water so calm, it looked like glass, we soaked up the sights and sounds of many different animals. The humpbacks to not live in pods, but they can be very social with other whales that are in the area. Their massive tails tell us who is who because the colour pattern and shape of their tail is as unique as a fingerprint. Don’t forget to check out the many amazing photos we captured of the humpbacks on today’s tour by visiting our Flicker page. It was definitely a trip that will be remembered for a long time!
This evening, we had wonderful conditions to head out into the Juan De Fuca Strait.
With almost no wind, we travelled West and made our way to an area called Sooke. Out here, we were able to spend time with a family of Bigg’s (Transient) Killer Whales! This ecotype eats mammals, primarily Harbour Seals. They can also eat sea lions, porpoises, and even other whales. They are one of 13 ecotypes all over the world, each differentiated by diet, language, and subtle visual differences. This specific family we were with is known as the T137s. These animals always travel with their mothers. The Bigg’s Killer Whale males will never leave until she dies and the females will only separate when they have babies of their own. The mother of this family was born in 1984 and she has three offspring. They were born in 2002, 2006, and 2012. The oldest is a male and he is easily identified due to the nicks in his dorsal fin. These animals are non-migratory, but their population ranges from California to Alaska! We spend quite a bit of time with this family, and it seemed like they were looking for a meal. At one point we saw one of their tails come out! They were really fun to watch tonight, but we wanted to find some other animals before it got dark.
Our next stop was with a couple of Humpback Whales! Unlike the killer whales, these whales are migratory. They are in our area from Spring until Fall and this is their feeding grounds. In the late Fall, they will start to make their way South to their breeding grounds in places such as Mexico and Hawaii. Their goal out here is to gain as much weight as possible before they begin their migration. They are eating things like krill, herring, and sand lance! Due to their small throats, they are unable to consume anything larger. We got a couple of good looks at these animals, before heading towards Race Rocks.
On our way back, we were able to pass through Race Rocks. This area is an ecological reserve due to the rich communities of intertidal and subtidal life. Here we were able to see several Harbour Seals, as well as Steller’s and California Sea Lions! The rocks were littered with these animals and they were being very vocal. The Steller’s Sea Lions make a growling sound and the Californias have more of a bark. The Steller’s are also larger and a paler brown colour.
It was then time to make our way back to the Cruise Ship, after a beautiful evening at sea!