Written by: Rachael Merrett, Lead Naturalist
It has been a week of exciting visits with creatures we haven’t seen very much in the past couple of months, making for very memorable tours on the water! The waters surrounding Victoria are home to hundreds of male Steller and California Sea Lions who ship out to the female rookeries for June and part of July. Steller Sea Lion males head north to locations where the ladies wait and California Sea Lions go to- you guessed it- California! They have started to trickle back to the area with our first sightings at Race Rocks Lighthouse. You have to wonder though- are the early birds back the unlucky chaps that ‘struck out’ with the ladies?
At the beginning of the week, we explored waters to the east. Chain Islands has been a hot spot to see Harbour Seals nursing fuzzy, newborn pups and admire the dozens of birds who live among the islands. Pelagic, Double-Crested and Brandt’s Cormorants have been admired at Chain Islands and most impressively, on the sheer cliffs of Mandarte Island, where their nests are becoming quite large.
We have also spotted more Bald Eagles than in previous weeks at eagle parents are now through their nesting season. We got some great shots of Bald Eagles perched atop the islands and in flight. With wings spans of up to 7.5 feet, they are an impressive sight to see!
When it comes to the giants of the sea, we have had equal sightings of both Humpbacks and Bigg’s (Transient) Killer Whales! A few of the Humpbacks were quite elusive, so we were unable to get ID’s, but others allowed us to get some great fluke shots including Smiley and the infamous Split Fin! Split Fin is one of Big Mama’s offspring and we recognize him by the two splits in his dorsal hump that make it look like a crown! We say “he” as this humpback has never been seen with a calf, and was born in 2006, so if it was female, we would likely have seen it with its own offspring by now.
And the killer whales that visited local waters included the T65B family! This wonderful trio is well known in our neck of the woods as they visit our area from time to time, searching for Harbour Seals and porpoises to eat. The matriarch of this family is T65B, who we affectionately call Chunk as she has a prominent nick out of the base of her dorsal fin. Chunk was born in 1993 and has two offspring name Birdsall (T65B1) and Nettle (T65B2). Birdsall is a boy and was born in 2011 and Nettle was born in 2019. We have yet to discover is Nettle is a boy or a girl.
We caught up with this little family near William Head, just west of the Victoria Harbour. They were travelling close to the shoreline as they use stealth to stalk their prey. Mom has a big task feeding her two youngsters everyday, and everything she teaches them, will benefit them in the future. Killer whales pass on knowledge from generation to generation, with females taking the lead on teaching the next generation all their skills and best locations to find a meal.
Another week in the logbooks and another week of unknown adventures is on the horizon. There’s always something new to see and discover when nature is your guide!