An adult male orca is an impressive beast and one not to be trifled with. Six tons of flesh, bone and blubber constitute this imposing dolphin. For all of his potential brute force and physical abilities, this male has a surprising secret, he is the ultimate Mummy’s boy.
He will live out his whole life in the family fold with his mother charting his course. Daddy is nowhere to be found. He was a romantic interlude many moons ago that lasted no more than an aquatic tryst. The young male progeny will go from a playful young buck to an impressive bull that will dwarf his mother. Adult females usually weigh between 3-4 tons, Their dorsal fins are less than half the size of the males prodigious 1.8 m (6 foot) fin which is so large that it provides a daunting spectacle on rapid approach.
Orca society is matriarchical and functions in a somewhat similar way to elephant society. The mother is the figurehead or matriarch of the family. She is responsible for keeping the family unit cohesive and for establishing feeding and migratory patterns. Her longevity and knowledge is pivotal in keeping the family together and for finding resources. Surprisingly, mothers tend to long outlive their sons and there is an interesting, albeit unfortunate reason for this.
In British Columbia, Canada there are 4 distinctive orca ecotypes, transient orcas that only eat mammals, resident orcas that only eat fish (one Northern and one Southern population) and offshore orcas that eat mainly sleeper sharks. For transient orcas in particular, there is a tendency to bioaccumulate large quantities of toxins in their body tissues. Being a top predator results in a toxic load accumulating in their bodies from the prey they are consuming over the course of their lives. When a female gets pregnant and gives birth, her first baby gets a particularly heavy hit from the toxins in its mother’s body. This is exacerbated by her milk, more toxins get passed unwittingly to the oblivious baby. This consequently diminishes a female’s toxic load over the course of her life each time she has a baby. Males are unable to offload this toxic burden so become more heavily loaded over time. Males tend to die younger as a result, with an average lifespan of 30 years, whereas wild females average 50 years, with some living into their 80’s and 90’s.
The male orca that has lived alongside his mother and siblings obviously has needs of his own but how are these satisfied when he is kept busy fishing for the family as well as babysitting? Luckily Mum has some other orcas that she knows who have some eligible lasses for her son to go and have some fun with. When the opportunity arises and one family happens to come across another then it is game on! When the male is sexually mature (usually from the age of 15) he will be free and ready to court a lucky lass from an unrelated family. Their encounter will be brief, he will go back to Mum and the rest of his family, as will she. If his conquest becomes pregnant, her family will help her raise her baby. The male that she tangled with will go back to his family and help raise any new babies his mum or sisters will give birth to.
The matriarch will go through menopause in her forties just like we do but will continue to live on and dote on her family and grandchildren. It has been found that even grown males who lose their mothers tend not to fare so well, and many even die after losing her. It is believed a combination of protection, companionship and assistance are important factors in maintaining the well being of the orca unit. And we thought our family bonds were strong?
Suzanne Burns 2014.
For 10 weeks, from June to August 1965, the St Thomas research centre became the site of Lilly’s most notorious and highly criticised experiment, when his young assistant, Margaret Howe, volunteered to live in confinement with Peter, a bottlenose dolphin. The dolphin house was flooded with water and redesigned for a specific purpose: to allow the 23-year-old Howe and the dolphin to live, sleep, eat, wash and play intimately together. The objective of the experiment was to see whether a dolphin could be taught human speech – a hypothesis that Lilly, in 1960, predicted could be a reality “within a decade or two”.
Even dolphin experts who today hold some of Lilly’s other work in high regard believe it was deeply misguided. Media coverage has focused on two things: Howe’s almost total failure to teach Peter to speak; and the reluctant sexual relationship she began with the animal in an effort to put him at his ease. She has not spoken about her experiences for nearly 50 years (to “let [the story] fade”), but earlier this year accepted an interview request by the BBC producer Mark Hedgecoe, who thought it was “the most remarkable story of animal science I had ever heard”.
The result, a documentary called The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins, is set to premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest and then on BBC Four later this month. Various films and documentaries have dissected some of the baffling, entertaining and ultimately tragic animal-human language experiments offered up by the Sixties and Seventies, most recentlyJames Marsh’s 2011 feature Project Nim, about a chimp raised in a New York family. But what makes the dolphin house story unique is the intensity of the period of interspecies cohabitation. Howe and Peter lived in complete isolation.
Prof Thomas White, a philosopher and international leader in the field of dolphin ethics, believes the experiment was “cruel” and flawed from the outset. “Lilly was a pioneer,” he says. “Not just in the study of the dolphin brain; he was an open-minded scientist who speculated very early on that dolphins are self-aware creatures with emotional vulnerabilities that need an array of relationships to flourish. That should have made him think: ‘I really shouldn’t be doing this kind of thing.’ ”
Lilly, who had gained the scientific establishment’s respect with his work on the human brain, became interested in dolphins in the Fifties, after performing a series of “inner-consciousness” investigations on himself in which he floated around for hours in salt water in an effort to block outside stimuli and increase his sensitivity.
His 1961 book Man and Dolphin was an international bestseller. It was the first book to claim that dolphins displayed complex emotions – that they were capable of controlling anger, for example, and that they, like humans, often trembled in response to being hurt. Some dolphin species, he said, had brains up to 40 per cent larger than humans’. As well as being our “cognitive equal”, Lilly speculated they were capable of a form of telepathy that was the key to understanding extraterrestrial communication. He also believed they could “teach us to live in outer space without gravity”. He also proposed that they could be trained to serve the Navy as a “glorified seeing-eye” (a theory that became the basis of the 1973 sci-fi thriller Day of the Dolphin, despite Lilly’s best attempts to halt production).
But Lilly did little to burnish his credentials in the early Sixties when he started exploring the psychological research possibilities offered by lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). He took it himself, often while floating in his isolation tank. Lilly later pinpointed 1965, the year of the dolphin cohabitation experiment, as the year he came to “no longer regard the scientific viewpoint of total objectivity as the be-all and end-all”. It wouldn’t be wildly speculative to suggest that Lilly was – by today’s standards at least – not in quite the right frame of mind to be leading the dolphin project.
Looking back at his memories of the mid-Sixties in his autobiography, an impressionistic account in which he writes of himself in the third person (“He felt that he was merely a small microbe on a mudball, rotating around a G-star, two thirds of the way from Galactic centre…”), it is also apparent how removed he was from Howe’s work.
He writes: “In the midst of his enthusiasm he [Lilly] attempted to speak to [Howe] of his experiences.” Howe, in her early 20s, was not sympathetic. “If you want to do your experiments on solitude and LSD, please keep them in the isolation room. I am not curious or interested.”
Howe was among many keen young staff members he employed from the island. Only the bravest stayed with him any significant length of time; as Lilly noted in The Mind of the Dolphin (1967), the Tursiops (bottlenose) – chosen for study because its brain size was comparable to man’s – was larger and more powerful than most humans. They grew irritable and angry when mismanaged. Howe’s talent for communicating with the dolphins was exceptional and, as Lilly noted, her dedication was unmatched by anyone else in the faculty. “I will not interfere with that,” he wrote.
Still, he prepared the experiment. Following a week-long trial period, Lilly decided 10 weeks was the maximum time frame that both human and dolphin could survive comfortably in confinement. Objectives, regulations and a daily timetable were clear and precise. Howe’s aims were threefold: to make notes on interspecies isolation, to attempt to teach Peter to “speak”, and to gather information so that the living conditions might be improved for longer-term cohabitation.
On June 15 Howe moved in, her hair cut to a quarter-inch boy crop. All she needed was a swimming costume and a leotard for the cooler nights. The entire upstairs of the lab building and the balcony had been flooded with salt water 18in deep, which Peter could swim around in and Howe could wade through. A desk hung from the ceiling, and her bed was a suspended foam mattress that she later fitted with a shower curtain so that Peter’s splashes did not soak her through the night. She would live off canned food to minimise contact with outsiders.
“It was perfect,” she remembers today of her domestic dolphinarium. Early entries in her diary at the time reveal that, like a nervous new housewife, she made the best of things: “Cooking is fine. Cleaning is interesting… Each morning most of the dirt is neatly deposited at the foot of the elevator shaft. All I have to do is suck it up.” As for her companion, he spent “a good deal of his time in front of the mirror”, she noted. She was amused to find that during rare moments of contact with the outside world (mostly on the telephone) Peter talked “very loudly and in a competitive way” over the top of her.
Although he could be rambunctious, the archive footage of his lessons featured in the new BBC documentary reveal Peter to have been a curious, dedicated student. Lilly’s team had already established that dolphins could adjust the frequency of their squeaks and whistles to mimic human sounds, and claimed that during his time with Howe, Peter learnt to pronounce words such as “ball” and “diamond”, and to tell the difference between certain objects.
Howe was a creative, commendably patient teacher; when Peter struggled with certain sounds, particularly the “M” in her name, she came up with the inventive method of painting her face in thick white make-up and black lipstick so that he could clearly see the shape of her lips moving. “His eye was in [the] air looking at my mouth. There was no question… He really wanted to know: where is that noise coming from? What is the sound?” she remembers. “Eventually he kind of rolled over so that he would bubble [the ‘M’ sound] into the water.”
To those who lived and worked with Peter, his progress was perhaps clearer than it was to the outsider. The average viewer, on watching the BBC documentary, might conclude that the experiment was a failure. Kenneth Norris, an influential marine biologist, said of Lilly: “He started out as a capable scientist, but nothing he did was subject to measurement or truth, and that’s what scientists live by.” Experiments since 1965 have proved that dolphins have high levels of self-awareness and can understand human sign communication – but there is still little evidence that a dolphin language exists.
However, Peter’s linguistic progress was seemingly what kept Howe going when their relationship grew strained. Fed up and clearly exhausted by week three, she wrote at length about Peter whining and making loud noises night and day for no apparent reason: “I will do anything to break this… I lost my temper and nearly yelled at Peter… I am physically so pooped I can hardly stand… depression… wanting to get away… my mind is not all on the job.”
John C Lilly, pictured in 1977
Lilly, responding to Howe’s feedback, recorded his concerns. “This is a dull and small area… Isolation effects showing,” he wrote. Howe’s diary of week five is predominantly concerned with a new issue: “Peter begins having erections and has them frequently when I play with him.” Her frustrated efforts to deal with his “sexual needs” and advances – which had become so aggressive that her legs were covered in minor injuries from his jamming and nibbling – had left her scared. “Peter could bite me in two,” she wrote. But she was reluctant to hamper progress, and, in a spirit of pragmatism, decided to take matters into her own hands. As the narrator in the documentary tactfully puts it: “Margaret felt that the best way of focusing his mind back on his lessons was to relieve his desires herself manually.”
Sex among dolphins is a “normal way to establish a bond”, White says. “Dolphins are mostly bisexual, sometimes heterosexual, sometimes homosexual, and quite frequent – eight to 10 times a day I’ve been told – so it’s a very different culture that we’re looking at.” Peter’s sexual advances wouldn’t surprise any marine biologist. But what astonished Lilly was the complexity of the way Peter and Howe’s relationship developed from thereon in.
“New totally unexpected sequence of events took place,” Lilly noted excitedly. “I feel that we are in the midst of a new becoming; moving into a previous unknown…” As Peter became increasingly gentle, tactile and sensitive to Howe’s feelings he began to “woo” her by softly stroking his teeth up and down her legs. “I stand very still, legs slightly apart, and Peter slides his mouth gently over my shin,” she wrote in her diary. “Peter is courting me… he has been most persistent and patient… Obviously a sexy business… The mood is very gentle, still and hushed… all movements are slow.” Today she talks about the whole experience philosophically: “It was very precious. It was very gentle… It was sexual on his part. It was not sexual on mine. Sensual, perhaps.”
Howe’s writing also reflects her increasingly protective feelings towards Peter, and at the end of her diary she admits that Peter’s attentiveness helped her overcome her “depression” and “fits of self-pity”.
In a neat romantic twist, it all ended happily for Howe. She left the lab to marry the project’s photographer, John Lovatt. Though dismayed to lose her, even Lilly was pleased: “Her intraspecies needs are finally being taken care of.” She never returned to work for him. Soon after the experiment, Lilly’s funding began to dry up, and with his second marriage in tatters he left to explore mystical interests in South America.
As for Peter, the lab’s vet Andy Williamson remembers his concerns as the experiment came to a close: “It was great [Howe] wasn’t going to be damaged… but as a veterinarian, I wondered about poor Peter. This dolphin was madly in love with her.”
The unexpected consequences of the experiment highlight one of the persisting problems with the “short-sighted” scientific approach to animal intelligence, says White. “We focus on language as the primary indicator of intelligence. Dolphins, like humans, are very sophisticated emotionally as well as intellectually. From an ethical standpoint, that’s what we should be looking at.”
Humpback takes seal under its flipper to cheat predators
by Philip Hoare
The Guardian, Thursday 26 November 2009
There are plenty of stories of cetaceans saving humans. Indeed, Jonah was rescued by a whale when he was thrown overboard, and there have been tales of dolphins assisting swimmers in distress or shielding them from circling sharks.
Killer whales, however — themselves a species of dolphin — didn’t get their name for nothing. Early Basque whalers called them whale killers when they saw them attacking other whales. Hunting like a pack of wolves, orca know no fear. They’ll tear the throats from grey whale calves, and have even been known to take chunks out of sperm whales — the largest predators that ever lived.
But here’s a sight to gladden the eye. Earlier this year, Californian scientists Robert L Pitman and John W Durban sailed to the Antarctic in search of killer whales. They were looking for a possible new species, known to hunt Weddell seals — one of the plumpest of the pinnipeds (the suborder that includes seals and sea lions) — by washing them off ice floes with their wake.
That’s what was happening here — until a group of humpback whales arrived on the scene. Unlike orca, which are odontocetes or toothed whales, humpbacks are mysticetes, harmless leviathans with only baleen plates in their mouths.
Doubtless open-mouthed themselves, Pitman and Durban — along with a film crew from the BBC Natural History unit — watched as one seal, swept into the water by the orca, swam towards the humpbacks.
As the killer whales moved in, the plucky pinniped leapt on to the vast ribbed belly of a humpback, and nestled in the animal’s armpit. Not only that, but when a wave threatened to return the seal to danger, the humpback used its massive flipper (at five metres, the longest in the animal kingdom) to nudge it back on.
“Moments later the seal scrambled off and swam to the safety of a nearby ice floe,” wrote the scientists. They believe the seal triggered a maternal defence mechanism in the humpbacks. Whatever the truth, it’s a heartening tale. But spare a thought for the orca. They’ve got kids to feed, too.
The blue whale is the largest whale or creature ever known to have existed and we are blessed to have these mysterious behemoths still roaming our oceans. The females start having calves when they are between 5 and 10 years of age.
The mother will be pregnant with her baby for at least a year and on giving birth, her new calf will weigh a hefty 3 tons and will measure up to 8 m (25 feet) in length! This big baby also has some appetite on it and will consume the equivalent of a bathtub full of milk daily. This extremely rich and fatty milk (40-50% fat) has the consistency of cottage cheese. The well fed tyke will gain approx. 3.7 kilos an hour with this fat laden feasting.
The burgeoning baby will spend at least the first year of its life with mum and will leave her when large enough to defend itself.It is usually around 13 m when it is ready to venture out on its own.
Suzanne Burns 2014.
Whales, whales everywhere! This was how you could describe the incredible day we had on the M.V. Lukwa. We sailed down Blackney Pass bursting with anticipation. Word was out that the orca were back. We had been patiently waiting for this day and we were delighted when we first caught sight of them this morning.
A group of orca called the A42‘s appeared ahead of us to our starboard side! This family are descended from the A5 pod and are made up of five members. The mother is called ‘Sonora’ and she was born in 1980. She has four of her young with her. The oldest, born in 1996 is a male called ‘Surf’. He was joined by his siblings ‘Current’ and ‘Cameleon’ who were born in 2004 and 2008 respectively. The youngest one was born last year and is yet to be named. This family are ‘residents’ or fish eaters only and their fish of choice is chinook salmon.
As we were watching transfixed by the sight of these phenomenal pescetarians, humpbacks started to appear to our port side! One of the humpbacks which is known as ‘KC’ or Kelp Creature breached while we observed the orca! Four humpbacks were seen altogether and another was identified as ‘Guardian’ by Sophia our naturalist on board. Lots of sea birds were seen milling around the whales, attracted by the glut of food in the water. We observed five Steller sea lions in Weynton Pass, right in the kelp bed. Bald eagles swooped over the sea lions in their watery lair.
The afternoon trip was all geared up and ready to see some orca. We headed south towards Robson Bight Ecological Reserve. We got word from the reserve warden, Marie that the orca were still in the area, close to the rubbing beaches. Marie works for a voluntary organization called ‘Cetus’ that patrol the reserve and surrounding areas during the summer. They educate and advise local and incoming boaters and help protect the whales from boat strike and entanglement in props and fishing gear.
The orca did indeed reappear close to shore, east of the reserve. It was confirmed that it was the same orca family we had seen this morning. ‘Surf’ was swimming alone while the rest of his family stuck close together. They began to disperse after a while and we watched awestruck as they dipped and weaved around us.
Cruising past Cracroft Point, Blackney Pass we saw a humpback. It was suspended in the swirling water and rose and sank with grace and ease. For such an enormous creature, it could slink from view effortlessly. Alison, our naturalist identified the wily whale as ‘Argonaut’. This whale is so called as it has what looks like to be an ‘A’ notched into it’s fluke. Some speedy Dall’s porpoises appeared momentarily after Argonaut disappeared. They looked so tiny after seeing such a huge whale.
So it’s a very warm welcome back for our resident orcas. An incredible opportunity to see an orca family thriving in the wild and spending summer in our waters.
Mist rolled over the mountains this morning like dragon’s breath as we cruised out of Telegraph Cove. Within minutes of our trip we saw our first blow of a humpback whale while watching several mature and immature bald eagles. We were able to identify the two humpbacks with the help of our on board naturalist, Kyle who referenced the MERS Humpback ID catalog (www.mersociety.org).
The first whale identified was ‘Argonaut’ and the other was ‘Slits’. Argonaut is so named as it has what looks like a capital ‘A’ etched into the left underside of it’s fluke. Slits is a newcomer on the scene, having been first spotted last year. Both whales appeared to be ‘logging’ i.e. spending lots of surface time resting and short dives of 6-8 minutes.
At times Dall’s porpoises were all over the whales, leaping around them. The Dall’s porpoises were numerous and very active bow and wake riding the boat. It was quite the sight.
Rhinoceros auklets and murres were some of the other alluring avians we saw today. We even saw a small black tailed deer feeding high on the edge of a cliff.
Our afternoon sailing was a glorious combination of moody fog and brilliant sunshine with the animals providing us with tantalising glimpses into their worlds. Dall’s porpoises were repeat offenders and came along wake riding the Lukwa. The mist rolled in again and we initially tried to find ‘whales by braille’. By this, we took our time and listened carefully to the characteristic resonant sound the humpbacks make when they breathe on the surface.
The fog, thankfully, was not meant to be. We made our way towards the ever increasing blue and entered Blackney Pass. The water whirled and fumed as we sailed through, churning up all sorts of small creatures in it’s fury. Two whales were found to be capitalizing on this bounty, feeding furiously in the maelstrom. The two seen were identified by Sophia our naturalist as ‘KC’ and ‘Guardian’. KC had been spotted approx.40km south yesterday so it made it all the more special to see this whale. We spent an hour here watching these behemoths weave their way through this whirlpool. An unexpected guest also joined the goodness and happened to be a minke whale which is known as ‘Bolt’. Bolt has been seen in this area since 2000.
Our guests were thrilled to see such a prolonged and wonderful sight of these whales feeding and diving. One couple called Phil and Tania from Gloucester, England fulfilled their dreams by seeing these gentle giants wild and free. Glaucous winged gulls, young and older sat and flew over the riffled water, unperturbed by all the activity around them.
At Weynton Island, a couple of harbour seals were precariously balanced on rocks. As we made our way back towards home, the wildlife kicked off in earnes. Two Steller sea lions roared in the kelp, as some beautiful bald eagles flew above them. Two more humpbacks appeared close by, providing us with ample opportunities to observe and photograph them. Slits was one of the two seen again. We wrapped up our trip with a glorious cruise back to port. Life is good!
What makes a day special? Wildlife, and particularly whales! We had two fantastic trips today with a vast array of beautiful creatures, from Dall’s porpoises, harbour seals, Steller sea lions, Pacific white sided dolphins, humpback whales, deer, orcas, eagles, rhinoceros auklets and even a sea otter!!!
The porpoises were our entourage as we started our morning. They were superseded by seals hauled out on the rocks at Whitecliff Islands. A couple of sea lions were swimming around the Plumper islands. The dolphins got in on the action and approx. eight adults bow rode the boat to our amazement. In Bull Head, Weynton Pass which is synonymous with whales and orcas, we were thrilled to see six different humpbacks. Our boat naturalist Kyle was able to identify three of the whales. The ones he recorded were ‘Argonaut’, ‘Horizon’ and ‘Conger’. Our Captain Geoff got word that a rare sea otter was in the area. They are seldom seen on our trips so we were thrilled to see one at Whitecliff Islands. It appeared and then disappeared quickly, giving just enough time for a quick viewing.
Our afternoon trip was slightly damper with the rain coming in. Luckily the wildlife here are predominantly pelagic so pay no heed to such frivolous concerns. At the Plumper’s, the eagles swooped and soared over the trees. Argonaut came back with a big steaming breath near our port side. He had a companion to the starboard side which we were unable to identify. Within minutes, two more humpbacks appeared with one of them confirmed as ‘Guardian’ by Alison, our naturalist.
We got word from a local researcher, Jared Towers that transient or Bigg’s killer whales were close to Alert Bay so off we went. Our excitement mounted as we ventured forth to find ‘Blackfish’. A big male orca known as T012A was the first one we spotted, swimming close to the shallows. This is a 32 year old lone orca that is known to occasionally associate with other transients. A small family group of transients was then seen straight ahead of us known as the T109A’s. This family consists of a 24 year old female with three young ones that were born in born 2005, 2009 and 2012. These four initially appeared to be resting but then the young ones youthful exuberance took over. Breaching, spy hopping and tail slapping were all behaviours witnessed over the next half hour to our delight.
Heading back to port we saw some harbour seals with last year’s young. The Dall’s porpoises made another visit through the Plumper Islands. A guest from Switzerland spotted a young deer on shore nimbly leaping over the rocks. The eagles were seen to gather in the trees high above us, young and adults all vying for space on the branches. Below them, four male Steller sea lions broke the water surface in unison, before diving swiftly again. A day bursting at the seams with wildlife and incredible spectacles. We were truly blessed.
A day of calm, fine weather with quite ‘wild’ wildlife made for a heady brew for our trips today. We started with a very exciting morning, with one area in particular being a hot spot for us. As we cruised out, we were flanked by some Dall’s porpoises, leaping in parallel to us. On entering Weynton Pass, things really started to go off, Three Steller sea lions were found morphing their bodies in with the bull kelp. Then a super pod of Pacific white sided dolphins appeared. They bow rode, leapt and swam in an astonishing display of cetacean synchronicity. And if that was not enough excitement, we were joined by a humpback whale.
We were lucky enough to get some good shots of it’s tail fluke and it was identified by our on board naturalist Sophia as ‘Argonaut’. A couple of humpbacks were seen in the area also from a greater distance so we were unable to see who they were. We are continuing our efforts to identify as many whales and orca as we can this season to help all the scientists and researchers who work with these magnificent creatures. With proper identification shots of dorsal fins and flukes, we can send these pictures to MERS (www.mersociety.org). This whale has been seen in the area every year since 2009.
The clement weather continued to accompany us on our afternoon sailing. In the Eastern Queen Charlotte Strait, we had a feeding frenzy with birds and dolphins capitalizing on the bounty. The dolphins showed incredible agility and leapt in a way to give any acrobat a run for their money! One passenger observed a single dolphin do 18 leaps high out of the water.
Approaching Broughton Archipelago, a sleepy humpback whale was seen by us and the dolphins. They rapidly approached it and started swimming and jumping around the weary whale. From what we could see, the whale appeared irritated by the intruders, perhaps somewhat akin to a dog being ‘buzzed’ by flies.
At the Whitecliff Islands, another somnolent whale was briefly observed on the surface. Harbour seals were relaxing amongst the rocks and suspended in the water, as they espied us. An adult bald eagle surveyed the scene from it’s perch above them. Other birds that were seen during this trip were pigeon guillemots and rhinoceros auklets.
At Bull Head, Weynton Pass, a humpback surfaced quickly before descending. It afforded us the chance to get another identification shot for the day. This one was recognized by our naturalist Alison as ‘Argonaut’. It appears that this whale shows consistent site fidelity as this area has been a stronghold for it since 2009. At the Plumper Islands we saw a large eagle’s nest high up in the trees. Argonaut continued to trail close behind us, fluking intermittently. The Steller sea lions were also seen again in the kelp with jumping Dall’s porpoises in the background! To add to the party, a harbour seal popped up and Argonaut gave us his encore before we sailed back to port.
The weather and wildlife gods smiled on us today as we set forth on our boat ‘’The Tenacious III’’. Our first brief stop of the day was in Seymour narrows, close to Ripple Rock. Sun glittered on the water as we cruised through and cut the engine. We were afforded the chance to linger in this auspicious piece of water and watch the swirling whirlpools churn and froth around us.
Around the cliff rock called Copper Bluffs, small flocks of pigeon guillemots flew to and from their nests on the cliff face, illuminated by the brilliant sunshine. No sooner had we approached Quadra Island when we had some curious visitors approach us. These inquisitive creatures were harbour seals! A few seals eyed us keenly while their braver comrades swam ever closer. We wondered, who was really watching who?!
We ventured towards Quathiaski Cove, whose name comes from the Salish words which mean ‘calm waters’ or ‘bear with something in its mouth’. The water was unsettled at this time however, with gulls circling and feeding. Two harbour porpoises popped up amongst them and seemed to also be indulging in a luncheon snack of young herring. A few Bonaparte gulls flitted elegantly above the water to also capitalise on the fishy goodness.
We stopped for lunch off Mitlenatch Island which is a bird sanctuary and research haven, and enjoyed our food in the sun. Some passengers had a brief view of a Steller sea lion during our break. Not long after eating, we headed south to view more of the spectacularly beautiful surroundings. Our boat sped smoothly through the water as we watched the snow capped mountains and forests around us. Captain John kept us entertained with interesting anecdotes and history on the area. The on board naturalist, Anne rounded off our trip with a fascinating talk on the local wildlife and our interconnectedness with all of these creatures.