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.
photo credit: NOAA/Vancouver Aquarium. Two killer whales share a moment, filmed by a remote controlled vehicle.
Even while being kept at a distance where it would not disturb the whales, the hexacopter took images so sharp it is possible to tell that some of the whales are pregnant.
The footage they took is disturbing. Some of the Northern resident orcas they tracked are lacking in body fat and in very poor condition. While they were tracking one, it failed to surface and appears to have died. While there could be many causes of death, the researchers are concerned that the whales in the area are affected by declines in the Chinook salmon population, one of their main food sources.
One particularly intriguing aspect was the observation that A46, the brother of the whale that died, called extensively after losing his sibling. NOAA’s John Durban speculates he may still have been seeking his lost brother, or telling the rest of the pod the sad news.
However, it’s not all grim times for the whales. The scientists managed to get the photo above of two orcas nuzzling (or maybe playfully head-butting) each other. Orcas spend their entire lives in family pods, which in some cases can be an entire century.
My contribution: One of my photos of the researchers is included in this film clip.