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.
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.