Breaching Humpback Whales and breaching Orcas!

IMG_0718 IMG_0720 IMG_0722 IMG_0735 IMG_0742 IMG_0743 IMG_0756 IMG_0763 IMG_0772 IMG_0775 IMG_0781 IMG_0813 IMG_0818 IMG_0859We enjoyed yet another beautiful day on the water and despite the heavy fog, we had bountiful sightings of both Humpback Whales and Orcas. While Orcas (A30’s and I15’s) were reported being off  Blackney Passage earlier in the morning and prior to our leaving the dock, there were no more updates to go on when we headed down Johnstone Strait. Just past Weynton Passage in Johnstone Strait when we stopped to deploy our hydrophone to listen for possible orca vocalizations and blows we could hear the unmistakeable blow of a Humpback Whale nearby. We carried on to the east and suddenly a Humpback Whale surfaced nearby and while we stopped to watch, another Humpback Whale surfaced nearby and then another! Where to look, it was incredible, with one whale lunge feeding, the others surfacing and diving! Common Murres were everywhere which was so good to see, the male parents calling their young, sounding like penguins, their calls were all part of our morning tour and while our visibility in the fog was almost zero, it was still absolutely wonderful watching the giant Cetaceans feeding tirelessly in the flooding current spilling out of Weynton Passage, the Common Murres and Gulls alongside feeding on herring balls. When Orca blows were reported near Parsons Light in Blackfish Sound we began making our way through Weynton Passage and once in Blackfish Sound, we were suddenly surrounded by three more Humpback Whales bringing our count to at least six but likely more. Because of the fog, we will never be sure but one thing we experienced was the amazing breaching behaviour of one of the Humpback Whales of which fortunately some of our passengers were able to photograph, it breached at least four times!  As fantastic as it was, we carried on and eventually encountered some of the I15’s and the A30’s as they made their way west, more so along the Swanson Island shoreline. The fog stayed, and even while we watched, the orcas would appear and disappear into the fog, some of our visuals were incredible and for some lucky passengers onboard, they also captured a beautiful breaching Orca! Alas, not us, looking in another direction we missed the photo opportunity, but the vocalizations were stunningly beautiful, A-Clan A30’s and G-Clan I15’s, it was fabulous to simply listen and enjoy the moment. Also seen: Harbour Seals, Stellar Sea Lions, Pacific White-sided Dolphins darting back and forth along with some Dall’s Porpoises, Rhinoceros Auklets, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels, Red-necked Phalaropes, Pelagic Cormorants, Belted Kingfishers, Herring, Mew and Glaucous-winged Gulls.

Sailing with the A30’s ~ phenomenal viewing of foraging orcas especially A93

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What a wonderful time we shared with the A30’s today, our entire time with them was spent sailing and it was so lovely as well, being able to listen to their A-Clan calls and echolocation via our hydrophone trailing behind us as we sailed along. The morning was a gorgeous one with a red sky reflecting across the waters here in Alert Bay while in Alder Bay when we arrived, the lighting had changed to blues and greens with golden glints and it was beautiful listening to the cries of gulls who had gathered in large numbers, a familiar sound as summer begins to wane. Today it was at the bottom end of Hanson Island where we encountered the A30’s this morning, they were foraging in Blackney Passage, spread out, A39 was in the lead this time, foraging close to the Hanson Island shoreline when they began travelling to the west; the A50’s came behind with the A54’s following and A38 lingered awhile in Blackney Passage before he too made his way west but a distance out from the shoreline. With our mainsail up and a light southeasterly wind blowing it was perfect for moving us along, quietly at the same pace as the orcas. What an incredible experience we all shared in when the A54’s turned back to forage nearby us, and unbelievably A93 commenced to forage intensely around our boat. Back and forth, lunge feeding at the stern with giant lunging splashes and swimming alongside the hull and then back and forth at the bow, it was phenomenal viewing to say the least! Looking through the photographs taken for identification, it was easy to ascertain from the open saddle patch that the orca was none other than four year old A93. Leaving the orcas to continue on their way foraging west, we made our way in through Weynton Island (small passage) viewing numerous hauled out Harbour Seals and Pigeon Guillemots while in the distance the blow of a Humpback Whale was sighted. En route to viewing the whale we enjoyed observing the leisurely pace of several Stellar Sea-Lions, lying in shallow waters, they were unperturbed at our watching them! The Humpback Whale was moving about considerably in Weynton Passage in the flooding current, there were herring balls++ with gulls++ feeding on them as well. Also seen today: Dall’s Porpoises, Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Murres, Black Oyster Catchers, a Double Crested Cormorant, Bald Eagles and an Eaglet sitting high in branches, Belted Kingfishers, Great Blue Herons, Ruddy Turnstones, Gulls of numerous species++.

Fabulous whale watching in Johnstone Strait and Weynton Passage

As we headed out on tour this morning the fog had mostly cleared in Johnstone Strait and we headed east where it was reported that orcas were making their way to the west along the Vancouver Island shoreline while others were also making their way west across the Strait.  We encountered the A8’s near Kaikash, A66 was in the lead and we enjoyed seeing him ahead of the others, a family of five orcas in total. While the Orcas were all moving quickly, stopping to forage along the way they were joined by a small group of Pacific White-sided Dolphins 10+  who were seen porpoising amongst them.The orcas at that point became silent and proceeded to take long dives in an attempt to loose the playful dolphins but ahead of this we had listened to their A-Clan calls via our hydrophone; meanwhile the rest of the A5’s ( A23’s and A25’s) were travelling west along the Hanson Island shoreline. It was in Weynton Passage that we sighted a humpback whale moving back and forth in the current and taking dives lasting seven minutes. At the same time small groups of Dall’s Porpoises were observed feeding all around us and some 8+ Stellar Sea-lions were seen swimming lazily together nearby in a backeddy. Also seen today: Harbour Seals++, Bald Eagles and two Eaglets on the top of their nest, Red-necked Phalaropes, Pigeon Guillemots, Black Oyster Catchers, Belted Kingfishers, Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Murres, Herring, Glaucous-winged and Mew Gulls.

Humpback whales, bow-riding dall’s porpoises and a feasting stellar sea-lion

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While fog hung low throughout our tour, we so enjoyed viewing an abundance of marine life of various species, shapes and forms. The first humpback whale that we sighted was near the Plumper Islands. Listening for a blow and following the sound of its breath, we all waited in anticipation and suddenly we encountered the large fluke disappearing before us beneath the water.  When the whale resurfaced we counted it taking eight breathes and timed its dive of seven minutes, a pattern that was repeated. We next encountered a Stellar Sea Lion and observed its fishing antics with great interest, the sea-lion would dive and resurface with a good sized salmon each time, thrusting it about with vigour and attracting gulls by his action, all hungry to grab snippets of his feast.  It was exciting for everyone when we encountered a single Dall’s Porpoise riding alongside the bow of our boat followed by some 10+ other porpoises who rode alongside for several more minutes. Breaking out of the fog momentarily into the Queen Charlotte Strait we also observed three more Humpback Whales. Other species also seen today: Harbour Seals ++(hauled out and swimming), a Great Blue Heron, Red-Necked Phalaropes, Common Murres, Rhinoceros Auklets, Bald Eagles, Black Oyster Catchers, Ruddy Turnstones, Herring, Mew and California Gulls.

Unbelievable viewing of Northern Resident Orcas: A23’s and A25’s

Where to begin writing about such an amazing day of viewing!  We began our tour with the knowledge that Orcas had been heard earlier this morning in the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve and that they were A60-3-300713 A60-5-300713 A60-1-300713 IMG_0664 IMG_0665 IMG_0670 IMG_3859 IMG_0688 300713-2 IMG_0697 300713-eagles Eaglesx4heading to the west along the Vancouver Island shoreline.  It was in heavy fog that we made our way down Johnstone Strait and near Blinkhorn,  a lone Orca (A60), was out in the lead, slipping by us in the fog,his high dorsal fin appearing as a ghostly form and his breath clearly audible and far-reaching in the fog. With our engine off and the boat drifting, we listened for blows and could hear more blows behind us coming our way and soon the A43’s (A23’s) came into view with the A25’s close behind. We all enjoyed observing as the A43’s foraged near the boat, passing back and forth and lunging rapidly after fish as well, we listened to some beautiful A-Clan calls and intense close sounding echolocation near our hydrophone. The fog was dense and while losing the Orcas at times, we would listen for their blows and move towards the sound. As the tour progressed and the fog slowly dissipated around us, children onboard explained to their mother that they were experiencing a mystical Harry Potter “fog” moment just like in one of the books that they were reading with a fog and forest sequence but then more magic was to follow! As we sat waiting for the Orcas to appear again and while listening for blows of them feeding nearby, A60 suddenly appeared out of the fog and began feeding around our boat, passing back and forth with momentum while lunging after fish.  One of our passengers observed as two large Chinook Salmon swam speedily towards the hull of our boat with A60 swimming directly behind them, it was incredulous, the images of A60 so close to us, using the hull of our boat to chase salmon against, were full and vivid in the minds of all of us. It was a magical and awesome experience to partake in at close range and came as a total surprise while the boat sat drifting with the engine off.  As if by magic a “fog-bow” appeared on the water as a halo arching outwards from the stainless steel railings on the boat and with the sun shining bright, for an instant only, an orca was seen swimming through it and captured on camera by one very happy passenger!  Other sighting today included dall’s porpoises, rhinoceros auklets, bald eagles++ in the trees and fishing on a herring ball, harbour seals, belted kingfishers and gulls ++.

humpback whales ~ brilliant viewing today!

It was a day of contrast and colour and vivid imagery that made ones head spin, where the scenic beauty was beyond belief and the sheer volume of water passing through Weynton Passage at maximum

dall's porpoise

dall’s porpoise

humpback whale in the surging current

flood and ebb with constant upwellings, tide rip and whirlpools was absolute madness! Where to begin on such a day? This morning when we headed out fog hung low upon the water but clearing in waves to reveal mystical islands that would suddenly appear, only to disappear again! Weynton Passage was already busy with marine life when we arrived and it was not long before we sighted our first humpback whale of the day and observed it feeding in a back eddy close to the Plumper Islands. It was brilliant viewing and exciting when it surfaced suddenly near the bow of the boat on several occasions while the boat drifted in the fast flowing current. Several stellar sea lions were also seen swimming lazily alongside of the Plumper Islands, moving also in a back eddy but in the opposite direction to the humpback whale. Several dall’s porpoises were seen, some porpoising nearby and at the stern of the boat while others were rooster-tailing rapidly through the whirlpools. The fog engulfed us suddenly but while listening for blows a loud  humpback whale blow could be heard and moving towards the sound that carried far into the fog, a whale suddenly dived before us. There were at least three humpback whales in the near vicinity, they were moving in varying directions and we enjoyed them all as they emerged and disappeared into and out of the fog. As the day grew brighter and warmer the islands among the scenic waterways enticed us all to look and listen more keenly at the enormous glistening kelp forests spreading outwards, belted kingfishers darting back and forth, harbour seals hauled out, black oyster catchers and ruddy turnstones; all of them adding to the beauty and majesty of the day. Our afternoon tour was busy with humpback whales and we so enjoyed watching as seven or more circled back and forth and round and round in Weynton Passage, some moving out into Johnstone Strait before cruising back through the current, swept on by in the upwellings and then out towards Stubbs Island before riding back in on the flooding current! It was exceptional viewing, everywhere one looked in all directions there they were! Some were breaching and some tail lobbing, others trumpeting, it was a challenge keeping track of them all. Stellar sea lions were in the mix, as were dall’s porpoises and bald eagles fishing with gulls++ on herring balls. As unbelievable as it sounds we watched a sea lion who was lying back eating a salmon, lose it to an eagle that came swooping in, taking the portion of salmon not yet eaten and the expression on the face of the sea lion in that moment was priceless to us, the audience watching on! Today on the water it was phenomenal, the images vividly portrayed were wondrous and powerfully energizing as only nature can be.

Brilliant day of whale watching

humpback calf

humpback calf

At the beginning of our tour the A5’s (A23’s/A25’s) who had been foraging in the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve around 6.30 a.m. this morning had since headed east and could not be seen by Marie up on the Cliff opposite to the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve. It was at Blakney Passage with still no reports of the A5’s being sighted to the east that we turned into the Passage at Little

Common Murre

Common Murre

Hanson Island and then into Blackfish Sound. The day had begun as a cool one with low cloud and mist forming into a fog bank lying low over the water in the middle of Blackfish Sound but as we made our way up to the top end of the Sound, the sky was clear and the sun warm and inviting! Prior to reaching the top end there were several humpback whales reported to be feeding in the area some of whom were taking long dives. We enjoyed viewing a mother and her calf initially and then further over two other whales, both of whom were taking long dives, one was very active and could be seen

eagles, gulls and  rhinoceros auklets feeding on a herring ball

eagles, gulls and rhinoceros auklets feeding on a herring ball

moving quickly through the water where gulls and auklets were also feeding intently. Up near Stubbs Island another humpback whale that was sighted in the distance making its way out into the Queen Charlotte Strait against the flooding current suddenly surfaced behind us. It was exciting when again it surprised us surfacing near the bow of the boat where the viewing was superb! Other species also seen today were: dall’s porpoises, harbour seals, bald eagles in a nest and fishing low over a herring ball, rhinoceros auklets+++ common murres, herring and glaucous-winged gulls and two great blue herons. On our way home, shortly after departing from Alder Bay a minke whale was sighted nearby much to the delight of those remaining passengers on board; it was a fabulous ending to the day.