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 ++.

Sail with the whales ~ orcas ~ minke and humpback whales also seen!

minke whale

minke whale

Double crested cormorant

Double crested cormorant

It was a fantastic day for seeing cetaceans but also for sailing in Johnstone Strait. Our tour began with an early sighting of a minke whale close to the dock in Alder Bay and after some very good viewing we carried on and soon received a

harbour seals: mother and pups

harbour seals: mother and pups

A61

A61

report of six orca’s (A23’s/25’s) foraging in Blackney Pass and looking as though they were heading into Blackfish Sound however, they carried on and began making their way foraging along

A61 foraging

A61 foraging

A23's travelling east in Johnstone Strait

A23’s travelling east in Johnstone Strait

the Hanson Island shoreline. The wind was light and perfect for sailing and with our main-sail hoisted we were soon sailing while trailing our hydrophone behind us.  A61 (A25’s) was the leading orca travelling on his own ahead of the others and had already gone by us when the other orcas were observed angling

A61

A61

over in the direction of Vancouver Island turning back to the east, at the same time we heard a few A-Clan calls on the hydrophone. The sail down Johnstone Strait was phenomenal and exhilarating, we were going at the same pace as the orcas and observed the A23’s coming together forming a travelling line of four orcas and closest to Vancouver Island

Common Murre

Common Murre

while the A25’s had also come together and side by side were seen swimming parallel to the A23’s. It was absolutely wonderful! Leaving the orcas we turned back and made our way towards Weynton Passage, the current was still flooding++ and near the Plumper Island we saw three stellar sea-lions swimming close to shore in a back-eddy, up in an eagle’s nest we saw one of the eaglets sitting high in the nest, another stellar sea-lion went by us in the current and two humpback whales were also seen. It was an amazing day that continued on when passengers sighted yet another minke whale crossing just ahead of us in Pearse Passage on our approach to Cormorant Island on our way home. As one of our passengers from Scotland commented on when leaving the boat, “seeing six orcas, four stellar sea-lions, two humpback whales and two minke whales, we think we’ve had  a pretty good day”! Also seen today: harbour seals, dall’s porpoises, a double crested cormorant, rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemots, red-necked phalaropes, herring and glaucous-winged gulls and belted kingfishers.

Two minke whales and a humpback whale

Minke whale: Bolt

Minke whale: Bolt

Humpback whale: KC  11 years old

Humpback whale: KC

KC: dorsal fin

KC: dorsal fin

We had no sooner left the dock this morning in Alder Bay when a minke whale suddenly surfaced on the starboard side of the boat surprising us all. The whale was feeding, moving back and forth and everyone onboard S.V. Tuan enjoyed some really

Black-tailed deer

Black-tailed deer

nice viewing of it. At one sighting, a second minke whale could be seen feeding further to the west and then moving close along the Vancouver Island shoreline. We followed in its direction but at each of it’s surfacing’s, we could not get a good id photo of its dorsal fin meanwhile the minke whale that we had first sighted was identified by Jared and Christie as being Bolt. We carried on in our tour and made our way through the islands into Blackfish Sound where after much scanning, we sighted the blow of a humpback whale down near Parson’s Light.  The whale was taking some 5-8 breathes between dives of 5-10 minute intervals and could often be seen at the surface lying there momentarily, one time we observed its mouth at the surface of the water, the whale was moving it’s head about to feed but was not lunge feeding and there was an abundance of tiny fish seen simultaneously in the area. The whale we identified as KC (Kelp Creature), this whale is now 11 years old and was first sighted as a calf of Houdini’s in 2002 and has returned to this area to feed every year since. For us, it was our first sighting of KC since last fall and a really exciting viewing for all of us. On the way home with the sun shining bright we enjoyed some viewing of several dall’s porpoises feeding quietly nearby. Other sightings included: a stellar sea lion, bald Eagles fishing and sitting high in tree tops+++, harbour seals, oyster catchers, rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemots, 12 harlequin ducks, a black- tailed deer, a great blue heron and belted kingfishers.