Monthly Encounters November 2016 – Whales sighted on every tour!

The start of November brought some beautiful weather to Victoria and hopes were high for an amazing month of whale watching!  A large group of Humpback Whales had been travelling through the Strait of Juan De Fuca during the last week of October and we were delighted to see they were still in the area for our first trip of November.  On November 3rd, under gorgeous blue skies and brilliant sunshine, our Zodiac headed west across calm waters to a group of 6 Humpback Whales.  It was not just the whales that were a magnificent sight – the fresh snow on the Olympic mountains, a tour around the striking sea caves of Port Angeles, and a visit from Harry the Sea Otter made this an incredible launch into our winter season.

zodiac tour near Victoria, BC
Early November Zodiac Tour under beautiful sunshine and clear blue skies at Swordfish Rock.
cormorants near Metchosin
Cormorants drying their wings near Metchosin.
Sea Otter, Race Rocks Ecological Reserve, Victoria BC
Harry, the Sea Otter, among Kelp fronds.

Race Rocks Ecological Reserve was a favourite spot during this first week of the month. Hundreds of Steller and California Sea Lions haul out here every winter, we even spotted the occasional Elephant Seal, and Harry the Sea Otter kept us entertained as he played amongst the kelp fronds.  To be up close and personal with these pinnipeds is a remarkable experience!  There is a cacophony of noise as the Sea Lions bark and chatter amongst themselves, not to mention the smell of this Sea Lion haul out, accompanied by Harbour Seals and Seabirds, is a truly novel sensory adventure! With Humpback Whales spotted on every tour and the awesome Sea Lion sightings throughout the first week of November, we were definitely looking forward to the rest of the month!

Sea Lions at Race Rocks Ecological Reserve, Victoria BC
Sea Lions at Race Rocks Ecological Reserve
Sea Lion Silhouette, Victoria BC
Silhouette of Sea Lions in late afternoon November sunshine.
Sea Lions at Sunset, Victoria BC
Sea Lions at Sunset, Race Rocks Ecological Reserve

A wonderful surprise awaited us for our tour on November 9th, Transient Killer Whales had been spotted that morning! As the fog banks cleared out on the Strait, we set off in search of these Orca.  The stunning scenery of the Pacific Northwest coastline, the towering Olympic mountain range, and rays of sunlight streaming through breaks in the cloud was unforgettable.  The sighting of this pod of Transient Killer Whales was the highlight of an already amazing trip.

Olympic Mountains
Mystical cloud cover over the snow capped Olympic Mountains
Transient Killer Whales, Victoria BC
Transient Killer Whales in the Strait of Juan De Fuca
Transient Killer Whales
Transient Killer Whales travelling along the coast of Southern Vancouver Island.

Later in the week we spotted the group of Humpback Whales once again.  A group of over 20 were in search of herring near the southern peninsula of Sooke, just to the west of Victoria.  As the adult whales were lunge feeding through bait balls of herring, Seabirds circled overhead joining in the feeding frenzy.  Several calves were also within the group – socializing, rolling and playing with each other.  This particular encounter was such a privilege to witness, and a pleasure to see!

Humpback Whale feeding on a bait ball
Humpback Whale feeding on a bait ball.
Humpback Whale diving
Into the deep – a Humpback Whale dives to feed.

By mid-month, wet weather had arrived into Victoria but that certainly didn’t dampen our spirits.  Despite the stormy seas and windy weather our tours took us by many of the rocky islets dotted around the coast.  Seabirds were in abundance; Glaucous Winged Gulls, Double Crested Cormorants as well as the striking black and white Pigeon Guillemots.  One of the iconic bird species of this coast – the Bald Eagle, had also returned for the winter.  With a huge wingspan, brilliant white head and tail feathers contrasted by a hooked yellow beak, this winter visitor is an unmistakable sight.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle perched atop a marine marker near Haystack Islets.

The Transient Killer Whales certainly did not mind the winter weather as they returned to Haro Strait on November 21st with sightings of not just one, but two separate pods. For us, the tours were a real West Coast adventure – very exciting!  These magnificent Orca, porpoising across the water with their tall triangular black dorsal fins slicing through the waves as they searched for food, made each trip that week very special.

Transient Killer Whales, Victoria BC
Transient Killer Whales travelling through the Strait.

Wonderful news met us on the morning of November 25th.  The endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales were back in Victoria!  It was J pod and K pod, with several baby Orca born just under 2 years ago.  We were so lucky to see these 2 pods for several days until they travelled westwards at the end of November.

Resident Killer Whales, Victoria BC
Southern Resident Killer Whales in the shadow of the Olympic Mountain Range.
Pod of Southern Resident Killer Whales, Victoria BC
Pod of Southern Resident Killer Whales
Spyhopping Resident Killer Whale, Victoria BC
Spyhopping Resident Killer Whale.

Throughout November, the diversity of wildlife and stunning scenery we saw on our tours was amazing. The wild West Coast of beautiful British Columbia is truly a fantastic place to be at this time of year!

monthly encounters november 2016
Stunning Winter Sunset across the Strait of Juan De Fuca, near Victoria BC.