July 9, 2016 – Today was yet another fantastic day for whale watching on the Salish Sea! This morning one of our high-speed zodiacs, RipTide, headed out of Victoria’s Inner harbour with Skipper Greg and a boat full of passengers in search of whales. The boat made its way east towards San Juan Island where they came across a group of Transient killer whales. There are two distinct sub-species of killer whales in our area; Transients and Residents. The Transient killer whales eat marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and porpoise. Skipper Greg and his passengers observed the apex predators of the sea near False Bay before heading a bit further north in search of the other subspecies; the Southern Resident killer whales. They were in luck, and found a large group of J-Pod, one of the three resident pods (J, K and L) in our region. The Resident killer whales do not eat mammals; instead, their diet consists almost solely of Chinook salmon.
Our afternoon zodiac trip with Skipper Marty on FasTide did not disappoint either – Marty and his passengers also made their way towards San Juan Island, hoping to catch a glimpse of the animals seen in the morning. At Eagle Point on San Juan Island, they once again found a group of four Transient killer whales, before making their way to False Bay to catch up with J-Pod once more. For new and experienced whale watchers alike, the chance to see both sub-species in a single 3-hour tour is certainly something to be excited about!
This afternoon’s trip aboard our larger covered vessel, Marauder IV, with Captain Ian and Biologists Kat and Laureline was very different from the zodiac tours. Marauder IV and everyone aboard headed south towards the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve in search of humpback whales. South East of Race Rocks, they were met by what can only be described as a feeding frenzy and mass congregation of humpback whales! Biologist Kat describes the feeling of having upwards of 15 humpback whales within a few mile radius as completely exhilarating. Every direction you looked there were tails, humps, and blows of air coming out of the water. To everyone’s delight, a group of humpbacks near Marauder IV were engaging in a feeding activity that is known as “lunge feeding”. The whales dive below their prey, and then slowly begin spiraling towards the surface, blowing bubbles in a circular motion. Everyone on board could see the circle of bubbles forming as the whales moved in this spiral formation. The bubbles act as a sort of net, congregating the prey and forcing it towards the surface. The passengers on Marauder IV got to witness a huge explosion of air and whales as they surfaced in the center of their bubble circle with their mouths gaping wide open exposing their baleen. What a sight! While lunge feeding is in itself exciting to see no matter the circumstance, it is especially exciting to us since this is not a typical behaviour for humpbacks in this region (it is more commonly seen in Alaska) – here, we generally see them feeding at a greater depth. Our Biologists hypothesize that the whales were either after something unusually scrumptious on the surface, or perhaps the humpbacks are becoming more cooperative in their feeding habits and bringing this behaviour to our area!
After a fantastic day, passengers and crew alike returned grinning from ear to ear. Check out more exciting photos from this day on our Facebook page!