July 23, 2016 – This morning the Marauder IV headed out under sunny skies. Captain Ian was destined for the centre of Juan de Fuca Strait in search of Humpback Whales. The previous evening there were also Killer Whales in the strait, so we were hoping they were still in the area. Before long we found a group of Humpbacks feeding. Working in groups of 2 or 3 the whales were diving in unison feeding on krill and small schooling fish such as herring. Then the sighting we were hoping for – a Fin Whale. Although not uncommon in British Columbia, Fin Whales rarely venture down into the protected waters of Juan de Fuca Strait preferring to stay in the open Pacific off the coast of B.C. We knew there was one in the area and were hoping to see it.
At a length of 25 metres (100 ft.) and weighing up to 90 tonnes Fin Whales are the second largest animal on Earth after the Blue Whale. Despite their enormous size Fin Whales feed primarily on small planktonic organisms like krill and small crustaceans called copepods. Although small schooling fish like herring and sardines are also eaten these make up a relatively small part of their diet.
Like Humpback Whales, Fin Whales are baleen whales feeding by lunging through schools of krill or small fish with their mouths wide open. Like Humpbacks they have throat pleats that can expand to huge proportions. With one lunge an adult Fin Whale can engulf up to 70 tonnes of water – in some cases more than their body weight. They then force this water out through the baleen plates hanging from the roof of their mouth that act like a sieve and trap the small organisms in the water. We left the whales excited that we got to watch not only Humpback Whales but the massive Fin Whale as well.
In the afternoon the Marauder headed west towards Race Rocks an ecological reserve that is home to many Harbour Seals, California Sea Lions, Steller Sea Lions, many species of Seabirds, as well as one Sea Otter. It is also the northernmost breeding colony of Northern Elephant Seals, massive animals that weigh up to 2.5 tonnes. After a good look at seals, Steller Sea Lions, many seabirds and Harry, our resident Sea Otter, we headed south into Juan de Fuca Strait. Before long we spotted some blows – Humpback Whales exhaling as they surfaced to breathe. Soon we were with two Humpbacks. They dove to feed as we drifted in the wind and soon we saw bubbles not far from the boat on the left side. Expecting the whales to come up on that side of the boat, everyone was watching the port side waiting for the whales to surface. Instead, the whales swam under the boat and came up on the other side of the boat and exhaled loudly startling several people on board.
Besides these two whales we saw blows of several other whales so moved to have a look at other whales getting good views of several other Humpbacks before heading back to Victoria. As we started to move away a Humpback breached twice. An awe inspiring sight and an enormous splash.