It was a sunny day in Victoria. Our tours set out in search of whales. The morning tour on the zodiac with Captain Ian headed East and North to search Haro Strait. There they navigated some amazing coastal island ecosystems with bull kelp forests and birds soaring overhead.
The were able to spot some Harbour Seals on the rocks warming themselves up. Harbour Seals are one of the most commonly spotted marine mammals on our tours. It’s still a treat to see them wiggling their plump bodies over the rocks; we affectionately call them rock sausages.
In the afternoon we headed out to search a different area in hopes of finding something large. We headed south into the Straight of Juan de Fuca on our covered vessel Maurader IV. We went out towards Constance Bank. Constance Bank is a shallower spot in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Shallow spots, often called pinnacles, can cause upwellings of nutrient-rich water from the ocean depths, and provide a spot for kelp to grow within reach of sunlight from the surface. With nutrients and kelp, pinnacles can be great habitats for many fish and invertebrates which will attract larger and exciting predators like seals and whales.
With no signs of larger marine mammals at Constance Bank we went over to Rock Pile, another pinnacle further to the South. We struck gold at the “Rock Pile”, a shallow stretch of water where pinnacles of rocks accumulate and with it whale food. A humpback whale was feeding but not just any humpback whale, a local celebrity called “Big Momma”. This humpback whale is so named because she has been a consistent reproducer helping repopulate this area with seven calves of her own. The nature of the humpback’s seasonal pattern means normally the calves migrate with their mothers for the first year and then they will take the same route alone once older. So “Big Momma” has taught her children just how great this area is and we are very grateful! It was only herself this time but she gave us a warm welcome with lots of tail slapping and a even treated us to a breach at one point! Such a privilege to see this large animal gracefully making its way out of the water especially since this action has a very high energy demand on the animal.We identified the whale as “Big Momma” from her tail flukes. Humpback tail flukes are unique for each individual, like a fingerprint, allowing us to identify whales using clear photo graphs of the whale’s tail.
After watching “Big Momma” we then went over to Discovery Island to take a look for some other marine life. There we found an abundance of Pelagic Cormorants on the rocks. As a foot-propelled diving bird they can dive to depths of 210 ft (70 m). They lack the water resistant coating on their feather that most marine birds posses and this allows them to absorb water into their feathers making them less buoyant and able to dive deeper. However, they must then dry their wings out after a dive. Cormorants are often seen with wings outstretched to dry as they rest on rocks or buoys.
Common murres and Rhinoceros Auklets were sitting in a large raft on the water’s surface too. Finally we added another species of marine mammal to our list in the form of harbour seals. A pleasant way to round off our special encounter with “Big Momma” the Humpback whale.