The late January air was chilly but the sun was peeking through the clouds as our adventurous zodiac passengers departed Victoria Harbour in search of marine wildlife. Heading south into Juan de Fuca Strait, Skipper Ian spotted some members of J Pod, one of our resident fish-eating killer whale families, cruising past Victoria toward the San Juan Islands. The whales were swimming sedately, spread out in search of salmon for lunch. The zodiac got a great look at 32-year-old female J22 (Oreo) and her teenaged son J38 (Cookie). Cookie, at 14 years old, is ‘sprouting’: his baby dorsal fin is beginning to lengthen and change shape into his mature male fin, which may eventually reach up to 6 feet (almost 2 meters) tall! These iconic blade-like fins are part of what distinguishes male killer whales from females, and is a way of showing females that the male is of breeding age.
Taking a break from whales, the zodiac zipped over to Race Rocks Ecological reserve for a look at the dozens of California and Steller sea lions lounging on the rocks and soaking up the winter sunlight. Race Rocks is also a bird sanctuary, and our passengers were able to spot a couple of bald eagles – a majestic adult as well as a somewhat scruffier-looking mottled-brown juvenile.
With some time to spare, Skipper Ian followed his gut and swung out a bit further into Juan de Fuca Strait for a look. He and our guests were rewarded with another group of J Pod killer whales – a group of 2 females and 2 juvenile males called the J14 group. They were also lucky enough to catch sight of mature male J27 (Blackberry) fishing solo on the outskirts of the pod, as he often does when he’s not hanging out with his little brother Mako, who is the same age as sprouter Cookie. After bidding goodbye to J Pod, our guests and skipper returned to Victoria over flat calm seas to warm up with a complimentary Hot Chocolate at our office.