humpback lobtailing

October 29 2016 – As we left Victoria’s sheltered Inner Harbour our Zodiac was greeted with afternoon sunshine glinting off of the glassy waters of the Strait of Juan De Fuca.  A perfect day for whale and wildlife watching! Speeding around the coastline we headed towards the Haystocks Islets, west of the city.  Harbour Seals were in abundance here, lazily lounging in the sun’s warmth. Bald Eagles circled above us as we rested on the swell above the bull kelp – their broad dark wing spans a stark contrast to brilliant white crests and tails.   Travelling further west past Race Rocks Ecological Reserve we saw the blow of a lone Humpback Whale as he surfaced. As we drew slightly closer we were treated to an incredible and rare display of this playful Humpback lobtailing or tail slapping as it is also known.

This behaviour is characterized by a whale positioning its body vertically in the water column prior to lifting its tail flukes out of the water and bringing them down hard and fast to the ocean surface. Several theories have been suggested for this behaviour – non-vocal communication due to the sound travel through the water, aggression to other whales, cleaning of barnacle growths on the skin or quite simply a whale at play. Recent Humpback Whale research indicates that this may actually be a unique feeding behaviour to this species, with the intention of drawing smaller fish such as herring into tighter schools for easier consumption.

As we turned inland towards Sooke we spotted the distinctive black triangular fins of resident Killer Whales!  These were members of L pod, spread out into matrilines (small directly related family groups) searching for food. It was a fantastic sight as they cruised across the water together, dorsals popping in and out of view, herring jumping across their wake. We identified several large males from the family groups of the L12 clan: Mega (L41), Solstice (L89) and Mystery (L85), all between 25 and 40 years of age.

As a stormy ocean swell started to arrive we headed for home to the antics of Sea Lions playing amongst the waves at our side. All agreed the afternoon gave us a rare privilege to see two incredible marine mammal species in their Pacific ocean element, absolutely an unforgettable experience…

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