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Monday, October 7, 2013

Whales Everywhere! In October!

On Saturday I hopped out on Jim Maya's boat the Peregrine for an afternoon trip. We weren't even five minutes off the dock when we met up with a group of six transients: the T36As and part of the T124s. This group didn't have any adult males, but was two adult females, each with their two offspring.

T36A (left) and T36A1
T124D with one year-old T36A2
T124D, a 17 year-old female
This is probably my favorite orca shot of the day:

From left to right: T36A, T124D, and T124
We followed the whales across Open Bay and along Henry Island, where they started surfacing all in a tight group:

Last month I added a whale with red-necked phalaropes to my unofficial bird-with-orcas photo collection, and I got another new one on this day: an orca with a great blue heron! Can you see it?

We left the whales sooner than we might have otherwise because there were so many other cetacean sightings in northern Haro Strait. It was amusing as we turned to head west across the strait to see other whale-watching boats zig-zagging in all different directions as they headed from one group of marine mammals to another. Not all days are like that, but it sure is special when it is! Our target was a humpback whale, which we spotted just south of D'Arcy Island. On the way there I saw a few close pigeon guillemots, already in winter plumage:

After watching the one humpback whale (there were boats visible to the south watching two more transient orcas, T20 and T21), we headed up towards Turn Point where we heard another boat had a group of playful Dall's porpoise. When we got up there, we couldn't find a single porpoise, but one of our passengers spotted a blow: it was another humpback whale! In fact, it was two of them traveling together, a pair that had been seen earlier in the day but had been lost. (Obviously they weren't lost - the whale watch boats just lost them.)

Here's another shot a moment later in the same sequence, with the rear whale fluking and the front whale arching its back for a dive:

I didn't post any pictures of the first humpback whale because they were all way surpassed by the photos I took of these two. One of these whales was CS280, an animal identified from the Clayquot Sound ID guide (on the west side of Vancouver Island). Humpback whales are identified by the black and white markings on the underside of their tail flukes, so you can tell this is CS280 from this photo:

Humpback whale CS280
The other whale was BCY0324 (after writing this blog post, whale names like "J2" seem so much more manageable!). "BC" whales have been identified in British Columbia, and are given an X, Y, or Z depending on the amount of white on their flukes. This whale, however, is known locally as Big Mama. In the late 1800s and early 1900s humpback whales were hunted in the Salish Sea, but it didn't take long to exterminate the local population. For decades, humpback whales weren't seen in inland waters. All that started to change in 1999, when Big Mama was the first humpback whale to be regularly seen in the area. Humpback whale sightings started to become common in about 2005, and they're becoming more and more numerous every year. This is the best humpback whale year yet, with animals around all spring, summer, and fall. It was cool to meet the first whale that came back to the Salish Sea - maybe she's the one that spread the word about returning to these straits!

BCY0324 "Big Mama"
These whales sure didn't seem to mind our presence. Whenever they would go down for a longer dive we would remain parked, and they'd pop up again right near the boat. At one point, they surfaced about 15 yards off the starboard side!

 I took a short video when they were this close that I'll post at another time, too. Look how broad these guys look head-on (or in this case, behind-on):

When you see them at this range, it's obvious they're more than twice as big as an orca! They look huge! And those tails that they lift on a dive are just so photogenic:

I always love the more abstract shots, like this one, which is one of my personal favorites from the day. Big Mama is diving, and after arching her tail at the end of her last surfacing, she's bringing her tail back in the other direction here, the tips of her flukes still just visible before she paddles her tail to thrust herself forwards:

It doesn't look anything like the span between those two fluke tips is 10-15 feet in the above shot, but it is! 

By this time, the six transients we were with earlier had crossed to the west side of Haro Strait too, and we could see their blows in the distance behind this pair of humpbacks. Unfortunately the timing was never quite right to get both species in one shot! But wow, the lighting sure got beautiful.

All too soon, it was time to leave, and we watched as the pair of humpbacks continued on their way together:

One of my last views was of Big Mama fluking with the Olympic Mountains in the background - what a place I live!!!


Peggy Mauro said...

Thanks Monika for being with us on this spectacular trip and for your beautiful photos and blog info!

James said...

I always enjoy your blogs and pics!

Robyn said...

Thanks for sharing, Monika! Sounds like a spectacular day on the water.

Lancs and Lakes Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Holy wow...double wow even, what a day out on the water!

10 - 15ft - that's as wide as our sitting room is long

Humpies are just starting to recover in our waters but to help them we need the fish stocks to recover too - not a lot of hope of that at the moment I'm afraid



Vera said...

Amazing, amazing, amazing! I was going to point out my favorite shots, but there ended up being too many. I do believe that you need to publish "Orca Encounters II"