Sightings Report May 4-11

Another solid week in the Salish Sea, this week had a large percentage of single animal sightings; a humpback here, transient male orca there, grey whale over here.

Later in the week our favourite humpback, Big Mama, broke the trend and joined up with a lesser known animal, Windy. You might notice some whales have friendly names, while others we just refer to using seemingly random letters and numbers.

Here’s how it works: all the resident killer whales over 1 year old have names given to them by The Whale Museum, but they also have an official code, assigned by The Center for Whale Research. For example, the oldest female in J-pod (and possibly the world!) is called Granny, but officially referred to as J2 by researchers. The residents weren’t around this week, but our sightings didn’t suffer because of that.

Humpbacks also have official codes, but only a select few have colloquial names, either because they’re readily identifiable, or common to the area, or both. Big Mama is easily the most sighted humpback in these waters, and her code is BCY0324, while her friend Windy is relatively new to the area, and only has a placeholder code MMX0006; we spotted both these whales this week.

Transients have codes as well, and we almost always use them, just because there are so many transient killer whales! It’s hard to come up with ~150 unique names for ~150 whales you don’t see on a regular basis. Typically we talk about transients like T49A, or T18. T stands for transient, and then we just count with the numbers. The letters are for the next generation eg. T49 was a female that had three calves, T49A, T49B, and T49C. We spotted all of these whales this week! T49A and B are females, also traveling with their kids, T49A1, T49A2 etc. T49C is a male and was spotted travelling some distance away from the females, having some bro time with his nephew, T49A1!  This group also tried to hunt some Steller sea lions at one point this week, which made for some exciting antics, but were unsuccessful; point 1 for the sea lions!

Today we had the treat of spotting two different humpbacks, one of which is called Split Fluke (because of a split in the whale’s fluke, imaginative, I know), who was travelling very closely with an unknown whale. It might be a new whale to the area, or more likely just a tricky ID we haven’t figured out yet. Some are easier than others to tell apart!

All in all it was a week of the consistent sightings that we have come to expect from our wildlife, with transients and humpbacks taking the main stage, plus a random appearance from a grey whale on May 5th, and a couple of Minke whales, just to keep everyone guessing! My highlight from the week was seeing a northern elephant seal galumph his way up the boat launch at Race Rocks! SO much blubber…

Stay tuned next week for more whale sighting info, or better yet, come see some whales for yourself!

By Jennifer Dickson