Ah 2016; off to an exciting, windy, and cold start as always, but we’ve got a spring in our step with spring in our sites.
Winter whale and wildlife watching (in addition to allowing admirable alliteration) is not for the faint of heart. Charging out into the great unknown with a 30-50% chance of finding whales and a much higher percentage of less than ideal weather, is not everyone’s idea of a good time. But for those that take the plunge, (sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally, it gets really wet out there…), the rewards to be reaped are resplendent.
It comes as a surprise to most people that the species of whale seen most often in the winter months is the killer whale! Many locals and travellers alike assume that once the fair-weather vacationers disappear, so do the orcas; but unlike tourists, orcas are actually non-migratory.
It’s no secret that whale sightings are less common in the winter. Our species that do migrate, humpbacks and greys, head for the warmer waters of Hawaii and Mexico, and our resident orcas follow their favourite food, salmon, offshore and expand their range between Haida Gwaii and California. That is a pretty big area to look for 85 odd whales!
The silent heroes of the winter cetacean scene are the oft-forgotten, somewhat intimidating cousin of the comparatively docile resident orca: the transient orca! As their name implies, transients are always moving, so the chances of seeing them are pretty much the same year round; as well, the population is larger than the residents with likely over 200 animals calling this area “occasional home.” They cycle through here looking for their favourite food, harbour seal (which are here year round), often only staying for a few days at a time. But with that constant movement, they’re just as likely to be coming as going, so there’s always a good chance to spot them. In January and February, we saw a family called the T060’s on numerous occasions.
The other thing to remember is that these are wild animals. And what is the most important thing to remember about wild animals? Why do you keep your distance from a wild animal? What makes them wild? They’re unpredictable! Just because most humpbacks migrate south in the winter doesn’t mean all of them do. We get old ones, young ones, females that just had a baby etc. that don’t need to waste energy hauling down to the breeding grounds. So why not stay in the nutrient rich waters of BC? Not to mention the fact that J pod likes to visit in the winter, and has been sighted in the Salish Sea every month of the year. 2016 is no exception, we saw them in January and February as well as humpbacks sprinkled throughout!
Finally, we can’t ignore the pinnipeds. Now I know, a sea lion is no replacement for seeing a whale, but the winter is the best time to see those funny furry beasts, and trust me when I say they are regularly the most entertaining part of our trips, even with whales around! They smell, they bark, and they’re a riot of activity from swimming, to hunting, to fighting, to well, ok also sleeping. They do sleep a lot. But they’re so cute! And sometimes they snore!
If bombing out into the ocean with only a loose framework of a plan appeals to the adventurer in you, you better hurry up and get out here! Winter whale watching is on its way out. If cruising around in the sunshine with whales in all directions is more your speed, you’d better hurry up and make a reservation for peak season!