We’ve had a very eventful winter in preparation for what’s shaping up to be a super summer.
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Here are some highlights from 2014!
This past summer we were spoiled by both the quality and quantity of whale sightings. We spotted every marine mammal that is common in these waters, as well as a few exotic visitors, including the ever playful Pacific white-sided dolphin! A species that I saw for the first time in my 4 years of watching whales, and an experience I’m sure will remain a highlight for the rest of my life.
Our largest species of cetacean, the humpback whale, arrived a little later in the area than last year but remained a consistent part of many trips later than normal. We were spotting these guys from August through January! We’re still learning a lot about humpbacks since they’ve made their dramatic recovery after commercial whaling was banned. Most of them split their time between Alaska/Northern BC in the summer and Mexico/Hawaii in the winter, but we’re fortunate enough to have a little population all on our own, some of which stay with us long after the others have migrated.
In addition to our regular characters, a few humpbacks were documented that have never been seen in the area before. We’re thrilled to have new visitors, and this only provides further evidence that the Salish Sea is a dynamic and dramatic ecosystem!
The traditionally hit-or-miss grey whales absolutely lived up to their reputation, with less than a dozen reports and even fewer sightings all year. Sometimes these animals hang out for ages, other times their stays are few and far between. Stay tuned in 2015 to see if the greys decide to visit us again!
Transient killer whale sightings were as consistent as they could be for anything called a “transient.” This mammal eating kind of killer whale is totally unpredictable but we spotted tons this past year. More often than not they show up randomly, hunt dramatically, and disappear suddenly. This year we have strong evidence that at least one Minke whale was on the menu! As well we had a couple of sightings of what are called exotic transients. We don’t really know exactly where they spend the majority of their time, but we do know they’ve also been sighted off of California!
The mysterious Minke whales, in addition to being transient prey, hung out consistently in their favourite feeding grounds, and many days proved to be an excellent addition to watching killer whales and humpbacks. Minkes are a rather misunderstood animal, and one with a surprising lack of research devoted to it. Nevertheless they’re big, they’re fast, they’re fun, and they add an entirely new facet to whale watching by introducing the element of smell. Known in the industry as stinky Minkes, we often smell them before we see them!
In the world of resident killer whales, this year was a bit of a rollercoaster. We were thrilled to have our favourite whales back in the area right on schedule this year. Although their calendar is their own, these guys move in more predictable ways than their transient cousins, dictated by the movements of their favourite food, Chinook salmon.
Things have been up and down for the residents since their return, we have good news, followed by bad news, followed by more bad news, followed by VERY good news! We were thrilled to welcome the first new calf since 2012, L120 in early September, but unfortunately the youngster did not survive. Adding to the heartbreak, in December, the tragic loss of J32 (known as Rhapsody), as well as her unborn calf, shook the whale watching community.
Nevertheless, 2015 started out on a positive note, with another birth! J50, a happy, healthy female calf was born to J16. Slick, as she’s known, is a bit elderly to have a calf so it was a pleasant surprise to learn there could be more reproductive females than previously thought! And then, just before Valentine’s Day, another new calf was spotted in J-Pod. J51 is presumed to be the calf of J19, and is looking very healthy so far! And then, not 3 weeks later, a calf was born into L-Pod. L121 belongs to L94, and is the first surviving calf born to L-Pod since L119 was born in 2012. These 3 births are such wonderful news, and make us hopeful about the regeneration of their population!
And with that, let’s talk about the next few months! Here are some days to mark on your calendar:
We only run our smaller vessels in the winter, the wild and wonderful zodiac boats. But starting April 1st, Ocean Magic II is back on the water! She’s the big guns, with a 74 passenger capacity, snack bar, washrooms, and with up to 3 of the best marine mammal naturalists in the industry, there’s something for everyone on this baby.
Ocean Magic II’s sister, Ocean Magic (original) will be joining us once again on The Ultimate Day Tour, a Canadian Signature Experience, starting May 23rd.
Also on May 23rd, Prince of Whales is thrilled to once again be a part of the international Swiftsure Yacht Race. Join us as we follow the sailboats out bright and early to view the start of this highly anticipated and historic event.
New things to look forward to this summer:
Come check out our office and admire the facelift we got with some new flooring, desks, paint, and fabulous photos on display by our very own zodiac skipper Matt Whelan!
Also getting a facelift are the big boats! Ocean Magic and Ocean Magic II are getting some fresh paint in hi-lighter yellow. There’s no way you’ll be able to miss these babies on the dock, or on the water… or from space!
All in all, things are hopping here at the 812 (Wharf St that is…) We’re here all year round, so if you have a whale question or want to get out on a trip with us, give us a call or stop by! Maybe this year YOUR trip will make the highlight reel.
By Jennifer Dickson