Southern Resident Orca Population at its Lowest in Decades

So, the season is winding down, and people are preparing for their winter migration or hibernation; this is normally the time of year when I would write a summary of the summer’s activities and sightings, as well as a prediction for what next year will look like.

But this year I am forced to write something different.

My main job at Prince of Whales is being a naturalist on the boat. That’s right, I’m one of those obnoxiously enthusiastic people spewing an absurd amount of whale facts in-between cheesy porpoise puns and subtle jokes about dolphins’ reproductive tendency towards promiscuity.

But like I do, once a trip, every trip, I must get serious. We have to talk about not only about the grave challenges facing our most perilously endangered species, the southern resident orca, but what you (YES YOU!) can do to help them.

Nothing emphasizes the jeopardy that resident orca are in more than the death of a young reproductive female and her calf. Unfortunately, we had to realize this exact tragedy last month.

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Zodiac Wildlife Adventure April 18 2011

Our guests from England, Oklahoma, Ottawa and Victoria were given a glimpse into the best that the west coast has to offer on this sunny afternoon in April. The 2pm zodiac with skipper Mark ‘Mallard ‘at the controls headed us due south east to where Transient Orca were reported. The ocean was flat calm, and the sunshine bathed this picturesque coastal region so we could view the Olympic mountains and the Canadian and USA islands. When conditions are right and the sun shines, all is perfect for spotting wildlife. Our keen eyed skipper soon located the marine mammal eating Killer Whales, ‘Orca ‘ off the south end of Hein Bank. This group consisted of 8-9 whales, the T49’s and the T75’s. They were very active and foraging for their main prey item, the Harbour Seal, which is an abundant species in these waters. There appeared to be two very young baby Orca within this group, as they were still quite peach coloured where it should be white patches on their bodies. We watched these stealth hunters, mothers with their babies, churning the water while chasing their prey. It was an awesome encounter and soon we saw the clean up gulls,

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Ocean Magic Adventure April 2 2011

The Ocean Magic set out at 12:15 with lots of eager passengers in search of killer whales. As there have been transient (meat eating) killer whales sighted in the area over the past few days, we were certain we’d find more today however we were one of only a handful of whale watching boats out there so we were pretty much on our own to find them out in that vast ocean of ours. With captain Anthony at the helm along with whale “manifester” Mallard (who made a guest appearance), naturalist Liz and Biologist Mika, along with bloggers Orca Wizard and Orca Magic, we headed east through thick clouds into open sun as we went north in Haro Strait. Along our travels passengers were delighted to see a variety of other wild life such as harbour seals, California Sealions, a pair of bald eagles and other sea birds. Just after an hour into our travels as we were nearing Active Pass, we heard that Jpod, our resident killer whale pod had been sighted just minutes from us! So we did a u turn and only minutes later found Jpod members spread apart traveling south west in Swanson Channel just South of Pender Island.

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Ocean Magic Adventure March 19, 2011

It was a gorgeous afternoon when Capt. Anthony and crew members, Mika and Dan headed the Ocean Magic out of the harbour and turned west. After only 20 mins of travel, we were pleasantly surprised to encounter a foraging Gray Whale just off the Victoria waterfront. We watched this large Baleen Whale take 2-3 breaths at the surface and then lift its ‘ Flukes ‘ to indicate it was heading down for a deep dive. We watched with interest for a while and then received word that Orca had been seen at the north end of Haro Strait. We left the Gray whale and headed east and then north under blue skies. The calm water made for a comfortable ride so our guests were able to catch sight of a few Steller Sea lions and Dall’s Porpoise chasing after fish. We found the picturesque scenery stunning on route. Our black and white friends, the ORCA, were soon encountered. These were some of the members of J Pod, the fish eating killer whales that frequent these waters. They were observed to be traveling very slowly, in a resting formation, heading toward Boundary Pass. On two occasions we saw ‘spy-hop’

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Ocean Magic Wildlife Adventure March 6

The Ocean Magic slipped from the dock in Victoria’s Inner Harbor at 1 pm. Our Skipper Anthony took the Ocean Magic past the Victoria Breakwater and headed east. The clouds parted and the sun warmed us as we worked our way past the waterfront. Out trip then took us past Oak Bay and out past Kelp Reef then up Haro Strait. Here we cam across the Killer Whales of J Pod along with L87 from L Pod. These are Southern Resident Orca, the fish eaters. They were all spread out in small groups over an area of a few miles. Our skipper carefully put us in great position to view these amazing Killer Whales as they worked the waters in search of food. We had a great pass of two Mothers with their youngsters swimming along in their wake, taking advantage of the slip stream to save energy. We then made our way back to Victoria and along the way we spotted Dalls Porpoise, these 300 to 400 pound cetaceans zip through the water sending a rooster tail of water up as they break the surface to breath. Mother nature gave us a great March day, sunny, calm seas and a great wildlife show with Orca,

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Winter Wildlife Adventure Feb 13

There’s nothing like seeing wild marine mammals in our cold, but nutrient rich waters. Victoria sees an abundance of variety of wildlife when ever the Prince of Whales Zodiacs head out of the harbour, at this time of year. Sunday, was no exception, when Skipper Mark took us west of the harbour to ‘Albert Head ‘ ,where we had reports of inbound Orca. It wasn’t long before our knowledgeable skipper was able to identify who these Killer Whales were. It was apparent that this group consisted of mothers and their young, the family sub group, J17’s, members of our Southern Resident clan, JPod. This group have three youngsters, that were busy chasing fish and generally having a good time together. J 27, and J 34 , two males were seen as well as the J 22 family group. We left them doing what these wild animals like to do best, forage for fish in unpredictable patterns. We headed toward the Chain Islets at Oak Bay Flats, and saw several Harbour Seals, Harlequin Ducks, a pair of Bald Eagles and even a small fishing boat flying an oversized Canadian Flag. Upon our return to the harbour two young Long-tailed Ducks were seen.

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Winter Wildlife Adventure Feb 11

The Prince of Whales 12.30pm Zodiac left the harbour on Friday afternoon with international guests from Sweden, Germany, Brazil, Ontario and Saskatchewan. Although it was overcast there was very little wind or chop on the water. Snug in our survival suits, Skipper Mark, headed us south and east to hopefully encounter some Orca. We search diligently and then had a call from one of our friends on shore, who had seen a few black dorsal fins 2 miles south of Victoria, through his spotting scope. This was great news! We found the four Transient Killer Whales, identified as the T30 family group, travelling in from the west. The big male T30A, split from the rest of the group to go forage on his own. The three others soon were seen chasing a Harbour Porpoise, that surface periodically while trying to flee. The churning sea water soon indicated the hapless animal had been dispatched by these apex hunters. The clean up crew of assorted gulls soon flew in to claim their share. We later found the big male Transient Orca foraging with a prey item, a possible Harbour Seal. A quick look for other wildlife led us to Trail Island where,

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Winter Wildlife Adventure Tour Jan 3

And what an exquisite day to start 2011 off with. Our three hour wildlife adventure took us just south of Victoria. The weather gave us great conditions with flat calm water and plenty of sunshine. It even felt relatively warm simply because there was no wind for a change.! Our skipper ‘Rush’ headed us south of the harbour in search of Orca. A report had just come in to say Orca had been sighted off the westcoast at Sooke much earlier and they were inbound. Great excitement was anticipated by our international visitors, from Hawaii, Germany and Brazil. It wasn’t long before we could see the black dorsal fins rising from the surface in the distance with their misty exhalations, ‘blows’. It seemed there were whales spread right across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As far as the eye could see in these ideal conditions, there were whales. They were busy foraging, chasing after Salmon, and changing direction all the time. One never knew where they would pop up. J2, ‘Granny ‘ the oldest female of the Southern Resident clan of fish eating Orca, and J8, ‘Spieden’, were traveling together and churning the water as they porpoised after fish.

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Zodiac Wildlife Adventure Nov 7 12

Today, Sunday was one of those afternoons when everything magical occurred. With a rather stormy set of clouds above, our 12 noon yellow Zodiac left the harbour. The calm sea however, gave incredible visibility for spotting wildlife. Our seasoned and knowledgeable skipper ‘Mark’, headed south where he had seen some misty blows on the horizon. 5 miles south of Victoria we caught up with three Humpback whales, a mother and her calf and a new whale to this area that appeared to have a fairly fresh tear in its Fluke. We watched these incredibly, graceful whales foraging in these productive waters. Ten years ago there were no humpbacks seen in these inland waters, so it is wonderful to see them return year after year. Our skipper then took us deeper into the south west looking for Orca, Transient killer whales. We found a family of River Otters rushing up a rocky bank and Harbour Seals resting along the shores of the picturesque rugged coastline of Vancouver Island. A stop at Race Rocks Ecological Reserve gave us great looks at a Brown Pelican, a rarity for this area. Steller Sea Lions, and three Elephant Seals were also seen. Just as we were leaving our keen-eyed Skipper saw more misty blows south of Race Rocks.

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Ocean Magic Adventure Oct 23 12:15

Today may have started dark and wet, but once out on the water the rain stopped and the sun came out. Our Skipper Anna took us west to Race Rocks where we were on scene with a SUPER POD. The Orca from all three resident pods, J K and L were headed east. The Killer Whales were everywhere you looked, just an amazing sight. There was spy hops, breaching and tail slaps. Just a truly amazing sight to watch these magnificent whales swim past. Our trip then took us east to view a pair of Humpback Whales. This was a mother and calf, swimming side by side. With our engines off we could all hear the whales as the broke the surface and took in their air. As we headed back into Victoria, we are all smiles after another great wildlife adventure with Prince of Whales!
Clint “Orcawizard”

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