Sighting season is ramping up!
As the weather warms up, and boats are taken out of hiding, people are getting back out on the water. With everyone gearing up for the upcoming summer season, we are eager to hear about all killer whales being sighted in our coastal waters.
We are always happy to hear reports of northern resident sightings, but the first part of the year, they are still few at far between. Late in February, the A8’s were spotted travelling through Seaforth Channel. Soon after, in early March, the same group was spotted in the waters off of Bella Bella. Late in March, A1-pod calls were heard by CetaceaLab in Squally Channel. These calls were thought to be the A12’s, but this was unconfirmed. Any day now, we expect to hear more regular sightings as Northern Residents return for the summer months.
Southern Resident killer whales have been watched closely in the last few months, primarily because there have been births of four new calves to this endangered population within approximately three months time (read more below). Late in March, J-pod was spotted in Active Pass, along with the newest of these calves, J52. Early in April, J41 and J51 were spotted near Beaumont Shoals, and L87 was spotted near Kelp Reef. J-pod was later reported heading west off Discovery Island.
Based on a satellite tagging project done by NOAA, data has shown L84 travelling through Oregon and California, frequently along with K-pod, and some members of L-pod. At the end of March, this group was seen remaining in a relatively small area in the near shore waters just north of the entrance to the Columbia River. Throughout April, the whales continued to spend time off southwest Washington, frequently seen between Grays Harbour and Willapa Bay. The last report on April 20th from the tagging study found the whales remaining off southwest Washington and northern Oregon, again in Grays Harbour and Willapa Bay. They then moved to the waters off Tillamook Head for a period of time, and were most recently spotted in the offshore waters off Grays Harbour. (Photo Credit: S. Davies)
On May 1, all three J-Pod calves were seen with other members of J-Pod off the West Side of San Juan Island.
Early in March, T18 and T19B were spotted by Separation Head, off of Quadra Island. These individuals were later spotted moving to Elk Bay. T018, T19B and T19C were also reported to be moving up Chatham Point, following behind a group of Dall’s porpoise. On March 12th, T124C, T124A, T124A2, T124A4 and a young calf were spotted travelling through Burrard Inlet (read more below).
Early in April, T036A and T036A3 were seen surfing past Discovery Island, and the T036A’s and T049A’s were seen moving east bound off of Victoria. Later in April, T065A3 was spotted after hunting a seal in Haro Strait. Observers reported an exciting occurrence of a new Bigg’s killer whale calf amongst the T65A’s, T65B’s, T75B’s, and T75C as they moved throughout the San Juan Islands. This group was seen to be hunting while in the area.
Less than two months after they had been seen in Burrard Inlet, Bigg’s returned to the nearby area and visited Howe Sound at least twice in one week! in one of these groups was T124 was travelling through with the T123s: Sidney (T123), Stanley (T123A) and Lucky (T123C)!
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Killer Whales in Burrard Inlet
On March 12th, residents of Vancouver were treated to a rare sight, killer whales travelling throughout Burrard Inlet! The killer whales were initially reported to the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, part of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the Vancouver Aquarium. The first report came in from Deep Cove area, and further reports indicated that the whales were moving out of the inlet toward Stanley Park. Hundreds of people throughout Vancouver, and especially on the seawall, had an incredible sight when the whales passed through. Researchers were able to identify the individuals (using photo identification catalogs) as being T124C, T124A, T124A2, T124A4, and a young calf.
This is a rare occurrence for this area. The last time killer whales were reported in Burrard Inlet was in June 2013, when 7 Bigg’s killer whales ventured into Burrard Inlet. Preceding that that sighting, the last time killer whales were reported in the Vancouver area was in 2011, when Bigg’s were sighted again in Burrard Inlet.
Read a Blog about this day from the perspective of the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network Team!
In the News...
A Fin Whale unfortunately arrives in Vancouver
Sunday May 10, a cruise ship arrived in Vancouver with a fin whale draped across its bow. This chilling event is unfortunately familiar in Vancouver where the same situation unfolded in 1999 and again in 2009. Fin whales, the second largest species of whale in the world, are listed as Threatened under the Species at Risk Act in Canada. While there is still a lot to learn about fin whales, we know two of the largest threats they face is accidental entanglement in fishing gear, and It is still unclear as to whether or not this whale was alive at the time of impact, or, if like in 2009, the whale was deceased before it became lodged on the ship’s bow.
Members of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Research Program were invited by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to help with the necropsy (an animal autopsy), along with representatives from DFO, the University of British Columbia, Animal Health Centre and Vancouver Aquarium. CLICK HERE to read an account from the experience from Carla, a marine mammal research biologist and the Killer Whale Adoption Program Co-ordinator at the Aquarium.
Read More: Globe and Mail
Read More: CTV News
Read More: CBC News
Another New Calf for J-Pod!
Late last year in December, it was reported that a new calf was born into the endangered population of southern resident killer whales. This calf was J50, part of the J-pod. Excitingly, since this report, there have been three new births to the southern resident killer whales; J51, L121, and J52!
J52 is the newest member of J-pod, which was spotted by whale watchers on March 30th near Active Pass. This calf was so young when it was first spotted that fetal folds could still be observed, indicating it was only a few days old. Recent photos taken by the Centre for Whale Research have shown that J52 is a male. The birth of this new baby boy brings the estimated total number of individuals in the southern resident killer whale community to 81 individuals.
The first year of life for a baby killer whale can be challenging, and calves experience their highest mortality during this time (up to 50%). Researchers speculate that this may be due to infectious or non-infectious diseases attacking their weaker immune systems, infanticide or even learning curves associated with becoming a first-time mother. In addition to these calf-specific threats, young animals share the dangers faced by killer whales in any life stage. Killer whales are exposed to high levels of endocrine-disrupting pollutants, are faced with a reduced food supply, and are subject to noise pollution and human disturbances. While this year can be challenging, citizens across the coast are watching closely and hoping for the best for these new calves in their first year of life!
Read More: Metro News
Read More: Vancouver Sun
Read More: CBC News