2013 field season update!
The August field trip picked up easily where we left off in July – focusing again on the waters between Rivers Inlet and Camaano Sound on BC’s remote central coast. Team leader, Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard’s primary goal was to document the use of the area by killer whales, but similar to previous years was also interested in the use of the area by humpback whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins and sea otters.
Our updates from last year revealed that 2012 was a poor Chinook salmon year and the killer whales appeared to be working harder to find food. Rather than meeting in large, vocal groups, the whales were traveling in smaller, quiet groups, and spending more time traveling than in previous summers. This year wasn’t much different. The movements of resident killer whales seem to be shifting to more offshore waters making it much more challenging for our team to locate and study the whales.
Add a little distraction, a four year old Bigg’s killer whale nicknamed Sam, into the picture and we had less killer whale encounters than previous year. Sam, identified as T046C2, is a Bigg’s whale who was found by our colleagues at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, John Ford and Graeme Ellis, by itself in a bay off Aristazabal Island on the central coast. Lance spent most of the first two weeks of August monitoring Sam, recording his vocalizations and playing Bigg’s whale calls underwater to try and entice Sam out of the Bay he was in. See more about Sam in the story below.
When not around Aristazabal Island checking on Sam, Lance focused his efforts off the west side of Calvert Island, Goose Island and Queen Sound. On August 8th, Lance and research assistant Albert Michaud encountered the A34s in Queen Charlotte Sound. It was early evening and the sun was in their eyes but all members of A34s were present including Eclipse’s (A67) calf A102 born last year and a new calf with Misty (A62). A week later Lance and research assistant Meghan Moore encountered the I18s in much the same area. The I18s are a group of northern residents that had not been seen in two years so they were very excited to see and document all the whales present.
Strong north-westerly winds and fog added to the difficulty of surveying the central coast this year so the team crossed back to the northern end of Vancouver Island about a week earlier than planned. That worked in their favour though and on Aug 24th Lance and Meghan encountered a group of residents in Gordon Chanel that consisted of the R5, I15, A12 and I11 matrilines. Then two days later Lance and research assistant Valeria Vergara encountered the I15 matriline in Blackfish Sound and the following day the A8 matriline off Robson Bight.
Lance is still hoping to get one for field trip in this season before returning the research vessel Skana back to Vancouver for the winter.
Loquillilla (I12) with Levy (I105) and a new calf
Photo: Lance Barrett-Lennard
In August another little whale became a media sensation. Sam, also known as T046C2, a four year Bigg’s (transient) killer whale was found all alone in a remote bay on the central coast of BC at the end of July. Killer whales are exceptionally social animals so this lone young whale worried Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Vancouver Aquarium researchers. Sam was extremely vocal, no doubt attempting to call it’s mother, but would not leave the small bay and appeared psychologically trapped there. As the weeks passed, Sam showed signs of losing weight, and DFO and Aquarium researchers made the decision to attempt to move Sam out of the bay. On August 15th with a little encouragement, Sam porpoised out of the bay and immediately headed to sea. Two weeks later Sam was sighted again near Knight Inlet near the northern end of Johnstone Strait. He was still alone, but in an area where his family, and many other Bigg’s whales, have been seen before that time of year and an area where food was plentiful. Good luck little Sam!
Read more: Vancouver Aquarium AquaBlog
Sam (T046C2) in Bent Harbour near Aristazabal Island
Photo: Lance Barrett-Lennard