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Whale Update....

Northern Residents

Photo Lance Barrett-Lennard

The northern residents we’ve been seeing during our central coast field studies are acting a bit differently this year –they’re more spread out, don’t seem to be grouping into super pods and are calling less frequently than usual. 

The A30s have been seen many times in Johnstone Strait at the end of July and beginning of August.  They have been accompanied at time by the A23s and A25s – making use of the Robson Bight rubbing beach.  The A36 brothers and the A11s were also in Johnstone Strait July 26-30th and the A36 brothers were in the Johnstone area again at the beginning of August. 

Farther north in Queen Charlotte Sound along the BC central coast the A24s, C6s, C10s and D11s were all seen a couple times in July and the A24s were seen again in August.  R clan whales were also seen a couple times in Caamaño Sound at the end of June and beginning of July.  


Southern Residents

The southern residents have been more unpredictable this summer as well.  J pod has frequented the Salish Sea this summer, although it spent nearly two weeks off the west coast at the end of July/beginning of August.  K and L pod have been around less and were in fact absent from the core area from July 26 – Aug 12.  When they did finally show up again on Aug 12th K pod, for the second time this year, traveled around the north end of Vancouver Island and came back down via Johnstone Strait, then past Campbell River and Nanaimo before arriving in Haro Strait Sunday evening.  There were also reports of L pod on August 11th off the west coast of Vancouver Island near Tofino, and on August 13th, a day after K pod arrived, L pod came in through Juan de Fuca Strait.

Photo Center for Whale Research

There’s a new baby in J pod!  On August 6th a very tiny calf was seen with the female J37.  When the calf, designated J49, was first seen its dorsal fin was flopped over and crease lines were visible in the blubber from fetal folding suggesting a very new born calf.  This is the first calf of J37 who is only 11 1/2 years old making her the youngest confirmed mother in the southern residents.  J37 is a member of the J2 matriline. Visit the Center for Whale Research's Blog for more details.   



Transients seem to have found their niche this summer in the channels and inlets between lower Johnstone Strait and Quadra Island.  On August 6th Kwatsi (T20) and his sister Pandora (T21) were seen near Campbell River and again on August 11th but this time traveling with the T28s.  On August 13th T18 and the T19s were seen near the southern end of Knight Inlet.  The T2Cs have been around a lot this August and there are several reports of them chasing Pacific white-sided dolphins.  On August 15th as the T2Cs were eastbound in Johnstone Strait near Kelsey Bay they gave a humpback whale a good fright, causing it to slap its pectoral flippers and trumpet in alarm.   

August 2012
In this issue

 Whale Update
 Field Notes
 In the News 




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Field Notes....

The 2012 field season update!

The Vancouver Aquarium cetacean research team's 2012 field season kicked off at the end of June.  As per the last three years, Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard’s research has focused on the whale and dolphin activity in the waters off the Great Bear Rainforest along BC’s remote Central coast.  This year we have been fortunate to receive reports from Lance and his research team in the field which have been posted on the website.  Click here to see the trip blog.

The field season got off to a bit of a slow start in late June.  The weather made it difficult to work on the outside, the exposed waters of Queen Charlotte Sound and Hecate Strait, but even so there just didn’t seem to be many resident killer whales around yet.  That’s not to say it wasn’t an unsuccessful trip, there were other whales around, and the absence of resident sightings are important observations that get recorded too - they just aren’t as exciting or gratifying as whale encounters.  Lance and research assistant Meghan McKillop did better with transients on that trip.

Photo Lance Barrett-Lennard

Their first encounter with transients included the T69As and T109As off Mill Bank Sound, an area along the Central coast where we have encountered transients before; and the second encounter was the T60s and T2B in Whale Channel just north of Caamaño Sound.  The much rarer encounter, and a first on the Skana, was a group of over 50 rarely-seen offshore killer whales off the west side of Aristzabal Island.  The whales stretched over a couple miles and were in a playful mood, rolling around in the shallows near shore, spyhopping and vocalizing – they sound so different than residents.  Our research colleague Graeme Ellis sighted them first from his boat, and called us in to help by taking ID photographs.

The second research trip started in mid July.  High northwesterly winds hampered Lance and research assistant Caitlin Birdsall a bit during the trip but they were determined to find resident killer whales—if any were present in the area.   And they did – On July 20th they encountered a mixed group of residents off the west side of Calvert Island.  The group, which included the C6s, C10s, D11s, I11s, I22s and G17s, were extremely spread out and activity feeding.  The next day they encountered the I11s and G17s again but this time in northern Queen Sound and the whales were snoozing as they picked their way through a series of small islands.  A third encounter on July 23rd found the C6s, C10s and the A24s at the southern end of Queen Sound.  The whales were spread out and foraging.

In early August Lance headed out for the third research trip with his wife Kathy Heise, a Vancouver Aquarium Research Associate, and their 13-yr old son Lee.  Their first encounter was with the A24 matriline near Sharbau Island in Fitz Hugh Sound.  They were feeding alongside sport-fishing boat in the entrance of River’s Inlet and eventually headed out into Fitzhugh Sound where they disappeared in heavy fog.  The A24 matriline is Springer’s (A73) family; however, Springer wasn’t with them that day.  She seems to spend most of her time with her mother’s first cousin Skagit (A35) in the A11 matriline.  Two days later the research team encountered a group of G clan whales, the G27s, G29s and some of the G17s.  The whales were initially grouped up and resting as they slowly headed north but when they arrived at Cape Mark, they woke up, spread out and started hunting.

Typically in the middle and late summer we see large groups (superpods) of well-fed, highly social resident killer whales but so far this summer their behavior has been more typical of what we expect to see in the winter – travelling in smaller groups and being much quieter.  Lower-than-usual numbers of Chinook samon, their preferred prey, means the whales are working hard to find food and are less social than they would otherwise be.  Residents typically switch to chum salmon for a period in the fall so they have another chance to fatten up before the winter.  So, we aren’t ringing alarm bells about food shortages yet, although we are keeping a close eye on the situation.

Photo Lee Barrett-Lennard 


In the News....

Boater found guilty of harassing killer whales

The weather this August has been hot, perfect for boating and made more exciting by the high number of marine mammals in the coastal waters.  So it’s a timely reminder to Be Whale Wise when operating your vessel around marine mammals.

In August a boater from Campbell River was found guilty of harassing killer whales in Discovery Passage between Quadra Island and Vancouver Island.  The incident, which occurred two years ago, involved accelerating towards the whales, motoring the boat within 15-25 meters of them and repeating the pattern four to five times.  Although the current marine mammal regulations do not carry a lot of weight, the judge found the boater guilty of unlawfully harassing a species listed as “threatened” under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Remember to Be Whale Wise when on the water this summer and anytime you are around marine mammals.  Do not approach or position your vessel closer than 100m to any whale, reduce your speed and give the whales a clear path.  Enjoy your encounter but watch from a distance and give the whales space to keep doing whatever they are doing.
News article

Photo: Meghan McKillop