May 14th - WARNING: Graphic Photo - Orca Hunting a Sea Lion in Howe Sound!

Our whale watching adventure on Monday turned out as exciting as it gets! We were treated to a thrilling sea lion hunt, bald eagles swooping and diving, sunny skies, calm seas, and a wonderful group of guests to share it all with.

Our day began at Entrance island, which is a year-round haulout for hundreds of Steller sea lions. We watched as some fought each other for the best spots on the rocks, while others chose to relax in the warm sunshine.

 An adult male Steller sea lion scratches his nose while basking on Entrance island under the sun. Photo by Mike Campbell 

An adult male Steller sea lion scratches his nose while basking on Entrance island under the sun. Photo by Mike Campbell 

When we arrived in Howe sound where the whales had been found, the first thing we saw were bald eagles soaring nearby. They're opportunistic birds, and they'll eat anything from fish, to baby seals, to small dogs and cats (really!), and in this case, scraps left behind from orcas!

 A bald eagle glides above our boat in search of leftovers from the orca's sea lion hunt. Photo by Mike Campbell

A bald eagle glides above our boat in search of leftovers from the orca's sea lion hunt. Photo by Mike Campbell

Next, the orcas! A big male 18 year old transient orca known as T123A or "Stanley" rose to the surface and slapped his tail down several times, and then raced toward his prey, a Steller sea lion. The rest of his family (mom and younger sibling) followed. Orcas share meals, and hunting is almost always a team effort! 

 A male orca known as T123A or "Stanley" raises his gigantic fluke out of the water for a few tail slaps at the surface. Photo by Mike Campbell

A male orca known as T123A or "Stanley" raises his gigantic fluke out of the water for a few tail slaps at the surface. Photo by Mike Campbell

Then, the whales began powerfully throwing their tails out of the water, a behaviour known as "cartwheeling". It's not uncommon for orcas to get excited after a successful hunt, and we're glad we were able to witness this incredible display of power!

 T123A "Stanley" demonstrates his strength and size by "cartwheeling" after a successful hunt. Photo by Mike Campbell

T123A "Stanley" demonstrates his strength and size by "cartwheeling" after a successful hunt. Photo by Mike Campbell

Next, our guests noticed something pink floating at the surface a few hundred yards away. We headed over to see what the whales had left behind: The Steller sea lion's intestines! 

Witnessing an orca eat a sea lion can be a jarring experience! But we always remember that as top predators capable of travelling great distances, orcas need these large meals to sustain their lives. Fortunately Steller sea lion populations in BC are growing, so although one individual was lost to an orca, as a whole species Stellers are on the rise!

 Here's what was left of the sea lion after the hunt! Seagulls are scavengers, and they'll feast on what the whales leave behind. Photo by Jilann Campbell

Here's what was left of the sea lion after the hunt! Seagulls are scavengers, and they'll feast on what the whales leave behind. Photo by Jilann Campbell

Right before we turned to leave, "Stanley" treated us to a series of "pec slaps". It's unknown why orcas do this. Some scientists think it helps the whales slough off dead skin, while other evidence suggests it could be to attract the attention of the rest of their pod. For now, it's still a mystery!

 "Stanley" shows off his pec by slapping it at the surface. Photo by Mike Campbell 

"Stanley" shows off his pec by slapping it at the surface. Photo by Mike Campbell 

Big thanks to everyone who joined us on this exciting adventure! If you'd like to join one of our whale watching trips, give us a call at 250-667-5177 or book online at www.vancouverislandwhalewatch.com.

Jilann LechnerComment