May 11th - T123's & T86A's off Thetis Island!
Today was a beautifully calm day on the waters off of Nanaimo. We started the day off with reports of Killer Whales at Snake Island, just at the entrance to the Strait of Georgia off of Nanaimo. One of our open vessels, Cascadia, left the dock to search around the island in hopes of finding the orcas, and not too long after we heard they had travelled south towards Ladysmith!
Off we went, south down Northumberland Channel and through Dodd’s Narrows. Not too far from there we spotted another vessel and some unmistakable dorsal fins breaking the surface of the water! On the north end of Thetis Island, between Yellow Point and Fraser Point, we could see the pod of orcas surface just in front of us.
Right on cue, a big dorsal fin emerges from the waters with a very distinct nick about a third of the way down the dorsal fin. It’s “Stanley” (T123A)! He’s a 19 year old male, part of the T123’s. One of the pods of orcas we were lucky enough to see just yesterday too! He is part of the pod led by his mother, “Sidney” (T123). There are two other members, daughters of Sidney who are part of the pod. The youngest is just 8 months old, “Darcy” (T123D), and incredibly adorable! We were able to snap some photos of the young calf as she surfaced for some air. The calves generally stay quite close to the mother during the first few months to a year. Each time we saw her surface it was so quick, as she’s still learning the ropes!
As we watched them milling around Thetis, there were more members than usual. Meaning, we had another pod of orcas who joined them! Two dorsal fins that don’t belong with the T123’s were observed. Each with their own unique identifiers. The T86A family of orcas, and today we saw T86A, “Eider”, who is 31 years old and one of her calves, T86A3 “Tyndall”, who is 7 years old. Take a look at the photos below to see their dorsal fins. Eider’s has two noticeable nicks near the top and the base of the dorsal fin, whereas Tyndall has quite a large cut almost halfway down the dorsal fin.
The orcas seemded to spend a lot of time under water when we first arrived on scene with them, and as we watched them we saw increased surface time, quite a few tail slaps, a spy hop that caught us all of guard, and a lot splashing around - maybe they were hunting!
Once we left the whales, we travelled through Ruxton and Gabriola Passage until we came out on the other side of Gabriola. From there, we headed towards Entrance Island where we were greeted by hundreds of noisy sea lions! Lucky for us, we had the pleasure of watching (and listening to) both species that we see on the BC coast - the barking California Sea Lions and the growling Steller Sea Lions. if you take a look at some of the photos below, you’ll notice the sea lions have some longer fur around their neck. This resembles a lions mane, giving rise to their name sea LION! Entrance Island is always an excited place to visit, not only does the lighthouse and adjacent buildings on it give us beautiful backdrops, but we’re always sure to find something to watch! There were two bald eagles perched atop the lighthouse the entire time we were there. We also had quite a number of oystercatchers flying ahead, their high pitched calls and bright orange beaks were unmistakable.
Our next stop were the bluffs on Gabriola Island to see the cormorants who nest there. You can find them tucked away in the little crevices all along and through the bluffs. Here too, along the water line, you can see how the sandstone of Gabriola Island has been carved away from salt. That can come from high speed winds picking up particulate matter as well as waves that crash along the coast.
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