July 21st - Orcas galore!
What a gorgeous day for a boat ride! We headed south into Washington, USA on our morning tour for a lovely visit with about 10 transient killer whales. There were two pods traveling together, the majority of both the T65As and the T77s. There was one adult male in the group with a HUGE dorsal fin! An adult male orca can weigh up to 6 tonnes and can get to about 30ft long. The dorsal fin alone can get up to 6 feet tall!
There was also a calf in this group who was traveling close to mom. Killer whales have the longest gestation period out of any marine mammal, approximately 18 months! Once the calf is born it will nurse for 1-2 years while mom teaches it how to speak their unique dialect of whistles and squeaks, and teaches it how to hunt with the pod. It’s amazing to see the adult male next to the calf for a size comparison. What a little cutie!
In the afternoon our boat started to head south to those pods, but ended up finding a pod of our own! Dodd Narrows has become somewhat of an “orca highway” for transient killer whales and we were fortunate enough to find a group of 4 killer whales coming through the pass. The T65Bs have a calf as well, and they were traveling with T65A2 (Ooxjaa), the son of the matriarch we’d seen earlier that morning! They traveled north past Gabriola Island, to Newcastle Island and Departure Bay, and then through Newcastle Channel right into Nanaimo Harbour! They were doing long dives, making them a bit tricky to watch, but in the end we were able to watch them finish off a successful kill!
Transient (Bigg’s) killer whales are apex predators, meaning they are at the very top of the food chain. They eat marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins, and even other species of whales. Yesterday we didn’t get to see what was on the menu (most of the action takes place underwater) but we suspect it could have been a harbour porpoise because of the long distance they traveled during the hunt.
It’s always a great day when we get to see killer whales in their natural habitat, but it’s even more special when they are so close to home! Killer whales really live in Nanaimo’s backyard!
Check out some of the best photos taken throughout the day by marine naturalist Cheyenne Brewster.