“Party animals” the I15s are, and apparently ever have been. Their social behaviour now is no different than it was years ago, when the females in the group appeared to draw male attention so consistently that we called them “the love pod”. The group’s then young boys have since grown or are growing up, so the I15s now include a splendid adult male and two “sprouters”. One might have thought that along with the changed physical complexion of the pod, the socially cozy old days would change too, perhaps morphing into a more serious mode. Not so. The I15s have been carrying on in their party hats as ever, bringing everyone else in the neighbourhood along with them.
Rubs are the best indicator of the party spirit that comes with the presence of the I15s. After a blow-out night of calling calling, calling, rubbing, rubbing, rubbing, and whatever else may happen during those intense get-togethers, there is nothing to do the day after except rest up and get ready for the next party. The I15s are known for their barely moving, often spyhopping, relaxed demeanor while drifting along with the tides and currents. Whale watchers call this behaviour “save on gas”.
Summer is rub season for the orcas who come to the Johnstone Strait/Blackfish Sound area reliably and frequently enough to make it their “core habitat”. So there are lots of rubs (see “rub a rub a rub”) but the tone that accompanies them when the I15s are in the mix is different. Play defines the behaviour, and it is at the rubbing beaches that the clearest indications occur that orcas have enough time on their hands (pecs) to divert their focus from the serious to the trivial. Sometimes, it sounds as if the orcas are kids on a roller coaster, screaming their heads off, and at other times there is just silence, save for pebbles gently moving as they’re brushed aside. There may be rituals involved, but the bottom line is fun, sheer pleasure if you will. The I15s are at the centre of the pleasure dome.
It is impossible to ignore the heightened intensity of the rubbing sessions when the I15s are present. They sometimes last more than an hour, and when many groups are in the area, they occur at numerous rubbing locations: the “Main” beach, “Strider” and “1.5” within the Ecological Reserve at Robson Bight; and at Bere Point on the north shore of Malcolm Island. There are other “beaches” as well, one 20m deep. Yesterday afternoon, when the I15s headed out to the west, they paused at the Bere Point beach for well over an hour, rubbing their hearts out. By this morning, they were back in Johnstone Strait, idling along. None of this is to say that the I15s can’t get serious about fishing or other matters, but it will come as no surprise if it’s party time again tonight.
Post script: When choosing the title for this piece, we did so thoughtfully, as it is normal for us to react, and object to the use of the word “animals” in relation to orcas. We feel it diminishes them to the status of objects, depersonalizes and demeans them, encourages use, abuse etc. But this title seemed ironically appropriate, and impossible to resist, given the exuberance the I15s generate – always so ready for an orca social.