Summary: August 14th 2023

Northern Residents: A23s, A42s (presumed Georgia Strait)

Bigg’s: T060s

Humpbacks: Meniscus, Guardian and baby, Ridge, Inukshuk

Finally! In the early hours (3:30am) Carla started a recording after hearing clear but distant Northern Resident calls. Before she could text everyone Claire was already awakened by the calls and was on her way to the Lab and then to the main house to make sure the news that there were A5 calls in Blackfish Sound had registered. Helena was soon on her way to the Lab where she found just about everyone gathered, already listening on earphones or the speakers while their excitement shook off any residual sleepiness. This was the real deal! We listened intently trying to sort out if this was the A42s coming back and headed west with the ebbing tide or newly arriving A23s. Most of the calls remained rather distant in the first instance but faint echo location seemed to suggest the orcas were not going away. At 4:19am the calls even became louder. We imagined the whales shifting about and adjusting to the current which was not going to change until quite a bit later that morning. For almost an hour the echo location continued and during the next half hour (after 5am) distant calls interspersed the continuing echo location. Just to make things even more interesting, at 5:33am, a humpback in Blackfish Sound produced some pretty impressive sounds during a bubblenet effort. Afterwards, the orcas ceased calling until 6:03am when it became evident acoustically that they had slipped into Blackney Pass. Blows were heard through the morning fog closer to the far shore. Moments later the orcas retreated when close calls and echolocation at 6:36am told us they were regrouping in Blackfish Sound. The calls then faded. Almost an uneventful hour passed. Suddenly at 7:26am a humpback in Blackfish Sound called out in a short burst.The A23s showed up in Blackney Pass headed south 28 minutes later. They came in on the Hanson Island side altogether, A60 leading the group. Day had broken and the fog had mostly lifted by now so we could follow the small group as they made their way through the Pass – still going against the current. At 8:09am they disappeared from our view. We then patiently waited for them to traverse the entrance to Blackney Pass. Megan and Rob at the Cracroft Point camp spotted them first at 8:24am as they emerged. As they moved further toward Johnstone Strait they “opened up” with a beautiful set of calls announcing their arrival. Serah, handling the remote camera, soon found them and trained the camera on their progress eastward past “CP”. Meanwhile, we had regrouped inside the Lab to collectively take a breather, look at the pictures, excitedly discuss what had just occurred and watch the A23s on the monitor.Then suddenly, Janie who was facing the window saw more orcas outside passing close to the Lab. We quickly shifted focus back outside. Fully in “resident mode” it took a short while for us to realize that we were looking at Bigg’s orcas instead, specifically, the T060s. Whew! What a morning. As the Bigg’s orcas made their way along the same path that the Residents had taken, the A23s continued to call beautifully. They were now moving east further away from “CP” into the fog. Fife (A60) lingered a while longer just on the edge of the fog line. By now the Bigg’s orcas had also reached Johnstone Strait but chose to head west. The A23s shifted closer to Vancouver Island. At 9:14am we heard one ever so brief rub and caught a glimpse of a young whale near the shore. Afterwards we lost track of the A23s but noted the reports on the progress of the T060s. At 9:15am they passed Big Bay on Hanson Island and reached the western end of the island about a half hour later. Just before Noon they had moved north into Weynton Pass. They would later curl around Hanson Island and be spotted off Double Bay by 6:20pm.

The Resident A23s likewise struck a westerly direction after that brief rub on Vancouver Island. By 11:14am they were off Blinkhorn Peninsula and from there headed towards Telegraph Cove which they passed at 12:18pm. They turned soon after and at 1:29pm they were just east of Telegraph Cove off the Bausa Islets and by 2:03pm once again off Blinkhorn Peninsula. They continued their easterly trek silently. At 2:29pm they were off Kaikash Creek opposite “CP”. The remote camera followed their progress as they approached the boundary of the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve followed by a number of boats. By 3:30pm they were near the western headland of Robson Bight. They entered the Bight and passed the Tsitika River estuary at 4:18pm, still eastbound. We waited for them to appear on the Strider Rubbing Beach camera but rubs were not really the order of the day and apparently they turned west off the eastern headland of the Bight at around 5pm. A few sporadic faint calls suggested that they were still on their way west at 5:30pm but nothing was very definite until hours later when they turned up in Blackney Pass once again at 9:03pm. They were silent but comfortably travelling with the ebbing current and the very exercised waves whipped up by the strong northwest winds. More or less travelling close together they left our view and entered Blackfish Sound some 19 hours since this day had begun with those first calls. The fading light worked against our efforts to follow them through Blackfish Sound. A humpback breaching in Blackney brought our attention closer to home. A few echolocation clicks and some quiet calls assured us that the A23s were still in Blackfish as night fell.

A lovely postscript to the day came when some very rowdy Pacific White-sided dolphins were heard in Blackney Pass not long after the orca activity had ended for the moment.

Earlier, Jérémie had braved the freshening afternoon winds to fetch long time volunteer Momoko Kobayashi (so good to have her back!) from Alert Bay and retrieve Rob from Cracroft Point. Only at “CP” for a day Rob had the good fortune to see the A23s, catch a glimpse of the Bigg’s orcas and watch several humpbacks (Meniscus, Guardian and baby, Ridge plus others) working the nearby currents.

We had hoped to do quite a bit of work on the remote sites throughout the afternoon but the dire weather forecast and the reality of the increasing winds forced us to cancel. Technician Joel was content to work on the Lab systems in the meantime. But given the lovely events of the day no one was complaining and very happy remembering the sights and sounds of this wonderful day as they turned towards beds or the Lab to continue monitoring whatever else the night might reveal.

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