Summary: August 20th 2023

Northern Residents: A23s, I16s, A42s, B07s, A52s, i12s

Pacific White Sided Dolphins

Humpbacks: Stitch and Quartz

Photo: Megan Hockin-Bennett

There were four orca groups in Johnstone Strait after midnight that were coming west after having slipped past the Ecological Reserve the previous evening. The A42s had accompanied the B07s into the area via Broughton Strait and the A23s had hooked up with the I16s sometime east of the Ecological Reserve after the latter had arrived independently in the Strait and followed the other groups east. These group pairings would remain constant. In the midst of the western movement in the early hours a rub began at 1am, lasting for twelve minutes. At the same time there were a lot of clear B07 calls suggesting that they were the ones at the beach, some A5 and I16s were heard as well but further away.

The A42s and the B07s continued west. By 9:30am they were seen between Blinkhorn and Little Kaikash Creek along the Vancouver Island shore by the Achiever research sailboat. The A23s and I16s however had not progressed as far west and at 8:05am they were still well within the Ecological Reserve. There was a seven minute rub at Strider beach by the I16s which lasted until 8:12am. After shifting momentarily eastward the A23s and the I16s returned to the Ecological Reserve by 9:11am. From there they would travel west along Vancouver Island together. While they were doing so the B07s and A42s headed toward them from the west. All four groups would “meet” west of Izumi Rock around 11:15am. A sudden burst of excited calls at 11:25am acknowledged and declared the meeting. The A23s and I16s turned ahead of the B07/A42 group and took the inside passage past Izumi Rock and carried on eastward. The B07/A42 group followed suit but then a short distance past Izumi they began to change direction and by 12:03pm they were travelling back west. They would carry on, eventually crossing over to the Hanson Island shore from Blinkhorn from 1:55pm and carry on to the entrance of Weynton Pass.

Meanwhile, Lucy suddenly noticed at 12:30pm there were A4 and I11 calls in Blackfish Sound! These whales travelled into Blackney Pass by 12:40pm where we identified the groups specifically as the A52s (A4 pod) and the I12s (I11pod). They had been seen together the day before in Queen Charlotte Strait. The combined group consisted of seven individuals who spread out mid channel as they travelled through the Pass. They cleared our view by 1:29pm and entered Johnstone Strait and Megan and Naiomi’s view by 1:45pm. From Cracroft Point they continued east.

The A23/I16 group, meanwhile, were back at Strider and at 3pm they had a four minute rub and another at 3:18pm.

By the time the A52/I11 group had entered Johnstone Strait the B07/ A42 group had moved toward the entrance of Weynton Pass. But the flooding tide might have discouraged them and at 4:11pm they turned away and travelled east along the Hanson Island shore toward the entrance of Blackney Pass where they had another go at leaving Johnstone Strait at 5:03pm. Once again, they quit and allowed the remaining flood to carry them across toward the Ecological Reserve.

So eventually by late afternoon/early evening all groups were in the general vicinity of the Boat Bay and Ecological Reserve. However, no one seemed to track what happened to the A52s and the I12s and because they made no calls we also did not have a clue about their whereabouts.

A pretty exciting and extended rub began (7:23pm) soon after blows were seen approaching Strider beach. There was a sizeable group of dolphins there as well and pretty soon the orcas were rubbing both at Main and Strider simultaneously. By 7:30pm the A42s were still rubbing (it had started at 7:20pm) and the B07s were continuing east from the Main beach. This part of the “long” Strider rub ended at 7:35pm as the A42s then followed the Bs east. At 8pm more rubbing “chuffs” happened at Strider. The intermittent rub continued to 8:39pm during which we could hear the I16s in the distance so we suspected that the A23/I16 group was not too far away. Just before 9pm orcas were seen heading west. Over the next while the groups shifted both west and east and around Johnstone Strait. Throughout they kept their pairings as they continued to “Dance with the one that brought you!”

We faced a long, but interesting night ahead.

This was James, Ed and Arabella’s last full day on Hanson Island. They would leave the next morning and on to their Vancouver Island adventure which was to include bear and whale watching and even surfing on the West Coast! We wish them well and thank them for a lovely visit.

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