Around here pretty much every new day’s events start where the last one ended. However, on August 25 there was a bit of a break in the activity from about 7:30pm the previous evening until past midnight. We had left off understanding that the B07s and A42s were headed east off Blinkhorn. Their progress after that was obscure. We were given no acoustic clues – our main tool at night. But at 1:07am there were finally some calls and apparently they had not gone far after all, so we picked up their trail as they headed east past the Cracroft Point/Kaizumi area
Progress was far from speedy over the next few hours. More likely they seemed to stall in this general area. Then starting around 4am they became very excited and at 4:18am a few distinctive A4 type calls were evident. Now, it was impossible for us to say exactly who was responsible for these calls. There could be two explanations. The A42s have been travelling with a member of the A4 pod for over two years. “Mystery” or A94, a young male, naturally belongs to the A24 matriline of the A4 pod and for some unknown reason he decided to join the A42s who are a matriline of the A5 pod. For sure they are cousins, even if only distant ones. It was possible that his voice became stronger in the mix of calls during the excited outpouring by the eastbound orcas. OR, the other explanation might have been that the A52s, who are also members of the A4 pod, had finally returned from the east and were letting their presence be known, causing not only those calls but perhaps the reason for all the excitement as well.
Whatever the real story, the B07s and A42s were just after daybreak nearing the eastern end of the Ecological Reserve. The sun had risen bright red, influenced unfortunately by all the wildfires in the Interior. From 7:22am to 7:30am, the B07s rubbed at Strider beach and then one male orca touched down briefly at Main four minutes later. The A42s stayed offshore but continued eastward along with the Bs. All calls ended just before 8am as the whales went out of range. No sign yet of the A52s.
Then at 10:05am, the A52s appeared heading west past Boat Bay where many of OrcaLab’s group had gone and stayed the night on the invitation of the Wardens. The “Boat Bay Party” is a long standing tradition. This year the Wardens kindly ferried everyone to and fro just as they had done last year. Unlike last year the weather was very co-operative, calm seas and no fog. Everyone had a lovely time and the westbound whales in the morning were a good reminder to hurry back. By 10:43am the A52s were passing under the Cliff Research camp (part of the Warden programme). By 11:04am Kory reported that they had passed Discovery Kayaking’s camp at the Sophia Islands. Throughout, the A52s were travelling fairly close to Cracroft Island and each other. These orcas made it to the entrance to Blackney Pass and into our view by 11:58am. They were still travelling close together and only made a few calls as they left Johnstone Strait and moved through past the Lab. By 12:22pm they were headed into Blackfish Sound and continued west to Queen Charlotte Strait where the A23s and I16s were spending the day.
A few hours passed before any new developments. The A42s and the B07s had not returned and it was not until 4pm before there was any word about the A23s and the I16s. Slow seemed to be a theme for the day. The A23s rolled casually past Bere Point and into Trinity Bay. The I16s, likewise, almost an hour later at 4:50pm, followed suit. They too were in no hurry. Kate guessed, probably correctly, that the A52s were further offshore.
Except for the A52s’ more determined travel through Johnstone Strait earlier, it was a very slow day for the mostly “take a break” resting other orcas. We finally heard the A23s and the I16s arrive in Blackfish Sound at 8:02pm. Scotty offered the information that specifically the A23s were eastbound off Bold Head on Swanson Island and that the A52s had earlier gone into nearby Weynton Passage at 7:40pm. The scene had become a little bit livelier with calls and echolocation, but as the light was fading fast we crossed our fingers that the incoming whales would make it to Blackney Pass before dark. They just made it! A60 led his group mid channel just before 9pm. Soon after the dark really closed in. Losing the light was rather nice in the end as the whales favoured the Hanson Island side of mid channel and their blows were clearly heard through the quickly darkening gloom. Megan at Cracroft Point heard the first blows at 9:13pm as the A23s emerged from the Pass amidst a lot of dolphins.
But as midnight grew closer the day’s story was not yet complete. Although the I16s came into Blackney Pass after the A23s, and we heard their calls as they passed the Lab at 9:21pm and Parson Island at 9:38pm, they never really made it to the Strait. By 11:23pm they were back in Blackfish Sound and had seemingly drawn the A23s back along with them.