Summary: August 26th 2023

Northern Residents: A42s, B07s (A23s,I16s retreating through Blackfish Sound)

Pacific White-Sided Dolphins

With the A23s and the I16s retreating silently through Blackfish Sound after midnight our attention shifted to Johnstone Strait where we knew that the B07s and the A42s remained. An hour went by before Pacific White-sided dolphins preceded the arrival of the B07s from the east. By 1:20am the Bs had moved fully into range of Strider beach hydrophone. Their calls echoed to nearby Main beach as they moved westward. Sure enough their calls next registered on the Kaizumi beach system from 2:25am to 2:30am. Continuing progress west, with perhaps a shift offshore, meant that the Bs were also heard on the Cracroft Point system. For about 20 minutes (from 3:14 – 3:34am) the Bs most likely continued west a while longer. Then at 3:55am faint echolocation on the Kaizumi system indicated that these whales had probably turned and were still offshore of the Vancouver Island shore. From 4am to 5:45am the Bs moved back eastward and found themselves then on the Strider beach where they participated in the first of a series of rubs. This one lasted 24 minutes during which the A42s revealed themselves acoustically at 6:16am. Were they only now coming up from the east or had they been silent partners on the Bs journey west and now east? At 6:20am the A42s were heard on Main beach as well. Some echolocation, calls and observed breaches on the Strider remote hydrophone and camera systems preceded a general travel eastward. It was now 6:28am.

It became the A42s turn to rub at 6:37am signalling a quick backtrack to Strider. For their part the Bs were now distant acoustically. The A42s rub lasted 11 minutes. It was over at 6:46am. Once again the whales shifted east.

The east-west vacillation continued. At 6:54am a group was seen heading west. The Bs, distant at first on Main beach, jumped in for a three minute Strider rub from 7:49am to 7:52am. They seemed to leave to the west but were not done with the beaches just yet. Sure enough the Bs turned back into Strider at 8:15am and rubbed until 8:21am. Restarting this rub at 8:25am the Bs seemed committed and the rub was quite a beautiful one until dolphins joined the orcas causing some apparent chaos and perhaps helping end this rub at 8:30am.

At 8:34am, the orcas did an “in and out” rub and then formed a line along with the dolphins. After a deep dive offshore the orcas came up pointing to the west then turned and had another go at Strider. This rub started at 8:48am and ended at 8:54am. Again the dolphins were right there. As the Bs left west there was a breach perhaps signalling that now it was really time to go and get on with the rest of the morning. The dolphins might just have got the message as they travelled off in the opposite direction.

The orcas travelled through the rest of the Reserve very slowly. It was that kind of day! They finally were west of the Reserve in their resting line by 11:33am all the while close to the Vancouver Island shore.

A commercial fishing boat setting off Kaizumi might have discouraged the whales from continuing along the shore. B13 or “Yaculta ” and one other orca were in the lead of the now offshore whales. It was a beautiful passing with the two companion groups in now mixed company as evidenced by A42, A79 and B16 travelling together. It was now 12:11pm.

We had a sad departure. Long term assistants Jérémie and Claire left OrcaLab for the start of their journey back to France. They came in June with the intention of staying only one month because they had pressing family events to get back to. They sorted these obligations out and decided to extend their stay. They did this at least twice more before leaving. Thei stay had lasted three wonderful months. Completely impossible to describe all that they did, sufficient to say the summer would have been completely different without them. As a last act Jérémie baked six more loaves of his incredible bread for us to store in the freezer. He had become the Lab’s baker producing fresh bread nearly everyday. We will miss them terribly but hang on to their promise to return to their Canadian home next year. Bon Voyage nos amis, bien amicalement.

Past Kaikash Beach our sightlines are quite stretched and because the whales were resting there were no obvious vocals to record and follow their progress easily. In these situations other reports are useful. Finally at 12:49pm word reached us that the two groups were off Telegraph Cove. They stayed in that vicinity with little details offered about their behaviours until 4:20pm after which they negotiated a turn to the east. With their afternoon rest over and perhaps stimulated by the decision to head east the whales became sporadically vocal on their new journey. Because the reach of the Strider beach hydrophone is quite extensive, calls were heard on both Kaizumi and Strider some distance to the west. Then at 5:12pm they gave it a pause and resumed calling only when off the Kaizumi area at 5:55pm. These calls echoed to the Cracroft station. The remote camera confirmed the impression that whales were offshore of Vancouver Island and still eastbound.

At least some of the A42s must have advanced ahead of the B07s as they were at Strider from 6:13pm till 6:25pm while the B07s were still further west. The advanced A42s tried out Main beach three minutes after completing their effort at Strider. But this rub was over almost immediately as these whales moved eastward.

While all this was happening at the Reserve’s beaches, the Bs were still evidently closer to Kaizumi. There were some A42 calls heard along with the Bs. We remembered that A42 and A79 had been travelling with B16 so were not too surprised by this mixture of calls. These two matrilines have now spent days in each other’s company and quite often it takes orcas some time before they break from their family ranks and begin more intimate socialising. It was a good sign.

Just before 7pm the A42s who had been east after their earlier rub returned and passed over Strider beach.

The Cliff research site conveyed the information that B13 was mid strait and headed for Robson Bight. At 7:52pm a resting line(that included 8+ individuals as well as B13) formed west of Strider Beach. These whales would begin to rub at 8pm. A42, A94,B13 and A79 were identified. The rub really ended at 8:13pm despite a short a break in between activity. Energetic dolphins once again interrupted the whales’ focus on the rub and they pulled away. By 8:26pm they had swung around to the west once more. By 8:34pm we could no longer see them on the remote camera and as they had fallen silent once more the night and the ocean belonged solely to them.

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