Yesterday’s thunderstorm with its so welcomed rain seemed to wipe the slate clean and bring new life to the Johnstone Strait area. Always harbingers of a sort, dolphins chatted off the far end of the Ecological Reserve from 12:40am until 12:52am and then became distant.
Even though the rest of the night was uneventful, change was happening far to the west.
Dawn opened to a misty/ smokey morning with two humpback whales travelling slowly in the fog towards the entrance of Blackney Pass at 7am.
After a bit of dolphin in Blackfish Sound the orca reports began. Five orcas in Blackfish Sound were headed east. A brief burst of calls and echolocation at 11am announced that “G clan orcas were in the neighbourhood. The distant glimpse of two orcas offered insufficient clues as they corrected their movement toward Weynton Pass. Meanwhile, near Kelsey Bay, in the eastern reaches of Johnstone Strait, four unidentified orcas were seen travelling west.
At the same time, Kate, at her Bere Point camp, had two other groups come from the west and go in for a brief rub before continuing on into Trinity Bay to the east. She looked at her photos and identified the I65s, I27s and other members of the I15 family.
It was Jim Borrowman’s turn next. At 11:50am the I33s entered Johnstone Strait from Weynton Passage. They were followed at 12:18 by the rest of the I31 family, the I35s. It was not clear if the I68s were there as well.
So by now, Johnstone Strait was quite crowded by a parade of whales. The first task at hand was to follow the I31s eastward. Just after 1pm they were mid-strait approaching Kaikash Creek. They were moving quickly. As they neared Kaizumi Beach to the east at least two had moved closer to the Vancouver Island shore with the intention of going for a rub. The rub lasted until 1:22 pm and involved five individuals. From there, the I31s carried on eastward.
The Cliff Research site opposite Robson Bight on Cracroft Island reported their progress to Critical Point at the eastern end of Robson Bight. The whales as we had witnessed on the remote cameras were very spread out. It was now 2:30pm and the I31s were proceeding toward the rubbing beaches. Curiously though they only did a cursory rub at 2:49pm and shifted along to the Main beach where they did not rub either despite their clear and close calls and echolocation. There was a lot of echoing of calls between the two beaches which are in fairly close proximity to each other.
By 3:03pm some were ready to commit to a longer, more definite effort at Strider Beach. The rub went on until 3:30 during which we suspected that the rest of the I31s had caught up to the lead whales who we thought to be the I33s who had already moved on. Eventually, this entire group left to the east.
In the next while, a large group of dolphins, favouring the Cracroft Island side, travelled east. Soon after it became apparent that the I15s had arrived in the Strait after taking Weynton Pass like their other “G” clan members. It was now 4:30pm. It was difficult to assign the few A5 calls heard from this time on. The last sighting of the A23s was yesterday evening when they travelled east past the Boat Bay camp. Was this them returning or had unidentified A25s accompanied the I15 groups into the area? Just too few calls. This was a wait-and-see.
Almost an hour after arriving in the Strait, the I15 groups closed in on the Kaizumi beach area. But they did not rub. Were they just not interested or were they distracted? Once past they made an interesting detour offshore towards other orcas being followed by rushing dolphins. Together they turned inshore once again when past Izumi Rock and resumed going forward toward the Ecological Reserve. A boat had been following them and had actually come in between individuals when the whales did this odd manoeuvre.
A5 calls picked up around 6:10pm. By 6:49pm whales were approaching Strider and two minutes later a rub started. This rub, which would have many phases and involve different individuals, really lasted until 8:30pm.
The intervals were: 6:51pm to 6:56pm; 7:12pm to 7:40pm; 7:49pm to 7:50pm; 8:01pm to 8:02pm and finally 8:22pm tp 8:30pm.
It was noted that sea lions at 6:58pm were amongst the orcas and that at 7:49pm many dolphins (who had followed the orcas from the west) crowded the scene. The orcas dealt with it by going offshore for a moment or two before returning.
It was determined that the I15 families, like their I31 predecessors, travelled east from the Ecological Reserve. Their calls faded away by 8:38pm.
Only a lone vocal humpback figured during the next portion of the night. At 10:37pm, this humpback made a few quite lovely deep and guttural vocalizations somewhere not far from the Parson Island hydrophone. It was over far too soon leaving only annoyingly persistent loud boat noise to shape the soundscape.
We bid Hannah and her family goodbye earlier in the day. It was a short but sweet visit. On their way to Telegraph Cove they encountered the incoming I31s. Paul, usually so careful to avoid whales, had not been aware they had already come into Johnstone Strait when he departed. Hannah had delayed the departure in the hope that the whales were going to drop into Blackney Pass and as it was taking too long they left. It was a bit of a surprise to say the least that they saw whales on their way. Fortunately, the Warden boat was able to alert them and Paul stopped the boat and waited for the whales to pass.
As night fell the near full moon brightened the surrounding clouds and spilled light onto the ocean below. Later we learned that Jérémie and Claire made it back to France! Their journey and this night was almost done.