Summary: December 1st 2023 – January 16th 2024

Northern Residents: A23s, A25s, A42s, A94, G17s

Bigg’s orcas: T019s, T046s, T109As

Humpbacks, Dall’s Porpoise, Stellar Sea Lions, Otters

Yesterday, January 16 2024, seemed like an appropriate day to catch up with OrcaLab. We recently experienced a winter glitch after power went out in Alert Bay on January 11 The effects of the outage lasted several days. The connection between Cracroft Point and Parson Island (one of the links in OrcaLab’s wireless radio network) continued to be a problem even after power in Alert Bay was restored. This impacted both audio and video live streams as well as our ability to monitor the hydrophones in Johnstone Strait. We still had Blackfish and Blackney Pass covered. Then today the entire system was restored, even though the connections were somewhat tenuous. But it was just in time for a brief glimpse of a large group of orcas heading steadily through Blackney and on towards Johnstone Strait. The fragile system continued to be touchy as they cleared the Lab’s view. There were no calls.

December, although very windy at times, was unseasonably warm. No white Christmas this year for caretakers Mat and Cam. The beginning of the month, when Mat and Cam were settling into their daily routines, was not busy until two humpbacks, described in the last summary, chose to playfully roll around together in front of the Lab on December 5.

December 7 was a pretty busy day too with a humpback vocal in Blackfish Sound and the A23s and A25s travelling silently north through Blacknep Pass at 1noon. That same day we had word that A94 was seen off of Powell River and suspected that his usual companions, the A42s, were not too far away. Indeed, later reports in the New Year, suggested that they were indeed doing their usual winter sojourn in the Salish Sea.

A few uneventful days passed. Then on December 10, echolocation was heard in Blackfish Sound. A while later, the G17s came silently through between 12:44pm and 1:04pm Cam and Mat had never seen these orcas so Jared Towers obliged with the identifications. This large group then simply vanished without further trace after they cleared into Johnstone Strait.

The sporadic events continued. On December 13 a humpback was heard once again, vocalizing this time in Johnstone Strait. Apparently, some humpbacks had decided to linger a while longer in the area before moving on.

The Resident orcas were not yet done with the area either. On December 15 around 7pm, calls and echolocation were heard in Blackfish Sound. Most of the calls were what is referred to as “resting calls”. These went on for the next two hours. We believe the calls were A5s. The A23s were seen down near Boat Bay on December 27, a day after A clan calls were heard near Robson Bight.

Between December 23 and 26, Bigg’s orcas made their presence known as well. Sometimes, as on December 23, the encounter was brief and elusive. Just one male orca on this occasion was seen travelling through the Pass silently. The next day, on the 24th, Bigg’s were vocal in Blackfish Sound so it seemed their search for prey had some positive purchase on this day. Bigg’s orcas coincided with Resident orcas on the 26th. T019B was identified positively amongst orcas that made their way into Johnstone Strait between Noon and 1pm. Bigg’s were then heard on the same day in Johnstone Strait around 3pm two hours after A clan calls were heard.

The New Year came in where the old one ended. On January 4 there were both humpback and Bigg’s orca events. Late in the afternoon at 5:10pm Bigg’s orcas made very beautifully clear calls while in Blackfish Sound. Then at 8:26pm Cam and Mat were again recording but this time it was a humpback in the same locale.

There was a cluster of activity on January 7 and 8. FinWave identified the James Wilson encounter with the T109As. On the same day two humpbacks rolled past Alert Bay while another one showed up in Blackney Pass. The next day, January 8, Cam and Mat identified members of the T046s (T046E and D for sure) travelling south in Blackney Pass around 2:30pm. The matriarch T046 was not there and has not been seen with her group since February and is now presumed to have died. Her life and legacy of a large family were celebrated in the local and National news! Quite something for a Bigg’s orca to be so recognized.

Even though the next several days were without any noted whales, Cam and Mat were busy keeping warm through the cold snap of Arctic air that had swooped over western Canada sending temperatures plunging. They kept an eye on the Sea Lions, doing a daily count and watching for the two poor unfortunate young sea lions who had been spotted with a ring of restrictive rope or plastic around their necks. Only one has been seen since the initial sighting. Hopefully, help may be soon on the way.

Megan Hockin-Bennet has been hard at work on her new Podcast, “Cultivating Conservation”.

Each Episode so far has been engaging and well worth a listen. Give it a try!

Hard to believe that it is over halfway through the first month of the year! Snow is now falling so winter is far from over. We wish everyone a Happy New Year.

Photos by Camille Nemond

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