Summary:July 16-21st 2023

Biggs orcas: T060s, T046s, T109s

Northern Residents (at a distance): R17s, I16s, I04s, R13s, G17s, A34s, A42s, A73s, A25s

Gray Whale

As we wait for the Northern Residents (an interminable wait) Bigg’s orcas continue to maintain a near steady presence in the area. Such was the case on July 16. Daughter Anna had arrived with her family for her birthday so this sighting contributed to the celebration. The Bigg’s were first sighted off the Bell Rocks at 4:16pm. From there during very long dives they proceeded north until near the Parson Island Light where they stopped and made some foraging maneuvers. Another long dive occurred and afterwards, the very large male made several regular surfacings. The rest of the group were more elusive for us. By 5:56pm the silent passage was over as they headed into Blackfish Sound. 

The next day brought the tantalizing news that once again the north coast was host to Northern Residents. The Fin Island station heard a mixture of R and G clan calls during the early morning hours (2-4pm) as the orcas passed south through Squally Channel. In daylight, the same group passed Whale Point and Hermann was able to identify the R17s and the I16s and I4s as they headed to Lorado Sound. The rest of our day was preoccupied by humpback sightings, the Cave roof construction and a great hot dog dinner assisted by Grandson Jamie!. 

On the 18th we learned that the A42s were still being tracked near Heriot Bay (Quadra Island) in Georgia Strait at 8:42am. By 11 am the A42s were travelling fast near Brenton Island. There were two other reports of Northern Resident groups along the coast this day. Wayne Wright identified the A34s heading into Fitz Hugh Sound. This was quite encouraging as this is really only about a day’s good travel from the Blackfish Sound/Johnstone Strait area. Springer (A73) was photographed with her two youngsters travelling with the A54s and the A25s near Whale Point. So much far-away activity! We do know that the resident’s favourite food, Spring salmon, has been relatively abundant this year in contrast to some lean years previously. Jim Borrowman remarked on the coincidence of the Alaska salmon fishery being closed for a month. Normally this fishery takes over 700,000 fish each season. With no take this year these salmon have become available in Canadian waters. Good news for the whales. With so much food around the orcas are probably content to stay close to the source of plenty and have delayed their normal travels to more southern parts of the coast. 

Early the next morning the T046s passed the Cliff Research site mid strait heading eastward. By 13:14 pm the group, including T046D & E and T122 (photo ids by Lucy) were nearing Robson Bight. Meanwhile, the R13s and G17s were in Goletas Channel near Port Hardy – so close, closer than even the A34s BUT they headed west and away. It seems we still do not yet have enough temptations to bring the residents in closer. The A42s from noon till 5:30pm were off south Savary Island (Georgia Strait).

For us, the 20th was a disappointing mess of misinformation. First came the false report of a large group of residents heading east from Malcolm Point. It turned out to be Bigg’s orcas (the T060s, T109Bs and the T046B1s – Jared Towers ID)  and not residents. Later this was compounded by some further miscommunication about this same group. Twice we started an audio recording to no avail. We are so ready and hopeful for residents that we leant immediate credence to the reports. Sigh.

The 21st brought an unexpected surprise – a Gray Whale came into Blackney Pass. Scotty first saw the whale off West Pass. Quite difficult to see at first but finally, when opposite the Lab just past 11am, the thin fog lifted to reveal its presence opposite the Lab on the far side. The whale continued south and proceeded slowly toward Johnstone Strait. Those on the deck, Naomi, Agathe, Carla  and Juliette in the Lab on the remote camera did a great job staying on task and even were able to relocate the whale once in Johnstone Strait. This is a fairly rare occurrence so Jared Towers made the effort to document the whale east towards Robson Bight. Jared commented that the small whale looked in good shape, robust with just a few scratches. 

As the Gray Whale event drew to a conclusion Ely relayed that Bigg’s orcas were seen in Tribune Channel. Jared and Ely identified T060C for sure and Jared commented that there seemed to be a bunch in the inlets that day. The Bigg’s certainly get around while making their circuits in and out of the area these days while filling the void left by the absent residents.    

On the slack tide, Megan and Suzie donned their dry suits and slipped into the water. Claire, as part of the support, followed in her wet suit armed with her underwater camera. They were there to help install the 2nd hydrophone array designed by Hervé Glotin of the University of Toulon. Jérémie, Paulo, Hervé and Juliette were in the boat with the hydrophone which was eventually lowered into the water and then guided into position by Megan and Suzie. After weeks of preparation the actual installation went very smoothly and quickly. Some additional work was needed in the Lab before the system was fully operational. With this done, it meant that there are now two arrays (the first installation was on July 13) off the lab to help detect and localize whale calls. Specialized hydrophones on the array include high and low-frequency capabilities. We are quite excited to see the first results and very thankful for Hervé including OrcaLab in this work. 

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