Summary: July 22-25th 2023

Orcas: A42s, T060s, T046s (reported)

Humpbacks: Inukshuk, Argonaut, Ridge, Quartz, Black Pearl, Conger

Pacific White-Sided Dolphins

Dall’s Porpoises

Photo: Lucy Willis

The wait for the Northern Residents continues, but not without other occurrences to keep our focus. This year has certainly felt more active with Bigg’s orcas than other years past. The T046s, whom we had seen a few days previous, had made their way all the way south to the San Juan Islands by the 22nd July – an impressive journey.

That same morning, we received a report from Kate at Bere Point of a group of 7 whales heading east at 9:13am, but no IDs. We then followed a smattering of reports that the T060s had made their way from Queen Charlotte Strait, through Weynton Passage and towards Robson Bight by 3:15pm. They continued on their way east. It wasn’t until the evening that we were treated to some lovely Bigg’s vocalizations, starting just before 10pm and spread between our hydrophones in Blackfish Sound and Blackney Pass. They seemed to continue west into the darkness, subsiding shortly after 11pm. It was a very welcomed sound, and a chance for our newer lab assistants to hear their first orca vocalizations.

The acoustic treat was not over! Early in the morning of the 23rd, the faintest echolocation was heard around Kaizumi Rubbing Beach at 7am. There was boat noise and no calls, but it transpired that the A42s had finally made their way back west, after spending two weeks down near Quadra Island. They were not particularly talkative, nor did they come in view of our cameras, but they continued their trajectory north through Weynton Passage and were into Queen Charlotte Strait by 9:34am. Alex Morton confirmed that these were indeed the A42s with A94, steadily heading west, away from our area.

Earlier that morning, a group of Bigg’s were seen very close to Double Bay on Hanson Island, at Farewell Harbour on Berry Island, and then a later report from the wardens up on the Cliff in Johnstone Strait saw a few Bigg’s fins heading west past their camp at midday. The Bigg’s continue to steal our attention! This group passing the Cliff was the T060s again, travelling quickly along the Cracroft shore as we cleaned Strider UW camera on the opposite shore. They made a move into Blackney Pass around 12:45pm. As is typical with Bigg’s passings, we only saw them a few times as they came to the surface to catch a breath in between deep dives, and they had cleared our view into Blackfish Sound by 1:15pm. The rest of the day was filled with occasional humpbacks, changeable weather patterns and an evening visit to Double Bay. Our new assistants had a fantastic evening – hosted by the lovely Nicolette and Matchu – as they learned of Corky’s story over homemade veggie burgers.

The following day, July 24th, was cast in a very wet drizzle – the kind that prompts afternoon hot chocolate and a round of warm showers. Just as we were winding down after dinner, we received a very exciting report from Kate at Bere Point that the A42s had just rubbed briefly and were continuing east through Queen Charlotte Strait  at 9pm! The tide was against them, so we were unsure if they would continue east or perhaps turn round and go west with the ebb. Midnight struck, and we were still waiting…

The last assistants had just left the lab and gone to bed when – wee-aww! Calls and echolocation faint in Blackfish Sound at 12:45am! It was the unmistakable sound of the A42s, their A5 calls sharp and distinct, with the A4-ish flavour of A94 in the mix, too. They gradually approached Blackney Pass, taking their time against the ebbing current and competing for acoustic space with two large cruise ships coming in the opposite direction.

For the first time this season, we heard clear and beautiful Northern Resident calls, sustained over several hours in the darkness. In what is shaping up to be quite the atypical summer, this was a real treat to hear at last. Our newly-installed ‘Local Centre’ hydrophone began picking up calls outside the lab at 3:28am, and their blows were audible outside. They called beautifully and travelled past the lab, unencumbered by boat noise for only 15 minutes before a tug-and-barge came into Blackney Pass. Nonetheless, we were still able to track the fairly spread out group as they made their way into Johnstone Strait at 4:36am and proceeded to cross towards the Vancouver Island shore.

The A42s were silent by 5am, and at 6:44am we were surprised by the unmistakable ‘chuffs’ of rubbing rocks at Strider, then a few minutes later at Main Beach. They were spread between the two, not calling but we could see them on our above and below water cameras. The first rub of the summer! They stayed at Main beach for about 30 minutes, before continuing east along the Vancouver Island shore. By 2:19pm they had made it all the way to Kelsey Bay, and we haven’t heard anything about them since, suggesting that they are off to the southeast once more.

Outside the lab, we witnessed a large crew boat from a local tour operator behaving poorly around Pacific White-Sided Dolphins and humpbacks in the late afternoon – disappointing to see given how much education there is on proper boating etiquette to minimize disturbance to wildlife.

The day was rounded off by a delayed report of lots of orcas around Pine Island to the north at 3:30pm. We are sure hoping that they ride the next flood current towards Blackney Pass!

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