Summary: July 25-29th 2023

Northern Residents: A42s

Photo: Claire Guillaume – A34s on November 30th 2022

I hope by writing this summary that the situation will have changed by the time it comes to press post! Our July has been probably the strangest since we began monitoring orcas in the Johnstone Strait/Blackfish Sound area decades ago. The season, with the exception of the A42s, has yet to materialize. The A42s have transited through the area with barely any presence. Their first arrival on July 7 was in the fog and they remained silent as they travelled through this area and on to Georgia Strait where they remained until retracing steps on July 23 out to Queen Charlotte Strait.. Encouragingly they returned late the next day and we were able to follow them acoustically through the early hours of the 25th as they made their way east in Johnstone Strait where they stopped for a brief rub just as they had done in Queen Charlotte Strait on the 24th. Once again the A42s made a beeline for Georgia Strait leaving us rather deflated after the excitement of hearing their calls through the night. None of this is hardly a season starter. We know Northern Residents have been spotted elsewhere, along the North and Central coasts and even near the Port Hardy area but none ventured in.

All this has left us wondering. Why? What has changed? When will things go back to “normal”?

We know from years of observations that the A1 pod plays a significant role in this area and they have yet to show up. The old A30 matriline has now split into two groups, the A50s and A54s, both quite independent of each other and often travel separately. The A54s have been seen in the company of other Northern Resident families several times on the North Coast where they were reported to have two new babies. The A50s have yet to be seen as far as we know. Going back over old incidence records we know that the A30s were most likely the first group to become established in the area each season and once here they acted as “host” to the the other various groups, ushering them in and out.

The other A1 matrilines, the A12s (now the A34s) and the A36s also had a similar role, working with the A30s in the early part of the season then assuming the role once the A30s departed. The A36s no longer exist and the A12s have changed their habits gradually after the death of A12 in 2012 when they became known as the A34s, named after A12’s only daughter. Each year the A34s have not only decreased their presence, they have virtually abandoned the early season in favour of a later arrival. It feels like a very cursory effort.

We have considered several possibilities for the dramatic change of events this season:

  • The whales are content to stay in certain areas where the availability of food is easy and plentiful. Why make the effort even though Chinook abundance is pretty decent in the Johnstone Strait area?
  • The A54s have possibly two new babies and are reluctant to travel long distances even though they were a mainstay last year in this area.
  • The A50s, if nothing has happened to them, are likewise busy elsewhere.
  • The A34s continue to prefer being elsewhere. They started this trend.
  • The A1s, by keeping their distance, have created a “nobody is at home” situation as other Northern Residents have knocked on the door fairly close by but not entered.
  • The area has become too busy, too noisy, and the whales get too much attention. For more than a decade the season has trended to starting later and ending earlier.

There are, of course, probably multiple factors. All we know is that this season has been like no other and with all that time on hand we are preoccupied with the unanswered question, WHY?

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