Summary: July 2nd – 3rd 2024

Northern Residents: A42s, A23s

Bigg’s orcas

Pacific White-sided dolphins

Humpbacks: Inukshuk, Half Dome,Sparrow (Casper), Argonaut and one other

Time to catch up as we head into July and the upcoming 2024 orca season. So much has happened since we last posted so not sure where to begin. Suffice to say we have been busy.

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Well that was yesterday’s unfinished summary. And today everything changed for the better.

At 6:20am Claire woke up hearing “A”calls! Super faint so how she managed to surface and quickly get dressed and head to the Lab was amazing. By 6:46am she had a recording going and had alerted everyone. The whales did not disappoint. They continued calling as others tuned in from afar or turned up at the Lab. Tomoko chimed in from Japan declaring A5 calls! So here it was, the start of the 2024 summer season underway.

No camera this year in Blackfish Sound but the Sea Lion rock camera has a long prospect to the west and Shari, who was curious, had a go at locating the incoming orcas. We also alerted Alex and she too got her scope out and was ready. We had a clue that they were headed our way when they echo located into the Flower Island hydrophone. Jérémie, who took over from Shari, also located the very distant, very small fins which were definitely now advancing eastward toward the Lab.

Before we knew it, at 7:55am, Katelyn and Kelly simultaneously, excitedly called out that the orcas had arrived! They came in travelling in scattered groupings making identification a bit more of a challenge. There were only A5 calls and given the number of orcas present we gained confidence in our opinion that the A42s and the A23s were both there. As we grappled with understanding the distribution, Fife (A60) passed at 8:06am. Calls from the lead groups began to be picked up on the Parson Island system around that time as well. A few of the individuals were accompanied by energetic dolphins. The orcas answered with a few breaches of their own.

Then at 8:13am as the parade of orcas progressed toward Johnstone Strait 3 adult humpbacks, travelling very closely together, surfaced 10 meters off the Lab. They totally took our attention from the orcas as we watched them roll their way past the mooring and along the Hanson Island shore. We were able to identify “Inukshuk” very quickly, wondered about “Half Dome” but quizzed about the third. They obviously were enjoying each other’s company and we could not remember ever seeing three humpbacks so close to each other, so close to the Lab. We were really having our senses overloaded in the best possible way and all before 9am!

By 8:30am, the orcas had cleared our view and we began to wait for their arrival in Johnstone Strait. A couple of minutes later, 5 orcas travelling on the Cracroft Island side headed east togethers. Others had crossed to Vancouver Island. Despite the early hour a few whale watch boats were already out following the whales.

The A5s headed to Strider Rubbing beach and went in at 9:32am. The rub lasted until 9:59am. From there they went east.

Hmmmm… Last year, on July 7, the A42s were again the first Northern Residents to arrive but they didn’t stay. Instead they kept going east into the Salish Sea and other Northern Residents did not arrive until August. We really hope they don’t plan to do the same this year.

In the evening the ebb had still not encouraged their return so fingers crossed.

There had been a flurry of excitement at 2:38pm when the Cliff reported that a single adult male orca was passing. When he eventually came into Blackney travelling north at 3:09pm we were convinced this lone whale was a Bigg’s orca. We have sent his picture to Finwave – Bay Cetology’s AI identification site so hopefully we will get a positive identification soon. He cleared at 3:30pm perhaps continuing on his way to connect with the four other Bigg’s who had been seen in Weynton Passage in the morning.

What a day!

And about that “busy stuff” before. Through June we have been pleased to welcome Claire, Jérémie and Shari back to OrcaLab and welcome for the first time Justus, Sullivan, Katelyn, Kelly, Kabir, and Callum. Everyone has been so helpful making sure that the long list of “to dos” is getting completed.

In June, the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association, Marine Education and Research Society and OrcaLab hosted the annual general meeting in Port McNeill. The meeting was well attended and there is a growing sense that those interested about the welfare of the whales are really coming together and building a solid community.

On June 29 we went to Telegraph Cove and attended “Coastal Insights” organized by Megan Hockin-Bennett and convened by the Whale Interpretive Centre run by Jim and Mary Borrowman. Beautiful setting with the articulated bones of Fin, Humpback and orca suspended from the ceiling. We were happy to be among the presenters that night. Helena told about the importance of orca matriarchs and dusted off a story Paul wrote 34 years ago on that subject. The story is titled “Great Mother”. Claire helped the presentation by beautifully illustrating this story and that of Scimitar, A12 one of the Northern Residents most distinctive and singular matriarchs.

The evening began with a welcome and introduction by Chief Ernest Alfred.

Other presenters were Jared Towers, Jackie Hildering, Natasha Garrity, Ryan Tidman, Megan Hockin-Bennett, Amy Kamarainen, and Leila Kirchel. Jérémie helped Megan with the technical aspects and filming the event while Claire took photos.

So now, with the whales east of us we are on stand-by, continuing with our chores while our ears and eyes remain on high alert.

Photos by Jeremie Collado

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