Today began as most days recently, with thick fog. Most of the starry night had been clear and full of the presence of humpbacks made known by their calls near and far. On September 29 and 30 Bigg’s orcas had declared themselves vocally both at night and during the day. Really a lot going on and this day, the first day of October, was no exception.
The fog eventually cleared and we made ready to say good-bye to Kat who, though only with us for ten days, had once again (she had been here before) become part of as she described it ‘this special community”. Just before 3pm while we were waiting for the boat to be ready we saw orcas on the very far side of Blackney Pass opposite Harbledown Island. Orcas were the very furthest thing from our minds and we had just remarked that there had not been any humpbacks seen since the fog lifted. The orcas were already being followed by a boat. Their progress was very slow as they moved against the opposing current. There were three that we could see but as they were so very far over no identifications were immediately obvious. The “who” was of little consequence to the nervous sea lions nearby. They had good reason to be nervous as these Bigg’s orcas were hungry and determined. Sure enough as they pushed forward toward the northern edge of Parson Island they found a victim. Even at a distance their deliberate movements told of their intent. We could see the targeted sea lion hit then swim away on its own only to become the focus of attention of the orcas once again after they turned around and went straight back for another go. They tossed the hapless sea lion in the air and then continued to surround it. By this time the boats had been drawn to the scene by the obvious activity. They had initially gone past where the hunt began so turned around and nosed in toward the action. This was of concern because the presence of the boats could so easily have disrupted the hunt. As it happened the orcas remained very focused and over the course of the afternoon stayed over by the Parson Island shore going back and forth moving only short distances in both directions. In one of the bay nearby a group of sea lions had massed together splashing, stretching out their necks, keeping watch. Another equally agitated group of sea lions clung to the now submerging rocks by Parson Light. The orcas continued to be engaged in foraging behaviours, diving, turning, leaping. Even when the current changed these orcas were slow to change and move on. Movement south was incremental. They had been silent during the whole encounter until they moved away from Parson Island. It was now 4:19pm. Preceding this move just after 4pm a large tug and barge transporting a massive crane entered Blackney Pass and transited north. It overtook a smaller transport boat and passed the orcas without incident. In its wake the orcas began to vocalize and occupy the area between Parson and Hanson Islands. A lot of sea lions were now hauled out on the Hanson Island rocks. They did not seem to be particularly worried. Before exiting Blackney Pass the large barge passed a cruise ship coming from Blackfish Sound. The Pass was awash in noise. The cruise ship passed through close to where the orcas were milling. The calls paused for a short while as the ship advanced and then resumed at 4:28pm. Breaches followed. The Bigg’s made whistles, echo location and a variety of low murmuring sounds. Then at 4:44pm a large articulated tug (pusher tug) came through from Johnstone Strait, It seemed as if the parade of boats was going to be endless! Twelve minutes later the Bigg’s orcas departed our view to the south, still calling all the way to Johnstone Strait where they were found on the Cracroft Point remote camera at 5:33pm. Their calls lasted until 5:54pm and by then they were long gone visually.
Conger, the first humpback of the day, appeared in Blackney Pass around 7pm along with another unidentified individual and a very active Inukshuk was seen in Blackfish Sound by the Double Bay crew. Shortly afterwards we began to record humpback sounds in Blackfish Sound along with a few flurries of dolphins calls, a good hint about what to expect come the rest of the night.