The welcomed sound of rain falling on the lab deck filled the night, and a few dolphin calls were heard over the hydrophones in Johnstone Strait. Outside, at 4am there were a few loud tonal blows of a single humpback whale, who stayed with us until light and was identified as Merge. The only sound absent was the familiar calls of resident orca.
Shifts in the lab continued as usual, documenting the departure of orca is just as important as their arrival, though not quite as exciting. There was silence in the camp as many wondered if the orca had left the area, or if another family, not yet seen this season, would still arrive and make their way into the Reserve, to the beaches for their annual rub.
There were lots of sea lions sighted throughout the day, and birds flocking in larger groups on the water where hidden from our view were bait balls of schooling small fish such as herring. At 6:15pm what we did not expect to hear was the word “ORCA ” being yelled from the deck of the lab! This is also a main part of the culture of OrcaLab, that if you see an orca, you shout this word as loud as you can so everyone knows to drop what they are doing and to run to the lab. This is exactly what happened, the excitement on the deck was contagious, everyone took on their roles, the camera, the scopes and inside someone on the camera and of course the hydrophones. With the next up we all knew immediately this was a group of Bigg’s orca. There was one female leading, at least 200 meters ahead, then another female, a juvenile and a young baby. The female with the baby had a distinctive nick on the back of her dorsal, which would make identifying this group much easier. Not a single call was heard over the hydrophones. They were quite relaxed as they travelled past the lab towards the entrance of Blackney Pass. Just as they passed out of view, suddenly over 150 dolphins were porpoising at full speed, into Blackney Pass, close to the Parsons Island shore. The Bigg’s had turned and were close behind, in obvious pursuit. The dolphins split and scattered into 2 groups, one group heading north towards Blackfish Sound and the other back towards Johnstone Strait. No sign at all of the Bigg’s. It was not until 10 minutes later that the Bigg’s were sighted, in a group very distant, tight to the Cracroft Island shore and heading into Baronet Pass. There were no signs that this was a successful hunt as they slowly travelled out of view. At this point the light of the day was fading. The scopes and cameras were put back into the lab. The pictures were downloaded onto the computer and after comparing several photographs the Bigg’s were identified as the T059s.