Summary: September 2nd 2023

Northern Residents: A54s,A23s, A25s, I04s, I16s

Bigg’s orcas: T055s

Pacific White-sided dolphins

Before beginning this summary there needs to be a bit of backtracking about the movement of the various I15 groups. The I15 matriline was divided into four matrilines, the I04s, I16s, I27s and the I65s, after the death of I15. They maintain the same shared calls. These matrilines came to be viewed as independent of each other while travelling in varying combinations. The I16s, for example, came in earlier and travelled with the A23s for a good length of time. They departed with the A23s, then the other three matrilines came in later together with the I31s with whom they also left early on August 31. In hindsight yesterday’s early morning I15 calls might have been returning I16s with at least the I04s.

Today there was no mention of the I27s and the I65s. Oversight? Possibly, there were a lot of whales and a lot of movement.

Starting at midnight the A54s, the A23s and the A25s headed into Johnstone Strait after being met by their I15 (I16) companions in Blackfish Sound. These I15s had especially gone through Blackney Pass into Blackfish Sound for the meeting. All together the groups filed into the Strait and went east. Over the next almost three hours they made progress towards the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, finally touching down at Strider Beach for a rub at 2:43pm. This five-minute rub, which involved some of the I15s and the A54s, was a good deal shorter than the rubs the A54s indulged in last year when they would stay for nearly three-hour sessions. On this occasion, they finished quickly and skipped along to the adjacent Main beach where they rubbed for three minutes before continuing on to the east. Distant calls then endured for several hours until a break ensued just before 6am.

The whales had not really gone far and by 7:47am were vocal again and in better range of the Reserve hydrophones. They were on their way back. The I15 calls were the most distinctive. The whales were spread out with some foraging. Visual reports surfaced. At 9am the Achiever was reported stationary off Robson Bight with at least three orcas surrounding them. Earlier a male orca and two others had been seen crossing to the Cracroft Island shore. Perhaps after finding a bite to eat and tired from their long journey into the area (a lot of it against the current) some whales took a long-needed rest in Robson Bight around 10:30am. At this time other whales, perhaps the A23s, were seen as far east as Naka Creek. By 11:13am whales were spotted off the Cracroft Island side of the Strait. Scotty now mentioned the I04s and the A54s resting together off Boat Bay. Finally, the now-identified I16s who had been resting near the estuary of the Tsitika River in Robson Bight for most of the morning began to exit to the west. Half an hour later these same whales were as far west as Kaikash beach. Although the general direction was to the west, whales had woken up enough to forage along the way.

At some point, the I16s crossed over to the Cracroft side and at 12:42pm they started through the entrance of Blackney Pass all together. The current, as of 12:25pm, was against them and although they made it out of Megan’s and the remote camera’s view they never made it sufficiently far enough for the Lab to see them. They remained out of sight until 1:22pm. They were still fighting the current when Megan saw them again and a short while later they turned west and abandoned, for the moment, any thoughts about going through the entrance to Blackney. Meanwhile, the A54/I04 group slowly, but with some energy too, moved west. Cetus now reported that several other groups were passing by, following the A54s. The opposing current was really slowing down efforts. The I16s had not gotten very far to the west before they drifted out towards mid strait where the Kaizumi hydrophone picked up their calls. Before 2pm Megan was watching the A23s forage with the A25s further offshore. At 2pm the A54s looked great as they moved along. Juliette did a great job on the remote camera capturing the playful group. A54 and her daughter A86 both have new babies this year. Just after they passed Cracroft Point, Bigg’s orcas were heard in Blackfish Sound. Amazingly they were quickly located on the remote camera. They were very distant off the top end of Blackfish Sound. They continued to call intermittently. They looked to be engaged in a hunt before continuing to cross Blackfish Sound from nearer the Hanson Island side by which time they had attracted a few boats and kayakers.

By 2:11pm a group of Bigg’s orcas was reported coming out of West Pass and heading west along Swanson Island. Not sure if these were the same or different from the group who had been at the western end of Blackfish Sound earlier. There were Bigg’s calls again at 2:17pm, 2:19pm, 2:22pm, and finally at 2:23pm. At 2:27 Bigg’s orcas were located mid Blackfish Sound and identified as the T055s as they moved toward Bold Head by 2:38pm. At 2:45pm there were now loud Bigg’s calls along with echolocation. Just before 2pm the Bigg’s orcas turned southeast travelling the Swanson Island shore. Eventually, the T055s were, by chance, seen on the very far side of Blackney at the northern tip of Parson Island. Their long dives and distance made it difficult to keep up with them as they travelled south toward the Bell Rocks before 4pm.

These calls and reports of this activity in Blackfish somewhat of necessity divided our attention from the resident orcas who were still very active themselves as they continued to pass in front of Megans and carry on west of Cracroft Point. Megan summarised her observations at 2:06pm. She had seen the A23s first and closest with the A25s further offshore. The I16s were now west of Cracroft Point moving closer to Vancouver Island. And the A54s were now foraging off the entrance to Blackney Pass. Eat, rest, play. The most advanced group (the A54s) turned to the Hanson Island shore and started back east towards the entrance of Blackney.

As the orcas were sorting themselves the scene off the entrance to Blackney Pass became crowded with jet skis, three cruise ships and other small boats. Probably, this and the presence of Resident orcas discouraged the Bigg’s orcas from venturing closer to Johnstone Strait. Just after 5pm Bigg’s were heard in Blackfish Sound once again from 5:05pm until 5:18pm and visually seen at 5:26pm when off the “top end” of Blackfish Sound, back where all the Bigg’s action had begun hours ago.

By this time the Resident orcas were back in a jumble in the rip just west of Cracroft Point. It was now about an hour and a half before the tide would turn in their favour. As is often the case, orcas will mount an effort to take advantage of currents shortly before the actual, in the book, slack. The advantage is that they will have the current with them during the majority of their journey.

At first there was a shift towards the Hanson Island shore then a slow push towards Blackney Pass. They first came into view at 5:46pm. They had finally made it! The A54s appeared to be leading at least some of the I15s (?I4s) and lastly the A25s. They were quite spread out and moving efficiently but playfully forward. By 6:47pm all were in Blackfish Sound keeping the same energy as they moved into the late afternoon glare.

However, some of the residents were missing. The A23s and the I16s were yet to be seen. At 5:30pm orcas, who had come from Beaver Cove, had been reported off of Telegraph Cove moving eastward. The A23 and the I16s then turned up mid-channel in Blackney Pass at 7:20pm. They wasted no time getting to Blackfish Sound and heading into the sunset. Calls dropped off by 9pm. By this time we had said goodbye to Neal Fraser and his friends after a lovely dinner (which they had brought!)

That was it! A complicated day much simplified. For a few hours, the night was uneventful. The next day’s story would begin at 1:30am.

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