Another day come and gone, another set of orca mysteries to solve! The whales – at least from our perspective – have kept us on our toes as they travelled back and forth and intermingled as they went.
With no further clues of the I16s today, we still surmise that it was they who travelled north past the lab in the dark yesterday evening, and out to Queen Charlotte Strait. The others – A54s, A23s, A25s and I04s – all remained east for the majority of the night. The “A” groups seemed to travel furthest and dip out of our range, while the I04s lingered and were still audible around the eastern beaches at 2:45am. By 4:40am, the I04s had decided to move to the west, as we began hearing them faintly on our Cracroft Point and Kaizumi Beach hydrophones. Their westerly decision did not stick for long, as they swept back on the flooding current to Strider Beach for one, solitary rub at 6:45am, before turning again to the west. They reached Kaizumi by 8:25am and continued on their way. Why the back-and-forth? Waiting for others, perhaps.
In the meantime, the A23s had also come back from the east, audible around Kaizumi beach at 8:49am. The A54s were the last to reappear, reaching our Main Beach area at 9:15am, and continuing west.
It was time for the A23s to be ‘non-committal’ to a particular direction, as from 10am to 12pm they switched from east to west, back to east – pacing the boundary of the Ecological Reserve. This was the last we would see of them, and their puzzle piece was not fitted until the evening when we received a report that they were seen down in Nodales Channel at 5:24pm. We believe they took the ‘back route’ behind East & West Thurlow Islands. Quite an impressive journey for just a few hours work; the Blue Moon tides have brought speedy passages to these whales!
Back to Johnstone Strait, and the westbound A54s crossed from the Bight to the Cracroft shore around 12:30pm. They headed straight to Cracroft Point and made no delay on their way to Blackney Pass. We could see them from our deck at 1:21pm and began hearing them shortly after, around the same time that a large, chatty group of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins headed north and into Blackfish Sound. The A54s travelled fairly quickly, with a few breaches for good measure. As a family of 11 now, it was wonderful to see their many fins pass by. They were all clear from our view by 2pm, and headed towards Weynton Pass.
At 1:49pm, we received a report of some A25s heading west along the Vancouver Island shore around Kaikash Creek. An hour later, A61 (A25s) would pass Cracroft Point, also westing. It is not unusual for this trio to be quite spatially separated. They did not come into Blackney, instead following the I04s who had also headed west and were now foraging around Weynton Island.
By 5:10pm, the A54s, I04s and A25s had rejoined and were all spread around Telegraph Cove. They all rode the evening ebb “up” Weynton Passage, grazing the range of our hydrophone in Blackfish Sound at 7:40pm. They travelled north towards Bold Head (Swanson Island) and beyond. As the light faded, we caught a glimpse of two tight-knit groups of orcas, suggesting the family groups were interspersed. We were able to ID A61 (Surge) from his distinctive flat-top dorsal fin, and track the groups out of view into Queen Charlotte Strait.
On land, it was a day of arrivals. Suzie came back for another brief stint (night shift for the next few days!) along with Gloria Pancrazi, who first came to us as one of our very few 2020 volunteers. We also welcomed Alexandra Morton back to Hanson, who will be staying with us for a few days. She brought enough home-grown squash to feed us all for weeks! It is an honour and a pleasure to spend time with her here, surrounded by the songs of the orcas that have brought us all together.
As the final touches were being made to Helena’s potato gratin & trimmings, a huge group of Pacific White-Sided dolphins stole our attention right in front of the lab at 7:40pm. There were easily 100 individuals, along with a couple of sea lions, chasing schooling fish northward into the Sound.
As the night closes in, our ears are peeled to the east for the A23s and to the west for the other groups, who may just return with others in tow.