Summary: September 5th 2023

Northern Residents: A54s, A23s, A25s, I04s, 116s

Humpbacks: Quartz, Argonaut

Pacific White-sided dolphins

UNI the gull!

After such a busy day, the night from our perspective was very calm. The whales had all left the immediate area and would not return until the morning. Kate Brauer at Bere Point spotted a large group coming in from the west. They went for a brief rub at 7:07am, before continuing east along the Malcolm Island shore.

As we awaited their arrival a large group of Pacific White-sided Dolphins appeared in front of the Lab, relaxedly travelling north at 9:18am. The first  A5 calls from the Flower Island hydrophone were audible by 10am followed by more distant A30s and I15s. Momoko located tiny, tiny fins on our Flower Island remote camera way over by the Malcolm Island shore west of Donegal Head. 

After a while it became clear that the orcas were angling towards Blackney and not choosing to go into Weynton Passage, giving us plenty of time to anticipate their arrival out front. As these whales headed east, a group of resident orcas, likely the A23s returning from their jaunt to the lower reaches, were reported passing Boat Bay on Cracroft Island to the west in Johnstone Strait. A reunion seemed  imminent!

A61, visible at 11:17am, was the first orca to enter Blackney Pass. He was mid-pass and bucking the ebb. Predominantly A5 and A30  calls were heard, along with distant I15 calls. At the same time, the large group of dolphins re-entered Blackney and were seen foraging and jumping closer to the Swanson shore. As A61 reached the Parson Bay area two smaller fins  tailed him at some distance  – likely the rest of the A25s, A85 (Cordero) and her young one Twilight (A121). The A54s next -at least 8 of them – travelled as a tight-knit group on the further side of the Pass. Finally, the I04s with the rest of the A54s cut in close at Burnt Point on the Hanson Island side and travelled forward, only a few hundred metres from our deck, after the others. The A25s led the whales into Johnstone Strait with all clear of our view by 12:18pm. Over to Megan and Gloria at CP, where the A54s passed first close to the deck. The groups then angled towards the Vancouver Island shore.

Meanwhile, the A23s headed steadily west towards the Kaizumi area.  A report at 12:29pm declared that I16s were back in Blackfish Sound too headed east toward Blackney Pass. Soon enough they rounded close to Burnt Point  at 12:56pm. These seven individuals travelled silently as a tight group close to the deck, riding the back-eddy current south to join the others.

Around 1:30pm, the A23s became very vocal as they passed Kaizumi Beach and  continued west. All  the other groups, now westbound as well, caught up with them by the time they reached the Telegraph Cove area. The orcas  stayed here for a while, with some whales dipping into Beaver Cove, others spreading out opposite the entrance to Weynton Passage.  By 5:20pm, they were all in a nice resting line off Telegraph Cove, pointed east but not travelling.

As we awaited their next moves, we spotted a Glaucous winged  gull standing on the rocks to the left of the Lab digging into a sea urchin – “Uni”, who has returned to this bay for over twenty years and is known for her consistent sea urchin hunting, was back! A little late but back all the same.

Finally, around 5:40pm, the A54s, A23s and A25s. had energised themselves enough to head off through Weynton Pass. As these whales completed their slow lap around Hanson Island, entering our view again by 7pm, their movements were accompanied by lots of calls. The A23s were in the lead, followed by the A25s and finally A54s. How polite of them to be on their way to Johnstone Strait by 7:30pm, just in time for us to enjoy our dinner!

As these whales arrived at Cracroft Point, they initially produced a lot of ‘N3’ calls before opening up into very excited N4s and other more decorative vocalizations. The N3 is a very compact call, and an interesting conversation ensued over dinner with Alex who suggested that this is often employed as the whales organise movements and/or further conversations. The footage on our remote Cracroft Point camera was beautiful, with glassy waters in the fading light. We were quite confident Megan at “CP” was capturing this beautiful passing as well.

The whales were tracked eastward, calling vibrantly as they went, with the A5s leading the A54s into the night. Then just before 9pm faint I15 calls were heard from the western end of the Strait. These whales steadily followed in the same direction chosen by the others. Around the same time, an intermittently chatty group of Pacific White-Sided dolphins started chatting in Blackfish Sound. The hydrophones were alive with cetaceans on all sides!

By 10:37pm, the leading A5s with A54s had made it past the eastern boundary of the Ecological Reserve, with a report of audible blows from one of the kayak camps. Here they stayed, awaiting the I15s who would join them. All stayed just within our range, with faint but lively calls persisting to midnight and beyond.

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