Summary: September 6th 2023

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

Bigg’s orcas: T071s, T109s

Humpbacks: Inukshuk, Quartz

Pacific White-sided dolphins

This day seamlessly began where the previous one ended with all the orca groups gathered around the Boat Bay – Ecological Reserve area. For hours the A54s, I15s (the I04s & I16s)and A5s (the A25s & A23s) moved around in this general vicinity. Calls fluctuated from the very faint and distant to the sometimes clear calls on the two most eastern hydrophones at Strider and Main beaches. These hydrophones both have a long reach and Main beach has been known to hear all the way beyond Naka Creek to the east so it is possible that these orca families were at times east of the eastern boundary of the Ecological Reserve. The shifting whales were probably stretched at times between the Cracroft and Vancouver Island shores. The 5 families present account for 28 individual whales, quite a sizable collective group, with each having either similar or separateate agendas. This became clearer as the night wore on and the variety of calls continued through the Lab’s night shifts.

Then just before 6am things began to change when I15 type calls were heard further west into range of the Cracroft Point hydrophone which can pick up calls to about mid strait off the Sophia Islands. But nothing was going to happen with any speed this day and progress was slow as the I16s pulled away from their companions and began to make their way west.

Between 9 and 10am orcas were reported both at Cracroft Point and Telegraph Cove. It was still very foggy at 9am and there was no description or identification of the whales off Telegraph Cove. However, definite I15 type calls were heard off Cracroft Point and Megan witnessed whales she thought to be the I04s passing by to the west and crossing over the entrance of Blackney Pass, perhaps following their close family, the I16s who eventually made their way into the entrance of Weynton Passand Donegal Head by 11:17am. They would go on into Queen Charlotte Strait and make very slow progress to the west for the rest of the day. By 3:10pm they were finally identified as part of the I16s. Kate would later see the remainder of the group far offshore nearly 3 hours later.

The I04s, however, never left the Strait and were perhaps the 4 whales reported heading east near Izumi Rock at 12:29pm.

12:29pm was also when the day’s feature event happened with A61 starting a beautiful,long, leisurely solo rub at Strider beach. The entire rub lasted one hour and twenty-two minutes and would eventually involve more of the A5s, some of the A23s and finally the i04s. A61 had the beach to himself until the rest of his immediate family (A85 and A121) joined him at 12:45pm. Then some of the A23s slipped in around 1:10pm. It might be noted that A60, the adult male in the A23 family, has yet to be seen rubbing at any of the beaches. He seems to be content being offshore of the action. Throughout the Strider rub A5 and A30 calls were heard to the east on the Main beach system but there was no indication that anyone came in for a rub there during this time. The A54s came along at 1:38pm. Throughout, A61 was never far away and of course, dolphins made their presence known, but interestingly, this time, they were fewer and less exuberant around the orcas.

There was a brief rub at the Main beach at 1:56pm after loud A5 calls and echolocation were heard. The direction the whales took after these rubs was not entirely clear but most likely it was to the east.

At 2:43pm, the I04s had made it to Strider where they rubbed for five minutes and joined the others somewhere near the eastern boundary. At 3:36pm the mass of whales had elected to head west along the Vancouver Island side. Just after 4pm they were angling towards the beaches. A61 made no effort to resume rubbing but carried on to the west. However, some of the A54s did so at Strider starting at 4:17pm and ending at 4:24pm. A5 and dolphin calls could be heard off in the distance. Five unidentified orcas approached Strider for a brief two minute rub. Time was not for the wasting, the whales were on the move and going west.

The relaxed pace westward was consistent with how the day had already unfolded. Eventually, the orcas made their way to Cracroft Point. In the midst of their movement another flavour was brought to the day. Around 4:45pm Scotty came across Bigg’s orcas, the T071s moving northwest from mid strait opposite Big Bay. By 5:30pm these Bigg’s orcas were off Telegraph Cove and the Resident A23s were offshore of Vancouver Island in line with Kaizumi beach from the “CP” perspective as Megan and Gloria watched their advance “up” the Strait. In the next half hour A61 was seen travelling mid strait ( basically parallel to the A23s) and angling in toward Cracroft Point. His family, A85 and A121 were not far away. There was a certain amount of indecisive movement as these whales milled in one direction then the other. They seemed either biding their time, waiting for others or maybe surveying for fish while waiting? The calm waters, the sight of the relaxed A61 along with his and his family’s clear calls and echolocation was a lovely and engaging moment regardless.

A large group of about 100 dolphins were involved in the A25 scene. Eventually, these orcas turned west and went past CP. By 6:30pm they and others were making their way into Blackney Pass. Using the long range of the remote Flower Island camera the blows of the various groups could be seen coming through the entrance of Blackney and into the pass. The Achiever on perhaps its last excursion was there following the whales as well.

Kate at Bere Point added that the T109s made a close pass into the bay. She thought that perhaps they were chasing seals. They left to the east.

Over the next hour, with dinner delayed, the whales streamed by the Lab arranged in three groups. The A23s and the A25s led the others, including the I04s into Blackfish Sound while the last group composed of most of the A54s completed the passing. Inukshuk, the humpback, had a few antics to contribute as the orcas passed him by.

It was time for A61 to be the centre of attention once again as he steadily swam, with the Flower Island remote camera trained on him, into the sunset. Dolphins still accompanied him. Further away a lone humpback energetically followed dolphins and orcas through the sunset glow.

Again, the whales were in no hurry and there was a lot of crisscrossing of the far western end of Blackfish Sound as they formed a collective decision on which direction to go. As the sunset diminished, dinner on the table, and Jesse and Mark off their boat, all was left was their now distant calls.

By 9:30pm the A5 calls had ceased to be heard and then by 9:40pm the A30s and I15s had ended as well. The whales had finally made up their minds to head into Weynton Passage and go back to Johnstone Strait. Had they brought anyone else along? The I16s, when last known, were still in Queen Charlotte Strait by late afternoon. What had they decided?

Meanwhile, the dolphins had gathered in Blackney Pass. They were still chatting when the resident orcas made it back to Johnstone Strait just before 11pm. The A5s were first followed by the A30s and I15s. Their calls were all distant over the next hour. It was time for the early morning shifts to now follow what the rest of the night and the whales had to offer.

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