Summary: September 8th 2023

Northern Residents: A54s, A23s, A25s, I04s

Bigg’s orcas: T069A (+?)

Humpbacks: Argonaut in Blackfish Sound

Pacific White-sided dolphins

Around 9pm each night we begin to prepare the summary of the day. It is when we unravel all the sightings, recordings and reports of the whereabouts and movements of the whales, the orcas in particular. The days are so busy that trying to remember how the day actually began is a bit of a challenge at times.

Dialling back this day, a humpback started it off just after midnight. Not much but at this time of year that is to be expected, more from them will come later. From the A30 calls the previous evening it was apparent that the A54s had returned from their journey to the east leaving behind the A23s, A25s and the I04s. They went silent afterwards for a while and re-emerged about 12:26am with more calls. Still no sign of the others. Dolphins, however, were not far off, chatty and very expressive. This time the A30 calls lasted until 1:19am. They were always distant and sounded as if they did not advance further than the east end of the Ecological Reserve.

The A54s must have then retreated to the east to hurry the others back. At 5am they were back in range for a while until 5:38am. Things take time and the orcas still had a long way to come to get back into full range of the hydrophones.

The morning was absolutely beautiful. No fog for once. The sun literally kissed the calm flat ocean with hues of soft yellows and orange. Into this morning appeared the T069As travelling leisurely to the south not far from the Hanson Island side. They were not decisive about their direction, first going north, then south, then north again. They were lost on a long, long dive and only found once in Johnstone Strait where they went off to the west.

While they were doing so the Resident orcas had made tracks and their calls were heard again by 7:26am. This time it was everyone. A5, I15 and A30 calls taking turns, mixed together.

The Kaizumi, Main beach and Strider beach hydrophones all reach into different areas. The Kaizumi beach hydrophone often picks up calls closer to the Cracroft Island side. This had been the case when the whales departed eastward the day before. Here they were again, spread out from each of the Johnstone Strait shores.

Their movement westward was steady and over the next few hours their progress was charted from east of Main beach, to Strider beach, Kaizumi and Cracroft Point. There were no rub attempts at any of the beaches. The remote cameras along the way witnessed some of the movement. Some of the whales had travelled very close to the Vancouver Island side. As the whales passed the Kaizumi remote camera between 10am and 10:30am they were easily observed, but when opposite Kaikash, and beyond the range of the Kaizumi camera, the Cracroft Point camera, even zoomed right in, had difficulty except for discerning blows and splashes.

By 11am there were close A54 calls on the Cracroft system and a short while later I15 calls as well. Whales were converging towards the entrance of Blackney Pass. The A54s cleared into the entrance at 11:24am They were followed by a research boat and local whale watch boat.

Megan meanwhile was watching one group that was still on the Vancouver Island side continue west.

From 11:30am, the A54s and the I04s moved through Blackney Pass and into Blackfish Sound by 12pm. It looked like A54 was in the lead of the fairly compact group. As they headed into Blackfish Sound they spread out somewhat and carried on in a generally westerly direction, changing direction from time to time. Dolphins joined them off the western end of Blackfish Sound on the cusp of Queen Charlotte Strait. At this point the research boat seemed to abandon its following and headed toward Johnstone Strait perhaps to investigate the Bigg’s orcas. It was now about 12:30pm.

The group that had been seen still on the Vancouver Island side was most likely some of the A5s. Possibly, the A23s had doubled back. At 12:50pm they began a rub at Strider beach. Once again A60 did not join A95, A69, A126, A109 and his sister A43 as they enjoyed the beach in that order. The rub was over by 1:11pm and the family carried on to the west. The A25s were not around for this rub but would turn up off Cracroft Point a couple of hours later. They made direct passage past “CP” and into Blackney Pass.

There were a few curious unexplained A1 like calls in the midst of the A5 calls of the west bound A23s/A25s in Johnstone Strait around 3pm. There were not a lot of calls but clear enough to have us wondering what was going on? Around the same time one of these whales made an imitation of a “G” clan call. It is not uncommon for the whales from one cClan to imitate another but it was interesting nonetheless.

Up in Blackfish Sound the Naiad Explorer encountered Argonaut, the humpback, sleeping on the surface when a sea lion came up to him and nudged him until he grumpily awoke.

The A23s caught up to the A25s and both groups travelled through Blackney Pass from 3:33pm until 4:08pm with the A25s leading. Before reaching Blackfish Sound the A25s fell back and lingered a while longer in Blackney Pass foraging. Eventually they too moved into Blackfish Sound and continued west accompanied by the inevitable dolphins.

A gap ensued. Then at 8:50pm a noisy humpback in Blackfish Sound began the night’s events. He was followed by the sounds of resident orcas returning. Again the A54s led an I15 group (?the I04s) and an A5 group (?A25s) into and through Blackney Pass as all the while the humpback (perhaps two) rumbled and grumbled along. Dolphins had been quite active in Johnstone Strait before all this but had grown quiet for a while. Passage by the orcas through Blackney Pass was straightforward although their calls dropped off as they made their way. They resumed their calls once they arrived in Johnstone Strait. Megan and Gloria heard them come “in” as two groups that quickly shot straight out towards Vancouver Island. A trailing group (the A23s?) were not far behind.

Once in the Strait and after their initial excitement (there was a flurry of pronounced N3 type calls) the orcas only made intermittent calls up to midnight. There was a lot of persistent boat noise. A humpback closed off this part of the night by exhaling several times near one of the hydrophones under the night’s brilliant canopy of stars.

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