Summary: September 9th 2023

Northern Residents: A54s, A23s, A25s, I04s

Humpbacks: Inukshuk, Merge

Pacific White-sided dolphins

What a morning! Despite the fact that the resident groups had reentered Johnstone Strait via Blackney Pass around midnight; despite the fact that they went east, stalled and then turned back to the west by 2am; despite the fact that they retraced their steps and went through Blackney Pass, at least the A23s did, at 5:20am, the morning really belonged to one singular event, a sleeping humpback in front of the Lab. Starting just after daybreak at 7:57am Inukshuk decided to fall deeply asleep. He drifted quietly and slowly, breathed out mists, glistened in the early morning sun. It was a stunningly intimate moment. Never had this happened in this way before so close to the Lab. People spoke in whispers as they watched. Cameras clicked just occasionally. The moment belonged to him.

As he drifted out further from shore there was the concern that he would be vulnerable to boat traffic. Apparently, perhaps tired from a night of feeding, Inukshuk has been seen sleeping in the daytime before. One fairly large boat went by and after it had long passed Inukshuk stirred. As a finale he lifted his fluke, dove and moved on.

The Resident orcas during this time were organising their next moves. Those that had gone through Blackney at 5:30am were now back off the western end of Johnstone Strait. Gathered together were the A54s, A25s, A23s and the I04s, the same gang who have been together over the last several days. It was now 10am.

By 11:35am they had shifted over towards Telegraph Cove and Beaver Cove. It was time for them to start moving. In no particular hurry they turned eastward. By the time they were opposite what is known locally as Little Kaiakash it was early afternoon. The “CP” camp, and those on the Cracroft Point remote camera back at the Lab, watched the orcas’ steady playful progression. Mostly mid strait, with some nearer Vancouver Island, they were followed by the inevitable boats. A60 had gotten ahead and was busying himself at 12:35pm going back and forth closer to the “CP” camera. By 1:35pm the various groups were passing Cracroft Point to the east.

By 1:45pm orcas were near Kaikash, along the Vancouver Island side.

At 1:56pm some of the A54s went in for a brief rub along Vancouver Island and then continued east. Passage eastward by the slightly more energised orcas was as before, with the various groups spread out making way. By 3:24pm, the A54s were ready for another rub, this time at Strider beach. The rub would last for about half an hour during which all the groups but not all individuals were involved. Collectively the orcas were concentrated on Strider and Main beach area but they only clearly rubbed at Strider. While doing so, close loud calls from the different groups were heard (not seen due to technical difficulties) at Main beach. The impression was that the whales not immediately involved at Strider were lingering close to Main not far away.

Half an hour later the orcas finally began to pull away from Strider beach. Main beach had been abandoned before this. A few of the orcas attempted to follow but could not resist returning for another go, crisscrossing with those attempting to follow the others west. By 4:10pm all whales were westbound.

The currents during this part of the month’s cycle are not as strong as just a few days ago, so the whales made reasonable time back past Kaizumi, Kaikash and Cracroft Point. Three loud cruise ships entering the Strait via Blackney Pass and a tug pulling a log barge, already in the Strait, did not help with tracking the whales acoustically. The strong afternoon glare was not much help either. As the whales shifted toward the entrance of Blackney, Megan watched A61 head in. By 6:07pm, the Lab started to track the various groups though the Pass. The A54s, fragmented somewhat into smaller groups, had overtaken A61 and were in the lead. The A23s followed along with the rest of the A54s. The A25s managed their way next followed by the I04s who obligingly stayed together as a group mid channel. A60, like the A25s was further over nearer the Parson and Swanson Island shores.

As with the previous evening, the orcas headed off into the lovely sunset in Blackfish Sound, their calls becoming distant as they went. By 8:13pm no further calls were heard. They made a final declaration in Blackfish Sound an hour later. The A54s, perhaps now behind the others, made distant calls for about 10 minutes before they disappeared into Weynton Passage.

The A5s, who presumably proceeded the A54s back to Johnstone Strait were first heard on the Kaizumi system at 11:30pm as they, with the A30s (heard at 11:43pm) advanced eastward in the Strait. Calls ended just before midnight with no I15 type calls detected, so it was not clear whether or not the I04s were still with the “As”. Humpback noises and dolphin chatter helped to fill in the Johnstone Strait soundscape as the day ended.

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