Season Trends and Sightings:
Welcome to our review of 2017! This year was a fantastic year on the water, and we were grateful for an overwhelming presence of certain marine mammals. On many of our trips, we were able to encounter more than one species of cetacean (e.g. Humpbacks and orcas), in addition to the diverse collection of other wildlife in the Salish Sea. The season brought record sightings of Biggs’ (transient) Killer Whales (orcas), as well as a continued and strong presence of Humpback Whales! These two species of whales were seen so frequently as they have been able to find sufficient amounts of food…though they feed on different prey, of course. Healthy and growing marine mammal populations (mainly Harbour seals and Sea lions) have contributed to Biggs’ orcas’ success, whereas Humpbacks can be traced to herring presence. Unfortunately, we observed a recurring trend to last season regarding Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW’s). Their presence in these waters, and in turn our observations of them, continue to run low due to limited prey availability in these waters (namely Chinook salmon).
The initial months of our season presented frequent encounters with Humpback Whales (a type of Baleen whale) and various groups of Biggs’ orcas, with less frequent but notable encounters with the SRKW’s. We were thrilled to even witness a different type of Baleen whale- the Gray Whale! Within the last few years as Humpback Whales have increased in frequency in the Salish Sea, we have been able to differentiate some individuals from others. For example, this season we recognized an individual known as “Split Fin”. The catalogue of migrating Humpback Whale visitors grows every year as we see more and more Humpbacks feeding on the abundance of food that they have been able to attain in the Salish Sea. We have even witnessed Humpbacks “lunge-feeding”; further evidence of their feasting!
Overview and Special Encounters:
Every season has the ability to show similarities or differences between the one following and preceding, but it’s important to remember that every tour is special and unique in these dynamic waters! Some encounters that we remember vividly include a visit from a rarely seen transient orca group (usually seen in Haida Gwaii), witnessing orcas hunting, beautiful sunset evenings with breaching SRKW’s (namely Lpod), active Dall’s porpoise, feasting Sea Lions and active acrobatics from both orcas and Humpback Whales on various occasions. The middle and later months of our season saw high numbers of Biggs’ orcas and Humpback Whales, with limited sightings of SRKW’s. We yearn for the days when SRKW’s can thrive just as Biggs’ orcas and Humpback Whales have been thriving. With a record level of evening trips, we witnessed beautifully calm scenes with many amazing species. We are grateful for all of our wildlife encounters through the season, and remain passionate for the health and biological diversity of the Salish Sea in the future.