With business slowing down in October Barbara and I took some time to travel North. Our mission was to travel to a research station named Orcalab, famous for its 45 years of continuous acoustical monitoring of orca whales. More specifically our mission was to climb the tallest tree on Cracroft Island and repair the radio which broadcasts Orcalab sights and sounds live onto the internet.
Little did we know the Southern Resident Orcas would follow us.
The great divide for Southern and Northern resident Orca community is Seymour Narrows. A bottleneck of 15 knot current, whirlpools and back eddies which floods in from Johnstone Strait to the North and from Georgia Strait to the South. Both communities have been known to transit ‘the narrows’ and circumnavigate Vancouver Island from time to time, sharing territories as they do with the Transient(Biggs) and Offshore communities. But they have never been recorded as interacting and are genetically distinct
We were hoping to see and hear the Northern Resident Orcas on our trip, however they had been absent since October 3rd. Walking through the forest we’d seen Pacific White-sided dolphins come slowly into a hidden cove where A73 Springer was re-introduced to northern waters. Two Humpbacks came within spitting distance of the Lab. Accompanied by leaping Steller Sea-lions they perused the kelp beds in front of us. The deep resonance vocals of a mid channel fellow humpback some 1/2 mile away shook the building. It was difficult to tell how the Humpbacks felt about Steller SealIons leaping about them in boisterous ways but on two occasions recently they had successfully intervened in the hunting of the Steller’s by Transient Orcas.
October 20th was a day of history. We’d heard Orca calls on the night of October 19th. Humpbacks are quite good at mimicking Orca calls, at least to my ears, so when Barbara exclaimed ‘K pod!’ at the first call I didn’t think much of it – assuming it was a Humpback playing with his notes. However we were treated to K pod calls, with a few Ls, through midnight. Late afternoon of the 20th there was once again Southern Resident calls, this time approaching from the North. However this time we also heard G clan calls, which Helena recognized instantly as I 31/I11. 45 years and Orcalab has never seen this, nor has anyone else. A procession came through Blackney Pass, Northern Resident I31s and I11s with K pod with Ls a short distance behind, followed in turn by A34s with A46. They were silent now but moving quickly through the pass and into Johnstone Strait. We heard them reach Robson Bight Rubbing beach as the A34s burst into excited calls and it seemed that a humpback whale couldn’t help but join in. The A34 calls and the humpbacks continued well into the early hours of the morning. Truly spectacular sounds telling their own story. http://www.orca-live.net/community/ – will be live again soon – one more tree to climb.
Captains David Howitt and Barbara Bender at Burnt Point lookout, Orcalab, Hanson Island – ‘Yukasam’