June 29th- Two Orca Ecotypes

© Five Star Whale Watching/Katie Smith. Image — A transient orca whale surfaces, seen today off the coast of William Head on the southern end of Vancouver Island.

Bigg’s and Southern Resident Orcas

We had a fantastic trip this morning! We began searching southwest into Juan de Fuca Strait. We were excited to soon encounter whales off the coast of William Head, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

This was a family of Bigg’s (or transient) orcas! They were close to shore and socializing, surfacing often and swimming through the bull kelp forests. We saw them “kelping”; this is when the animal plays with kelp fronds by laying and dragging them across their body. Transients travel in small groups in order to remain discrete and quiet to their marine mammal prey.

We continued our search for more animals. We headed southeast, and ended up south of Race Rocks Ecological Reserve. Here we found even more orcas! They were Southern Resident (fish-eating) orcas, of a separate ecotype than transients. They were travelling through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Residents often travel in larger groups than transients. They are an endangered population due to low Chinook salmon returns, so we are always happy to view them in the Salish Sea.

Before travelling home, we stopped at Race Rocks Ecological Reserve where we encountered more species. We saw Harbour seals (a favourite prey item of Bigg’s orcas), two Bald Eagles, a Rhinoceros Auklet and a Sea Otter!

It was a fantastic day seeing so many Salish Sea species, including not one, but two types of orcas!

To view more images from today’s trip, click on the link below:

June 29- Transient and Resident Orcas


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