100% Natural & Wild Whales Of The Salish Sea
During the months of April through to the beginning of October the salmon populations migrate through the Southern Vancouver Island area on their way to the spawning grounds. During these months, our resident Killer Whales spend much of their time around Victoria and San Juan Islands feeding on the natural abundance of salmon, one of their principal diet sources.
Our extensive spotting network and years of experience in locating the whales ensures a very high success rate for our tours. Apart from Orcas we also see Minke whales, Gray whales and an increasing number of Humpback whales. This rich diversity of cetaceans is why Victoria offers some of the best whale watching in the world! The Salish Sea (the area of water surrounding Southern Vancouver and the San Juan Islands) attracts a variety of different types of whales. They are attracted to the local waters due to the abundance of food. Orcas or killer whales are the most famous visitors to the Salish Sea but are not the only type of whales that can be frequently spotted in the Salish Sea.
Orca (Orcinus orca)
The Orca, or killer whale, with its striking black and white coloring, is one of the best known of all the cetaceans. There are two types of Orcas found in our local waters: Resident Orcas (fish-eaters) and Transient Orcas (marine mammal eaters). There are about 78 Orcas in the Southern Resident Orca pods of J, K & L Pod and an even larger number of Transient Orcas. This large number of Orcas is why Victoria is one of the best places in the world to observe Orcas in the wild. Orcas are actually the largest member of the Dolphin family, Delphinidae. They are highly intelligent animals and are the number one predator in the ocean. Resident Orcas travel in tight family groups commonly referred to as ‘pods’, with larger pods comprising over 40 whales (L-pod). Orcas can travel up to 160 kms (100 miles) in a 24-hour period and reach speeds up t0 50 kph (31 mph)!
Transient Orcas travel in smaller pods as they have to sneak up on their prey, such as Seals, Sealions and Porpoise. To catch their prey, Transient Orcas have to be very stealthy, so the smaller pod numbers are an advantage. Transient Orcas also tend to be quieter than Resident Orcas and usually take longer deep dives. Again, these types of behavior assist the Transients when hunting Marine Mammals. Transient Orcas have even been known to attack other species of Whales such as Minke Whale and Gray Whales.
To the casual observer Resident & Transient Orcas look identical, but to the trained eye there are specific differences between the two types of Orcas. Resident Orcas can have open or closed saddle patches (the white/gray area at the base of their dorsal fin) and have a rounded tip to their dorsal fin. Transient Orcas have only closed saddle patches and the tip of their dorsal fins tend to be more pointed. Our expert naturalist can differentiate between Transient & Resident Orcas and using identification charts can often identify individual Orcas.
Size & Weight:
Mature females up to 7.9 metres (25 feet) and 3,800 kg (8300 lbs). Mature males vary from 7.5-9.5 metres (25 feet to over 30 feet) and 5,600 kg (12345 lbs). Calves can reach up to 2.6 metres and weight 160 kg at birth.
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
The Humpback Whale is one of the Rorquals, a family that also includes the Blue Whale, Fin Whale, Bryde’s Whale, Sei Whale and Minke Whale. Humpback Whales are Baleen Whales (filter feeders) and feed on krill, small shrimp-like crustaceans, and various kinds of small fish. Pacific Coast Humpback Whales have a long migration route traveling from the Baja Peninsula or Hawaii to rich feeding grounds in Alaska each spring and then returning south again for the winter to breed and give birth to calves. Over the last 8 years Humpback Whale sightings off Victoria have increased significantly, especially in later summer and the fall.
Size & Weight:
Adult males measure 40-48 feet (12.2-14.6 m), adult females measure 45-50 feet (13.7-15.2 m). They weigh 25 to 40 tons (22,680-36,287 kg).
Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus)
The gray whale received its name from the gray patches and white mottling on its dark skin. The only member of the family Eschrichtiidae, the gray whale is a Baleen whale but is unique as it feeds on small crustaceans such as amphipods, and tube worms found in bottom sediments. It is a “coastal” whale that migrates along the North American Pacific Coast between arctic seas and the lagoons of Baja California, Mexico all the way to the Bering and Chukchi Seas. This is the longest migration of all whales and can reach a total round trip of between 10,000 to 14,000 miles.
Size & Weight:
Adult males measure 45-46 feet (13.7-14 m) and adult females measure slightly more. Both sexes weigh 30-40 tons (27,200-36,300 kg).
Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
The minke (pronounced mink-ey) whale is also known as the Little Piked Whale. Like all the rorquals, the Minke is a fast swimmer, capable of reaching speeds of 18-24 knots (16-21 mph). The Minke is a baleen whale, having 280 to 300 yellowish-white baleen plates, usually no more than 11 inches in length, on each side of its upper jaw. Its body is slender and streamlined. Minke whales feed primarily on krill in the southern hemisphere and on small schooling fish (capelin, cod, herring, pollock) or krill in the northern hemisphere. They will also eat copepods in certain areas.
Size & Weight:
Adult males average about 26 feet (8 m) with a maximum length of 31 feet (9.4 m), while adult females average 27 feet (8.2 m) with a maximum length of 33 feet (10.2 m). Both males and females weigh about 10 tons.