Sunday, June 26, 2016

Room To Move

Female Orca & calves - photo by Michael Mehta
So there I am after a weekend of scuba diving around Gabriola Island with my buddy Mike and on our last dive we surface to find ourselves surrounded by whale watching boats and a pod of around a dozen Orcas!!! Wow is all we could say as we quickly scrambled into our dinghy, pulled up anchor, and started to take in the show. A couple of large males were scouting things out a little further away but the females were teaching the youngsters all sorts of things like spy hopping, tail & fin slapping, and breaching which they were enthusiastically practising much to the delight of everyone in the area.

Given that these whales were so close to us (just a few hundred yards away) we were a little surprised that we hadn't heard them vocalizing while we were diving, as sound travels extremely well under water. But it never occurred to us these killer whales may in fact be transient killer whales or Bigg's killers whales as they are now referred to and that's why we hadn't heard them.  Recognised as a distinct species of killer whale from the exclusively salmon eating resident killer whales, these killer whales feed primarily on seals and they purposely do not make any noise under water so as not to alert their prey. With the abundant population of harbour seals now inhabiting the Salish Sea these Bigg's Orcas are becoming less and less transient and even more regularly sighted than the local resident Orca pods.

Nelson & Mike Dinghy Diving - photo by Junie Quiroga
While there have not yet been any documented cases of transient killer whales attacking a human, and hopefully we wouldn't be mistaken for a seal or some other edible mammal while under water, it's a little disconcerting to imagine any closer of an encounter. We later confirmed they were in fact a pod of transient whales and it was a thrilling priviledge to have seen such a healthy group of Orcas enjoying themselves. There are apparently more than 250 Bigg's Orcas patrolling our waters and next time we see them we'll be sure to give them even more room to move.