In the eternal quest to gather more data, we find ourselves busy this time of the year spending time on the water looking for whales and responding to reports of whale sightings. There has been a usual amount of whale activity in the area this summer although much of the marine wildlife was about a week later showing up than has been documented in previous years. Now, however, already over a week into July, summer is in full swing. Minke and humpback whales as well as numerous other species of marine mammal and seabird are regularly being seen in the waters we work in where Johnstone and Queen Charlotte Straits meet. The multitude of species congregating in this area is partially due to their migrations as well as the strong currents that are associated with the diurnal tidal flows which move huge amounts of water between the large and wide Queen Charlotte Strait and the long and more narrow Johnstone Strait. These currents are because of the Venturi effect and create upwellings which in turn provide for excellent feeding opportunities at all levels of the food chain from plankton to whales.
This said however, sometimes it pays off to venture further afield to record what is happening elsewhere along the coast as summer is a productive time for many areas of the north Pacific ocean. At this point we are primarily interested in the waters of western Queen Charlotte Strait lying immediately to the west. Western Queen Charlotte Strait is at the edge of Queen Charlotte Sound; a body of water that is a conduit to the open Pacific Ocean. In this sense it is the beginning of the funnel which continues to get more narrow the further east it goes towards Seymour Narrows near Campbell River. As our usual study area is located 50 miles from either end of this funnel we recently ventured west into Queen Charlotte Strait for 3 days and 2 nights in an effort to gather data on minke and humpback whales that may or may not be seen further east this season.
We encountered both a minke whale and a humpback whale that had not been seen for 6 and 4 years respectively. In addition to these notable encounters we also re-sighted the young humpback that we had not seen since February (see previous blog topic) as well as 3 other humpbacks that were previously unknown to us. We were able to obtain identification photographs of all these whales including many humpback peduncle shots used for entanglement rate analysis. Upon our return to the waters closer to our usual area of operation the majority of the same minke and humpback whales that were present when we left were still there. This high degree of site fidelity is not unusual for these species and recording the identities of these individuals and the ways they carry out their daily activities within the confines of their usual summer range or along the extremities of it are key to acquiring knowledge of their populations, habitat use and life processes.