We woke up this morning to an incredible fall day… flat-calm waters and sunshine. The weather at this time of year can be rather unpredictable so it made for an excellent opportunity to get on the water for the first time in awhile to gather identification and behaviour data from the whales that are still in the area.
Weynton Pass was, as usual, full of activity. We encountered “Moonstar”, a 5-year-old humpback whale, doing the novel feeding behaviour that we call “trap-feeding”. This behaviour, in contrast to the high-energy lunges that we most often see in this area, involves a whale staying almost motionless at the surface with its mouth wide open. Occasionally spinning in one direction or the other, we believe that the trap-feeding whale is waiting for herring to enter its mouth, as the fish seek shelter from the gulls and diving birds that perpetually pursue them. Catching fish in this way appears to be similar to the strategy that the Venus flytrap uses to catch flies: the whale sits with its mouth wide open until fish swim in, and then snaps its mouth shut like a trap.
Just after Moonstar finished trap-feeding, we identified three humpbacks that MERS has known for many years (Twister, Stripe, and Inukshuk), being pursued by a group of Pacific white-sided dolphins. The whales were trumpeting, slapping their tails on the surface, and changing direction rapidly, but the dolphins continued to chase them, right into a kelp bed.
Blackfish Sound was also alive with humpbacks, herring, sea lions, and birds. After documenting “Conger” lunge-feeding on several schools of herring, we observed Slash’s calf, “Stitch” playing with sea lions. Stitch was rolling around at the surface, while sea lions leapt around her.
The behaviours and the diversity of marine life that we witnessed today are reminders of how unique the northern Vancouver Island ecosystem is. Over the past nine years, MERS has not only documented the return of humpback whales to this area, but also the introduction of feeding behaviours that are not known from anywhere else on the coast.
We hope that the ideal weather and abundant wildlife continue for our whale watching fundraiser provided by Orcella Expeditions this weekend.
~ Christie and Jared