The second annual Marine Education and Research Society fundraising whale watch trip provided a fantastic sample of the wealth of wildlife that northeastern Vancouver Island has to offer.
Telegraph Cove was still in view when we came across our first sightings of the trip… Steller sea lions hauled out on the rocks, and humpback whales Freckles and Argonaut foraging in the productive waters of Weynton Pass. Common murres, northern phalaropes, rhinoceros auklets, Cassin’s auklets, and ancient murrelets were also seen feeding in the area.
The whale sightings continued as we proceeded out to Bold Head, where we encountered humpback whales Corporal and Backsplash traveling close together. Just minutes after leaving these whales, a group of Dall’s porpoises came rooster-tailing toward the Gikumi. These porpoises, the fastest marine mammals in the world, swam along with the boat, riding our bow wave.
The Steller sea lion activity in Blackfish Sound was incredible… during the summer, most of these sea lions head to rookeries to breed, leaving very few in the Telegraph Cove area. By fall, however, they return from their breeding areas, and focus on socializing and feeding instead. A large group of these sea lions were interacting with humpback whales Conger and Ridge, taking huge leaps onto the whales, and following them at high speeds. The humpback whales were “trumpeting” in what we perceive to be exasperation at highly maneuverable Stellers moving around them. We were also lucky enough to witness Steller sea lions feeding on chum salmon. Cued in by splashing as the sea lions thrashed their prey around, and by the birds who gathered to pick up any scraps of fish left behind, we were able to get a great look at how these sea lions catch and consume their prey.
There was more humpback-tivity in Blackfish Sound, where we found Guardian tail-slapping repeatedly. Humpback whale calf Lorax was also active at the surface, while her mother, Ripple, fed nearby. In the churning waters of Blackney Pass, the tidal currents lead to amazingly productive waters. Here we saw Bonaparte’s gulls, cormorants, more sea lions, and the humpback whales Slits, Guardian, and Inukshuk feeding.
A huge thank you to everyone who braved the liquid sunshine to support MERS, to Jim and Mary Borrowman of Orcella Expeditions for sponsoring the trip and providing delicious baked goodies, and to the Sportsman Restaurant in Port McNeill for donating an excellent lunch. Thanks to their generous support, all funds raised on this trip will be directly used for MERS’ research, education, and marine wildlife response efforts.