Encounter #6 - Jan 29, 2021
Photos taken under Federal Permits
NMFS PERMIT: 21238/ DFO SARA 388
ObservBegin: 12:14 AM
ObservEnd: 01:14 PM
Vessel: Mike 1
Staff: Mark Malleson
Other Observers: Joe Zelwietro
LocationDescr: Oak Bay Flats
Start Latitude: 48 24.4
Start Longitude: 123 16.2
End Latitude: 48 26.6
End Longitude: 123 12.9
At 1055 Mark was scanning from Anderson Hill on the Oak Bay waterfront when he spotted several small blows southwest of Clover Point. He could not confirm a direction of travel as the whales were moving either directly toward or away from him, and still several miles off, but was able to count at least five or six animals and at least one bull. As he raced home to collect his gear he called Joe who made a pit stop at Clover Point to confirm that the animals were just a quarter mile off the Point and moving steadily eastward before continuing to town. They met at Mike 1 and departed the harbour at 1201.
With some direction from shore-spotter extraordinaire, Gord Rowles, they were able to catch up with the group of Bigg’s as they traversed the Oak Bay Flats. The encounter began at 1214 (48 24.4/123 16.2) as the whales were travelling quickly east for Sea Bird Point, and dove in a tight group as the boat slowed on approach. When they surfaced, the two bulls instantly gave away the T085 matriline, and the matriarch surfaced shortly just ahead of them alongside her youngest, T085D. Mark and Joe encountered these whales as they entered the Salish Sea on January 19th of this year, see Encounter #04 for more details.
Today, the four members of the T085 matriline (T085C was once again absent) were accompanied by two others, though both appeared young to be forming their own group; sure enough, after some time Joe was able to identify the pair as T077C and T077D. The two were reported away from the rest of the T077 matriline in the summer of 2019 at 13 and 10 years old respectively, but were observed back with the group in December 2019 (CWR Encounter #102, 2019). Mark and Joe recently encountered T077 and her youngest travelling with members of the T064B and T075C matrilines in late December 2020 (CWR Encounter #73, 2020).
The whales zigged offshore and swiftly nabbed something under a large bait ball. None of the predation was observed, but a large group of gulls and cormorants frantically took to the air and an oil slick was clearly seen and smelled at the surface. When the whales did eventually surface a few minutes later, T085A was approximately 400 meters south of the lead group. That group turned offshore to rejoin him before they all meandered east for a few breaths before an abrupt change of direction to travel quickly north. The reason soon became clear when a lone harbour seal head popped up in the wake of several of the animals. T085A, bringing up the rear, made quick work of the prey. One powerful swipe and it was not seen again (48 24.4/123 12.9)! The animals that had been ahead turned around and met T085A for some prey sharing, which lasted for the next 20 minutes. Several scraps were observed by both gulls and the Mike 1 crew as the whales moved on to the north, now entering Haro Strait. The light now on their quarter, Mark and Joe collected a single sequence of left-side identification photos before concluding the encounter at 1314 (48 26.6/123 12.9) and heading for home. The six whales were still moving north into Haro Strait and in a tight group when they were last seen.