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Whale watchers see showdown between orcas, humpbacks off B.C.

Transient or Bigg’s killer whales take on humpback whales off Jordan River, B.C., 43 miles west of Victoria, B.C., on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016.
Transient or Bigg’s killer whales take on humpback whales off Jordan River, B.C., 43 miles west of Victoria, B.C., on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A whale of a showdown ended in a truce earlier this week when a group of Bigg’s killer whales backed down from two adult humpbacks and a calf, according to a group of people on whale-watching boats in the Salish Sea.

The group of transient killer whales may have been trying to size up the humpback calf for dinner in the encounter off Jordan River, B.C., in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on Aug. 7.

“I’m not sure if the killer whales ever thought they were going to be able to take one of these humpbacks out, but it appears they certainly enjoyed getting them worked up,” said Mark Malleson of Prince of Whales Whale Watching, in a news release. Malleson is also a researcher for Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island.

I’ve seen a lot of this over the years, but I don’t think the killer whales have much success (hunting) them.

Mark Malleson, researcher for Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Several boats with the Pacific Whale Watch Association, an industry group, watched the encounter with their engines shut down and adrift. Watchers reported the orcas surfacing near the humpbacks, which responded with a few tail swipes and “a lot of huffing and puffing,” said Valerie Shore of Eagle Wing Tours of Victoria.

The humpback calf may have suffered a tear in its tail, but the boats could not get close enough to confirm that, Shore said.

Malleson, who helps catalog humpback whales for the Cascadia Research Collective of Olympia said such showdowns seldom result in a kill.

“I’ve seen a lot of this over the years, but I don’t think the killer whales have much success (hunting) them,” he said. “Perhaps the occasional calf, but even that would be rare. It seems they just like bugging them.”

The whale-watching group, representing 38 companies operating out of 21 ports in Washington and British Columbia, has reported numerous sightings of North Pacific humpback whales in the Salish Sea this summer. The Cascadia Research Collective estimates about 1,600 humpback whales feed off the west coast of North America, including as many as 500 now off Washington and British Columbia. The animals usually visit from spring to fall before migrating in the winter to warm-water breeding and calving areas in Hawaii and Mexico.

Whale watchers see humpback whales breach, vocalize and lunge feed during the summer of 2016 in the Salish Sea, waters from the San Juan Islands to Victoria, B.C. Researchers and crews with whale-watching boats report an unprecented number of sigh

Jim Donaldson: 360-715-2288.

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