Big Animal Encounters
I joined a four hour whale watching tour with Big Animal Encounters. Dressed in warm dry suits, we boarded the zodiac, Fast Forward and headed out towards Sutil Channel, a channel within the Discovery Islands archipelago.
This was a surprising visit, as our captain indicated that orcas are not regular visitors within the Sutil Channel. These surprise visitors were everywhere, and impossible to predict and track their movements. With strictly enforced government laws in place to protect the whales, all boats had to maintain a distance of 400ft from them. Tour guide boats, like our boat, hang a purple flag indicating they have license to be within 400ft of killer whales. A boat cannot approach a whale, but if the whale approaches the boat, that is okay. Within this archipelago community, locals (including world famous environmentalist, David Suzuki) are fiercely protective of the whales, and watch each other carefully making sure these laws are upheld.
There are three types of orcas: resident, transient and offshore. Each type is basically classified by feeding behaviors, pod sizes and dorsal shape. Resident orcas eat fish. Transient orcas eat mammals. Offshore orcas eat schooling fish and are known to sometimes eat mammals and sharks.
It was thought these orcas were transient. It took some time, as locals and tour boats radioed each other, communicating visuals to identify the whales. These orcas were resident orcas. This meant they eat fish and sometimes squid.
Our captain had a hydrophone device, that he would drop into the water as we watched the whales. We could hear them talking to each other. It was incredible. Brought me to tears, listening to these majestic animals communicate to each other.
How anyone can hurt these creatures is beyond my ability to reason.
Orcas – First Sighting
Orca – Sequencing of Surface to Submersion
Orca and BC Ferry From Cortes Island to Quadra Island
Orcas – Random
Thankfully, these whales ate fish! Meaning, we weren’t witness to a National Geographic moment of an orca feeding on a mammal such as a seal or dolphin. Stories our captain shared, such as his witness to transient orcas training their young how to hunt, would have been very upsetting for me to see. My heart just can’t handle seeing an animal hunt and kill another.
My pictures are zoomed in and cropped, meaning we were never this close, as it may seem.
I am an avid sea kayaker. I can only imagine what it would be like to come across these whales while paddling the Sutil Channel. The thought of it is this strange mixture of fear and adrenaline. Orcas are apex predators. While humans are not on their menu, there is something absolutely terrifying about their size, teeth and intelligence – facts not to be taken for granted.
The orcas had company in the Sutil Channel! Some humpback whales were swimming around there too!
To read about the humpback whales we saw on the tour, click on the link below: