Friday, December 9, 2005

I haven't seen them yet, but there is a pod of transient killer whales hanging around Bowen this week.

The first I heard of them was from Alison Morse, who lives on the south side of the island. She and her husband watched them in the Strait for a half and hour on Monday mornings. Then friends Karo Johnson and George Milligan had a stunning encounter with the pod at Bowen Bay. From the beach they watched as the pod cornered a Steller's Sea Lion and then broke it's back and proceeded to tear it apart. Most of the dirty work was done by three of the whales although the heavy lifting was done by a huge male who lurked on the edges until there was a need to make the kill. Steller's Sea Lions are huge, and Karo estimated this one at one ton, easily.

Yesterday I got another report of the whales off the west side of the island from Ellen Hayakawa who was out paddling in the Collingwood Channel and spotted the pod off Paisley Island. They got close enough to them to be surrounded and sprayed with whale breath, although that's a hell of a lot closer than I'd want to get to a pack of sea wolves.

Transients are not unknown in our waters, especially at this time of year. They wander solo or in pods up and down the coast all year and are the only ones that eat mammals like seals and sealions on a regular basis. They are skilled and vicious pack hunters and pursue their prey up on to beaches if need be. The resident pods of killer whales are tamer in comparison. We don't have any in Howe Sound anymore, but there are some in the Strait and they are occasionally spotted from the ferry. These ones eat fish and following the salmon and herring around. They linger all summer in the Gulf Islands and the San Juans and are usually the ones who see photos of.

I'm going to try to get over to the west side to see if these whales are still about. If anyone else is looking for them, try to get a picture of their dorsal fins. The Vancouver Aquarium would probably be interested in knowing who these guys are, and they can identify them from the dorsal fins alone.

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