Southern Resident Killer Whales - K Pod was here!

We had the Southern Resident Killer Whales K Pod on all our Whale Watching Tours yesterday! I manifested orcas the night before because I knew we had guests on board who really, really wanted to see Killer Whales. The whales were picked up coming down the coast near Hot Springs Cove and we were able to see them off Cleland Island. John and I knew they were SRKW but we were not sure which pod they were. We don't see these whales very often! We were able to get some photo identification shots with our permit. The killer whales were last seen traveling down the coast, likely back to the Salish Sea! 

Afterwards we sent the photos to Ken Balcomb at the Centre for Whale Research in Washington state. He confirmed they were K Pod! With only 18 members, K Pod is the smallest of the three pods in the Southern Resident Killer Whale community. The  oldest female in K pod is K12, estimated to have been born in 1972. K pod has three mature males, K21, and K26, and K25.  The most recent calf born into K pod is K44 (male, born 2011), the first known calf of K27.

As with most marine mammals, their movements are determined by their food source. For the Southern Residents, this means following the salmon returning to the Fraser River in British Columbia every summer. In the winter, when Chinook salmon are less abundant, they  must expand their range to find food. 

SRKW Status: Endangered. Designated endangered in Canada in 2001, USA in 2005. 

Please note that when we are photographing killer whales with our permit we do not have paying guests on board and we send our photo IDs to DFO, Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society and the Center for Whale Research. 

Southern Resident Killer Whales, K Pod, Tofino
Tofino Whale Watching Tour 
Tofino Whale Watching Tour 

Northern Resident Killer Whales A34's off Tofino

On Sunday morning John and I heard reports on the radio of a large group of killer whales off Lennard Light. We jumped into the boat and headed out off the Glory Hole to meet up with the fleet and the whales. We knew this large group of killer whales were not Transient Killer Whales but likely Northern Resident Killer Whales. The last time we had Northern Residents in Tofino on a whale watching tour was the H5's in August 2014. We spent some time photographing them. Our Tofino Whale Watching Tours and our Hot Springs Tour were able get some good looks at these killer whales as they made their way up the coast past Tofino. The NRKW we saw yesterday day were the A12 Matriline (A34's) and this was a first meeting for us since we have been document killer whale sightings in our area!  They were moving slowly (3.6 knots) up the coast. We observed them tail slapping, spy hopping and traveling. They are a beautiful family of whales to watch. 

Northern Resident killer whales generally travel in large pods of closely-related individuals within predictable ranges and exclusively feed on fish, primarily salmonid species. The Northern Resident population roam the waters off northern Vancouver Island and the mainland coast as far north as southeast Alaska.

This week Whale Watching in Tofino has been absolutely amazing! We have had several orca sightings on our whale watching tours, humpback whales off Long Beach and lots of Grey Whales, even today we had a mother and calf spy hopping at Tonquin Beach. 

TOFINO KILLER WHALES - U073 Killer Whales of Lennard Lighthouse

On Thursday, March 29th we got word that there was a group of Transient Killer Whales off Lennard Lighthouse near Tofino. Our afternoon Whale Watching Tour was able to get some good looks at about 8 killer whales. John and I decided to head out on the Eco to get some photos ID's to see who they were. When we arrived on scene we immediately recognized the T068's with about 6 other killer whales. 

The T068's have been in the news recently for being documented for the first time drowning and killing an infant of the same species. The researchers who watched the orca infanticide as it unfolded off the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island on Dec. 2, 2016,  published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports this week. 

When we arrived the whales were milling in the same spot for the 60 minutes that we spent with them. They were tail slapping and spy hopping. One whale swam by the boat with seal meat hanging out of its mouth. John and I were able to get several good ID shots of these gangs.  When we left the whales they were still in the same spot just milling about. 

After going through our photos we did not recognize these whales. We reached out to Jared Towers, a researcher from Fisheries and Oceans who identified this gang as the U073's. This group has never been properly photographed. We were pretty excited to have had the opportunity to spend time with a new (to us) group of whales and were able to get some good photo ID's of them.