Northern Resident Orca Identification

killer whale pod
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Killer Whales of the Northern Resident Community you will be in a website which identifies all the orca that we observe each summer.  The map area in red shows the area frequented by the northern resident orca and this is basically the area we cover when we go on our whale-watching safari. If you click on  “A1 pod – A30 matriline” and scroll down until you come to “A72 Bend” if you look closely you will discover that this one of the orca in the photo. Some great video of the orca the orca is provided the second one has sound.

Cubs waiting to for salmon

Waiting cubsWaiting cug stays Dry

The mother grizzly bears on the Glendale River bring their cubs with them when they come to fish.  These first year cubs born in January or February are waiting patiently for a meal to be provided.  One is lucky in that it has a dry rock to sit on while the other looks less sure balanced on a wet and likely slippery rock. It is not uncommon to have an age mixture in the grizzly bears we view from the stands in the fall.  A mixture from first year cubs with mothers, sub-adult bears as well as fulls adults.  The abundance of salmon to eat and the short time to fatten for the winter does not allow time for much fighting.


Grizzly Bear Claws

Mother and cub
Please click to enlarge for a good view

The “North American Bear Center” website says “Brown bear (grizzly bear) claws are long and curved, ranging in color from yellow to brown.  In rare cases grizzlies have been observed with white claws.” This seems rather mundane and clinical until you actually look carefully at this picture. Click on the picture to enlarge it and you will notice the size of the claws.  A quote from the “Fish BC” website about the pink salmon this grizzly is holding is interesting. “Easily identified by the large browny spots on their tails, pink sport aquamarine dorsal surfaces, the tiniest bright silver scales in the ocean and an over-abundance of disease-preventing slime. Accordingly, commercial fishers call them “slimies”. And they are slimy indeed. The angler is cautioned to clean up the boat after each salmon or risk ending up in the water with the rest of them.”  Slime or no slime this grizzly holds the salmon in one paw while she shares with her cub.  Notice that the claw raps around the fish from both sides like a hand.  If you stay in the lodge the extra day and travel to the wild river many of the grizzlies in that area have the white claws.

Grizzly Bear coming to visit

large male grizzly knight inlet
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When you can see the water drops on a grizzly’s coat you know that it is coming close. The viewing area the lodge has access to on Knight Inlet’s Glendale River has two stands on either end of a narrow finger of land that separates the entrance to the man-made spawning channel and the main river. This finger of land provides a one way road to drive between stands which allows the van to park next to the stand so it is only a few feet until you are safe in the stand.  However it also provides a good path for the grizzlies to use as this picture from Lindy Taylor shows. Bears will walk in front of and beneath the stands which provides great opportunities for pictures.

Grizzly Bear Eating the Catch

grizzly cstching salmon
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This grizzly bear seems to be devouring the salmon headfirst.  The time of the year determines what part of the salmon the bears will eat. The photo by Lindy Taylor was the start of September when the pink salmon first appear in great number so the whole fish is consumed. As the season progresses they eat on the really fatty parts, such as the brain and the ovaries packed with eggs and the skin – giving them maximum calories per bite.  This selective eating by the successful grizzlies provide food for bears that are less able to catch live salmon. The discards drift down stream and become meals for other bears and the ever present bald eagles. One of the viewing stand is by a deeper water pool and some bears just sit and scavenge all day this sure saves energy and that helps puts on the fat layer.

All fishers are not created equal

grizzly caught salmon
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Just as all grizzly bears are not the same size or the same colours not all have the same ability when it comes to catching salmon.  The fall viewing area on Knight Inlet’s Glendale River has an abundance of pink salmon and this attracts the bears.  The estimated of grizzly salmon consumption runs from 40 to 100 pounds in a day depending on the size of the bear.  Even if you take a low number of fifty pounds considering the pink salmon average weight are 3.5 to 4 lbs. They still need at least 12 to 15 fish a day to fatten for the winter. Bigger bears allot more.  Bears fishing for salmon is not a hobby it is a lifestyle.

Successful fishing

The reason we travel up Knight Inlet to the Glendale River and to the viewing stands is to obtain pictures such as this one provided by Mike and Christina from Florida.  In the fall we are able to spend two hours a day, between 10 am and 12 noon, observing the grizzly bears as they catch and eat salmon to fatten up before winter hibernation. The pink salmon in particular is the primary food source for grizzly bears in late summer to early fall. The rock turning on the beach in early summer and the many berries that are available are important food sources but it is the salmon that add that necessary layer of fat.

successful salmon catch by grizzly
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Grizzly Bear Looking into Camera

grizzly watching camera
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Some time one is not to sure if we are watchers or if the grizzly bears are in charge.  In this case it appears that our guests Mike and Christina from Florida were caught taking the picture on the Glendale River.  In the fall, after August 24, we are permitted to drive to viewing stands on the river to watch the bears feed on the salmon that have returned to the man-made spawning channel.  The grizzly bears in the area have accepted our intrusion and tend to ignore us however every once in a while the tables seemed to be turned in their favour.

Orca while whale watching

Resident OrcaResident male orca

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The resident orcas arrive in the area adjacent to the East Coast of Vancouver Island in the Johnstone Strait normally by the start of July and remain in the area through October.  The residents are the salmon eating orca. The transient orca, mammal eaters, is in the are all year but spend much of their time is the inlets away from much of the marine traffic. R. W. Baird says “Membership in each (group) begins at birth and cultural bonds and identity continue throughout life. Residents and transients differ in diet, vocal traditions, habitat range, morphology (shape of dorsal fin, etc.), pigmentation patterns (such as the eye patch) and genetically. Though they cross paths routinely throughout the inland waters of BC and Washington State, the two forms are becoming, or by some accounts are already, separate species. DNA work indicates that they have not interbred for at minimum one hundred thousand years.” This great photos provided by Marc and Solange Edouard from France are of two female resident orcas and a lone male.


Orca in a rest line or sleeping

Orca pod resting
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The website “eHow” provides the best explanation of “How Do Killer Whales Sleep?”“Like dolphins, killer whales are voluntary breathers, meaning their breathing is not automatic like it is for humans. Instead, they must consciously rise to the surface and breathe. This makes sleeping for them much different than it is for other animals. Studies on dolphins and beluga whales have shown that they sleep by shutting down only one hemisphere of the brain at a time, thereby allowing them to both rest and have control over their breathing. It is thought that killer whales, being closely related to dolphins, do the same thing. Resting behaviors differ depending on whether the killer whale is by itself or part of a pod. If it is alone, it will rest by staying near the surface, with dorsal fin, blowhole and part of the head out of the water. Usually this only lasts for a few minutes at a time, but there have been reports of killer whales resting this way for up to eight hours.Killer whales in pods sleep differently. The pod will form a tight circle, and their breathing and movements will synchronize. They take several breaths at the surface, and then submerge for a period of time before surfacing again. The time spent submerged increases as the “sleep” becomes deeper, and they may take up to ten breaths near the surface before submerging for as long as ten minutes. Pods resting like this will avoid boats and contact with other animals during this process. It is thought that this kind of group resting may strengthen the animals’ bond and cohesiveness as a unit.”