The day whale watching means we travel to the area of Johnstone Strait near Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island BC. The resident, salmon eating orca, arrive in early late June and stay through October while the transient, mammal eating orca are in the area all year. Confused? The first serious study of the orca populations in the mid-1970’s started as a summer study so when the scientist arrived in July and left in September the orca were always in the area and therefore there named resident orca. Little did they know that this was a summer feeding area as the orca followed the salmon? The transient orcas, which were in the area, spend more time in the remote inlets in the summer because there was more boat traffic. The transient orca still travel through our viewing area in the summer but this photo is of a resident as determined by the size and shape of its dorsal fin, taller and narrower at the base. Photo provide by guest Alferd Bittner.
In our area we have two types of Orca. We have the residents and the Biggs (aka transient). Although quite similar in size and appearance their behaviour is quite different. The resident Orca show up in the summer and usually remain in the area until the fall. The Residents feed exclusively on fish, and enter the area to feed on salmon. Their primary food source is the chinook salmon, which is the largest of the 5 species. To a lesser extend they also feed on other types of salmon, lingcod, squid and various other species of fish. They will never feed on marine mammals and despite their name tend to leave the area during the winter months. They are very social and often vocalise. On the other hand the Biggs can be spotted year-round. They feed on marine mammals with harbour seals (like the ones in the picture) being their main food source, although propose, dolphins, sea lions and otters are also commonly on the menu. These animals are much “stealthier”, traveling quickly and vocalising much less. This is because they are on the hunt for mammals which can detect their calls. The Biggs below circled this particular rock several times, but in this case were unsuccessful in catching a seal off guard.
The Biggs Orca were named after Dr. Micheal Bigg who pioneered Orca research in the area. He realised that individual whales can be identified by their dorsal fin and saddle patch. This led to the creation of a thorough catalogue of animals and their family structures, which are organised by clans, pods and matrilines.