Killer Whales of northern Vancouver Island
Killer whales (orcas) are very social whales with populations that occur across the world’s oceans, with hotspots including Iceland and Norway, northeast Russia, the tropical Pacific, the Antarctic Ocean and, of course, the northeast Pacific in British Columbia and Alaska. Whether from a kayak, a boat or on land, BC is one of the easiest places to view orcas.
Orcas are easily recognized for their distinctive black and white colouring, large paddle-like pectoral fins and males’ tall and strait dorsal fin (up to 2m tall!).
who partake in a number of cool individual behaviours that we sometimes have a chance to witness on our tours. Among the most common are breaching, spyhopping, lobtailing, dorsal fin slapping, and pec slapping. If you are not sure what some of these actions look like, the SeaWorld website has posted some awesome demonstration videos (http://www.seaworld.org/animal-info/info-books/killer-whale/behavior.htm). Some of these behaviours originate from a need to relieve itching, as killer whales continually slough skin cells as they swim (which grow about 290 times faster than human forearm cells. But researchers have determined that many of these behaviours derive from the curious nature of these cetaceans who have a natural tendency to play and manipulate objects!
In social behaviour, whales in pods form close bonds, regularly associating with the same individuals. The strongest bonds formed in a pod are mother/calf bonds, which, among Resident Whales of the eastern North Pacific, can last long into adulthood. This specific demographic of Orcas is unique in that juveniles do not disperse from their maternal pods as most transients do to travel alone or with other whales.
As is quite evident, Orca hierarchy is female dominant. However, among the pods individuals rank themselves through various postures and gestures, such as slapping their tails against the water, head butting, jaw snapping, biting, and raking (scratching their teeth along other whales). Calves also receive social discipline from both their mothers and other significant adults in the form of restraining (corralling the calf so as to restrict its movement) and raking.
It is always very difficult to capture the essence of these incredible animals in just a few words. They are truly best experienced in a kayak on the majestic waters of Jonhstone Strait while on a tour with Spirit of the West Adventures!