Sunday, 16 November 2014 14:46

A Unique Encounter Between Humpbacks and Transient Orca

Written by Janie

We really are not sure how to interpret this last encounter. One thing for sure, it was like nothing else either of us, in all the years we have been here, have witnessed before. It started with us both in the lab, Hermann working on a budget and myself going over whale data from this season. We both heard it as the same time, a very faint transient orca call. We jumped at the same time but Hermann got to the scope before me, mind you he was closer! We could see 5 to 7 blows close to the east side of Ashdown. A group of transient killer whales and we could tell that they had just made a kill.


“I will grab the boat if you can get the camera ready” were out of Hermann’s mouth as he ran out the door. I rushed to get organized and with in 5 minutes, with Cohen wagging his fabulous tail, we were hopping into the boat. It is freezing cold here right now with outflow winds coming from Douglas Channel. These winds have also cleared the way for the sun, and this would make picture taking ideal. By the time we arrived most of the meal, a sea lion, had been devoured.


There were at least 3 females, one massive male, a sprouter (young male) and one mother with a tiny calf. We stayed long enough to get proper ID pictures and realized that the large male was T170, a male both of us have not had the privilege to meet before in 20+ years of studying whales on the BC coast. He is more then 40 years old and his presence is striking.

 Just as we were leaving we saw 2 large blows, a couple of humpbacks. They were not that far away, maybe 800m so we decided to try and get a few ID pictures of them as well. As we approached the humpbacks we soon realized they were traveling, rather quickly, in a straight line for this foraging group of transients!! What the heck – this is not what we expected. One was a full-grown adult but the other was quite small, a young juvenile maybe 5 or 6 years old. We thought it would be cool to get a picture of the humpbacks with the orca in the distance – little did we know what was about to happen.

Notice baby orca in behind humpbacks


The humpbacks were targeting the transients and swam right into the middle of their lunch break. Then all hell broke loose. We could not tell if the transients were going after the humpbacks or if the humpbacks were after the transients.

With every breath the humpbacks would tonal blow, especially the larger of the two. At one point the young juvenile became separated from the adult – this is when the 2 male orca suddenly entered the picture and we became a little nervous. The next moment all went quite as all whales disappeared below the surface. Then an explosion way to close to our boat for comfort, the larger humpback made such a sound a shiver went through my entire body, and then the juvenile humpback finally surfaced, right bedside the larger whale. Both humpbacks then swam on their side, back-to-back, tails side ways out of the water, what a team they made!

The transients appeared to be leaving but the humpback would have nothing to do with that, again they pursued the transients, with their direction always towards the mother and little calf. Back and forth this went, transients towards humpbacks, then it would switch. The 2 males and one female had lost interest and were on their way. The mother, calf, juvenile transients stayed and this interaction went on for another 30 minutes. While on the boat we had so many different scenarios going through our minds. Hermann felt as though the humpbacks wanted the attention of the mother and calf. I felt as though, as a team the humpbacks were trying to send a signal to the transients to move on. We will never know of course what was really happening under the water. In the end all the transients took one last look and decided to leave and slowly traveled to the east.

The humpbacks followed for about 5 minutes, tonal blows all the way. Then they also went quiet and made a turn in the opposite direction to the west. We slowly traveled home in absolute awe, frozen to the bone, and once more intrigued by the mystery of it all!!


Last modified on Sunday, 16 November 2014 15:34


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