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Gray Whales are usually found in shallow, coastal waters of the North Pacific. They undergo one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal, travelling up to 8000km per year from breeding lagoons in Baja, Mexico to feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi seas. There are some individual whales that do not undergo the full migration and summer in the coastal areas of Washington and BC.
Gray Whales are most commonly encountered in the Spring, April-June, on our whale-watching tours.
Like most baleen whales, Gray Whales are solitary and do not form lasting social bonds, except for mothers and calves. Calves spend 7-9 months with their mother, nursing and learning migration routes, feeding locations and techniques.
Gray Whales main prey is benthic amphipods, small crustaceans that live in the sediment on the seafloor. They collect amphipods by scooping sediment off the seafloor and straining it through the baleen in their upper jaw. The baleen acts like a sieve and filters the amphipods out of the sediment.
Grey Whales have one major predator, the transient Killer Whale. Transient Killer Whales attack Grey Whales throughout their range, often targeting calves.
Historically, there were three grey whale populations, one in the Atlantic, one in the Western Pacific and the one described above in the Eastern Pacific. The Atlantic population has gone extinct, and may have been a victim of overhunting. The Pacific populations were heavily hunted through the 19th century. The eastern population was protected in 1937 and recovered throughout the 20th century. It now contains 19-23 thousand animals and was removed from the US Endangered Species list in 1994. The western pacific population was not protected and hunting continued through the mid- 20th century. It is now considered one of the most endangered populations of whales in the world, numbering less than 100 animals.
In 2010-11, Gray Whales defied scientific understanding with some extremely rare sightings. A member of the eastern pacific population was seen travelling in the Mediterranean Sea, first sighted off the coast of Israel. It is thought that the whale crossed into the Atlantic via the northwest passage during summer. Also, a rare Western Pacific Grey Whale, known as Flex, was tracked from coastal Russia across the north pacific, then south through BC and down towards California.
Humpback Whales are found worldwide, in all major oceans. Most Humpback Whales migrate from tropical breeding and calving areas to temperate feeding areas. Although they prefer coastal areas, they do pass though deeper, offshore waters during migration.
In the North Pacific there are at least two distinct breeding populations of Humpback Whales, one migrates to breeding grounds in the Hawaiian Islands the other to breeding grounds in Mexico. Both populations move to higher latitude feeding grounds near Alaska in the Summer.
Humpback Whales from both populations have been sighted in coastal BC waters. On our whale-watching tours, they are most commonly encountered in the Fall, September and October.
Humpbacks feed on krill and small, schooling fish such as herring and capelin. They are known to create clouds of bubbles to trap schools of fish.
Humpback whales are usually seen alone and do not normally form long-term associations with other individuals. However, they are known to feed cooperatively, where individuals work together to herd schools of fish.
Humpback whales were targeted by commercial whalers throughout the 20th Century, it is thought their global population was reduced to 10% of its size. Most populations have been steadily recovering, there is now thought to be 8000 Humpbacks in the North Pacific and the population is considered to be growing.
The frequency of humpback whale sightings around southern Vancouver Island has increased in recent years. Humpbacks have been observed in areas they were known to visit historically, but have not been seen in for a century.
The Minke Whale is one of the smallest and most poorly understood of the baleen whales. They occur throughout the North Pacific and North Atlantic.
They are usually solitary and there is evidence Minke Whales in the Salish Sea have individual territories, which is unique amongst baleen whales.
Minke Whales can be observed on our whale-watching tours throughout the season. However, they spend little time at the surface and often travel very discretely, evading even the most avid whale-watchers.
Transient Killer Whales are known to attack Minke Whales regularly.
Very little is known about mating and reproduction in Minke whales, but evidence suggests they may migrate to lower latitudes to give birth and calves appear to become independent around 6 months of age.
Minkes feed on a variety of small schooling fish, including herring, capelin & sandlance.
Once considered too small for whalers, Minke Whales were only targeted after other species were severely depleted in the 20th century. Hunting for Minke Whales continues today in Norway and the Southern Ocean.