Orca

Kakawin Songs - Orca Pods Chatting in Clayoquot Sound

Kakawin Songs - Orca Pods Chatting in Clayoquot Sound

It was a beautiful and blustery summer evening in Tofino. Swell was building and naturally we were a little hesitant to head out to sea. All day the office was buzzing with excitement and stories of Kakawin playing in Clayoquot Sound.

After clocking out, we suited up and made our way down to the dock. To manage guest expectations, our skipper Jesse played it cool and briefly mentioned that Orca had been sighted earlier that day. We departed from the harbour and made our way north on the inside of Vargas Island. As we entered the inside of Flores Island, the waters were calm and breeze was warm. We immediately spotted the Kakawin playing close to shore. They were actively breaching, spy-hopping and tail slapping; even the babies knew what to do!

Orca Communities in a Fragile Environment

Orca Communities in a Fragile Environment

Orca communities form different species or ecotypes, each with unique acoustic behaviors, feeding habits and prey preferences. Occasionally, the range of these different orca overlaps but they never interbreed and they rarely interact. Orca are top predators and unfortunately they accumulate pollutants that are transferred through the food web which become stored in their blubber and can be passed along to nursing young.

In the northern hemisphere we have three ecotypes: Offshores, Transient Orca, and Resident Orca.

Humpback Vigilantes

Humpback Vigilantes

The Altruistic Motivation of Whales

Interspecies adoption has forever fascinated me. For example, why would a leopard adopt an orphaned baby monkey or a lioness a small antelope? It’s easy for us to accept that our family dog has “feelings” yet science looks at any form of anthropomorphic thinking as misdirected scientific enquiry. There have been more than 100 reported cases of Humpback whales interfering with Orca hunting non-Humpback species including sunfish, porpoise, seals, sea lions and other marine mammals. It appears we have some Humpback heroes on the horizon!

In evolutionary biology, when an organism’s behaviour benefits other organisms, at a cost to itself, it is said to behave altruistically. Why would Humpback whales risk personal injury and expend so much energy to protect entirely different species?  This has been the center of marine ecologist Robert Pitman’s research at NOAA Fisheries. Pitman has analyzed 115 interactions between Humpbacks and Orca. An extraordinary incident occurred near the Antarctic peninsula where Pitman observed a Humpback offer protection to a Weddell seal by rolling onto it’s back and holding the seal on it’s belly above the waters surface and out of reach of a pod of marauding killer whales...