One of the best parts of ringing in a new year is reflecting on the amazing events that happened over the previous 12 months. There were many moments in 2014 worth celebrating; here are a few cetacean and sea turtle themed highlights from the BCCSN’s past year.

Life and Loss for Killer Whales

2014 saw two new calves born to the southern resident killer whale community, L120 and J50. Both births were celebrated, as every new calf is a valuable addition to the critically endangered southern resident killer whale population. L120 was first spotted September 6, 2014, next to mother L86. Unfortunately, at only seven weeks old, L120 did not appear to be with L-pod after they were spotted in the Salish Sea, returning from a trip to open waters off Washington or British Columbia. A few short months later J50 appeared. First seen on December 30, 2014 and estimated to be 4-10 days old at that time, there is still debate as to who is the mother of this new calf. It was seen swimming alongside J16 and J36, who are mother and daughter and estimated to be 43 and 16 years old respectively. In early January, 2015 J50 was spotted actively rolling at the water’s surface and a conveniently timed photograph revealed J50 is female. We wish J50 luck as she faces the many challenges that present themselves to young killer whales.

The Return of Cassiopeia

Cassiopeia, a humpback whale with a unique W-shaped marking on the right side of its fluke, was first identified by the researchers at the Marine Education and Research Society in 2008 near Northeastern Vancouver Island.  It has been seen most years since in that area and in 2013 was also spotted near Campbell River and in the Strait of Georgia. This year Cassiopeia was spotted in Howe Sound on two confirmed occasions in early autumn. Cassiopeia represents a unique citizen science success story. Due to diligent sightings reporting by coastal residents the BCCSN has been able to paint a picture of where Cassiopeia has spent time over the past seven years, a neat tool for conservation and research. Check out an account of Cassiopeia’s story here.

Turtle near Tofino

The BCCSN continues to actively solicit sightings of sea turtles. We predicted 2014 was going to be an exciting year for sea turtle sightings, as many species often seen in association with them (e.g. Mola mola, sharks, jellies) were seen in number in B.C. waters. While we didn’t quite receive as many sightings as predicted, a few did arrive, including one made on August 20 off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The observer managed to take a photo, and sure enough, it was a leatherback sea turtle! Leatherbacks are B.C.’s most common species of sea turtle as they possess several characteristics that allow them to survive in our cool, temperate waters. Hard-shelled species that have been spotted in B.C. (green, olive ridley, and loggerhead sea turtles) are much better suited to warmer waters, and sightings generally occur when individuals find their way up north by following a warm current.

Risso’s Around Haida Gwaii

Risso’s dolphins again piqued the interest of BCCSN staff, when a sighting was made in early August off the southeast coast of Haida Gwaii, not far from where sightings of the species have occurred in the past. These appearances add more intrigue to these mysterious cetaceans – little is known about the groups that spend time in B.C. waters – as they occurred in waters that are much shallower than the offshore waters in which Risso’s dolphins are typically found.

Predators and Prey on Display

Citizens of Squamish were treated to a thrilling multispecies sighting on March 15, 2014. A group of approximately 15 Bigg’s (transient) killer whales were seen hunting a group of about 100 Pacific white-sided dolphins in a spectacular display in Mamquam Blind Channel, near the mouth of Squamish River. Several huge killer whale leaps were viewed as well as an incredible amount of active behavior from the dolphins. Of note, was that as 2014 progressed, sightings of both species seemed to steadily increase in the Howe Sound area.

Rescue of a Rare Species

On July 10, 2014 a young false killer whale, a cetacean species rarely spotted in B.C. waters, arrived dehydrated, malnourished, and clinging to life at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. This young calf, aptly named Chester, after Chesterman Beach where he stranded, had been separated from his mother for an unknown reason. After months of uncertainty and round-the-clock care, Chester was moved to a habitat behind-the-scenes at the Vancouver Aquarium. Today, Chester is an active and curious cetacean, and while the Aquarium’s veterinary staff continues to monitor him closely, there is great promise for Chester’s recovery.

Bubblenets up North

One of our favourite sightings this year from our own vessel, the Skana, was of group bubblenet feeding humpback whales in Dixon Entrance. While surveying this region as part of our new North Coast Initaitive, the Skana was able to observe and record a group of eleven humpback working cooperatively to encircle forage fish using bubbles. This specialized feeding technique is most commonly observed in the northern reaches of the coast. Listening to the whales’ haunting feeding call and then watching them emerge dramatically with their mouths agape was an absolute thrill. See video and learn more about bubblenetting from our blog here.

The BCCSN team is looking forward to hearing all about your cetacean and sea turtle sightings in 2015. You can report anytime by visiting www.wildwhales.org, emailing sightings@vanaqua.org, or by calling our toll-free reporting hotline at 1.866.I.SAW.ONE (472.9663). Happy New Year!