After four extraordinary days aboard the CCGS John P. Tully, it was hard to comprehend the adventure was nowhere near finished. We still had a lot of work to do. Beginning August 10th, we observed a great number of Dall’s porpoises and humpback whales, each of which was documented using our specialized software. The Dall’s porpoises, in particular, kept us on our toes as they zipped around the ship at an extremely rapid pace.
In addition to these species, we also saw a large, scattered group of fin whales and spent the evening collecting photo identification shots of them. For the next two days we would find more groups of fin whales, often maneuvering closer to them to collect valuable data: photos of their dorsal fins, which would be used to catalogue each individual.
August 12th brought an action packed day off Bonilla Island, along B.C.’s north coast. The morning began with a large group of northern resident killer whales that was sighted early in the morning. The group was very spread out, challenging the science team aboard the Tully to track them from long distances. At the same time, smaller vessels were launched from the mothership with the aim of approaching the whales for photo identification shots.
As the last few individual killer whales were being photographed, an enormous number of blows were observed in a tight cluster on the horizon. As the Tully moved closer, the crew was treated to a spectacular display of lunge feeding by about 50 humpback whales. Breaches, pectoral fins and flukes were visible as far as the eye could see. Clearly this was a productive area!
The afternoon of the 12th arrived seemingly out of nowhere, and soon we had spotted another group of fin whales. This particular group was also very spread out and displaying many interesting social behaviours. One of the fin whales even showed its tail upon initiation of a dive, an extremely rare behaviour for fin whales. To round out the day, a group of offshore killer whales was observed just as the sun started setting. The elusive group was difficult to track and almost impossible to follow as the light faded.
On August 13th, the weather hit. After having a number of days of glassy calm water, we were faced with very high winds and rough seas (cue the seasickness). Luckily, these conditions weren’t immediately noticeable during the beginning portion of the day as we were inshore, off Aristazabal Island on B.C.’s central coast. While in the area, we observed a very active group of bubble-netting humpback whales lunging out of the water with incredible synchronicity.
At this stage of the survey we were starting to feel the need to focus on finding blue whales and a plan was made for the following days. We would brave the inclement weather and again head offshore, in hopeful pursuit of the world’s largest animal. The number of days we had left at sea were dwindling, but the research crew remained hopeful as we set sail for open water.
Tessa Danelesko is the coordinator of the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, a research collaboration of the Vancouver Aquarium and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
This summer, Tessa was part of a 15 person research crew, led by federal marine mammal scientist Dr. John Ford, aboard the CCGS John P. Tully. The crew engaged in a marine mammal survey aiming to collect data on species listed as “at-risk” under the Species at Risk Act. This is the second in a series of posts about the voyage.