We had a beautiful trip out to the canyon today. The sun shone and the seas were calm. On arrival, we began our search for signs on the orca. We quickly sighted blows ahead. But these belonged to a different Bremer Canyon resident. A huge, beautiful flotilla of Long-Finned Pilot Whales were approaching from our ten o’clock. Like their larger relatives the killer whales, pilot whales live in family pods based on matrilines, closely related females and their descendants.
We could see all ages and stages as the pod surged toward us, a spectacular sight as large groups surfaced simultaneously. Pilot whale pods sighted at this time of year usually have young calves in tow, and this pod was no exception. Some of the calves had the white vertical lines on their sides known as foetal lines. Foetal lines in the skin are a result of the calf having been folded inside the mothers uterus. When born, the skin is wrinkled and folds can be seen in the skin of the flanks. The folds fill out as the calf nurses, but white lines resembling tiger stripes remain for around three months.
There were several small oil slicks spread over the sea surface around us, and the speed and surging travel mode of the pod were also indications that the may have been hunting. The large family, likely 100 animals quickly surrounded our vessel and surfaced synchronously in groups alongside. We watched in delight and enjoyed the sounds of the symphony of multiple hissing breaths as they surfaced.
Bottlenose dolphins also surfaced amongst the group. Mixed pods of these two species are not unusual at this location. The surfacing bottlenose dolphins provided a useful scale to appreciate the size of the much bigger pilots, which reach a maximum length of around 7m for males and 6m for females. . We were reluctant to leave our amazing encounter, but there is always more to see at the canyon, so we continued our search.
We encountered another pod of pilots as we made our way west, this time travelling alone. We paused in our search to enjoy a second sighting of the second largest member of the dolphin family, and shortly afterward, a lone fur seal. The ocean was as quiet as it was calm as we tracked west. Helpful swirls of seabirds were nowhere to be seen. In the distance, a sperm whale surfaced, but dived before we could approach.
Things changed very quickly shortly afterward. We recieved a call from the research vessel working in the area that at last, they had found the species we were most hoping to see. Our skipper put the hammer down and our engines roared as we sped to join them. As we approached, the killer whale pod surfaced to whoops of joy and gasps of amazement as all on deck enjoyed the magnificent sight of El Notcho’s pod as they surfaced, heading directly toward the research vessel. We were grateful they divided their time fairly and treated our vessel to several close passes in quick succession. The pod remained in sight for the rest of the afternoon, and will remain in our minds forever.
The Bremer Canyon Crew