World Oceans Day – Meet the Orcas
Happy World Oceans Day! In Campbell River, we are fortunate to share our waters with incredible orca whales. These mammals frequent our waters throughout the year and we are lucky enough to see both the residents and the transient groups in our region. Transient orcas eat predominantly mammals such as seals, sea lions and dolphins, whereas resident orcas usually eat Chinook salmon and other fish.
Orcas are distinctly marked black and white dolphins, and are identified by their patterns. The grey saddle patch, located immediately behind the dorsal fins, and natural markings such as scars or nicks on the dorsal fin itself, help officials identify the mammals.
Grey Saddle Patch & Dorsal Fins are Key Identifiers
Orcas are social and intelligent mammals who organize themselves based on small matrilineal groups (mother led). Orca whales can live to be anywhere from 30 to 80 years old, and when the mother dies, the next oldest female takes on the mantle of pod leader. Orca number designations are assigned by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), and naming is done by the Vancouver Aquarium, who support ocean-related research and education.
One of the most common families that we see in our area are the T002 pod, who are a family of five transient orcas. The mother T002C is nicknamed Tasu, and was born in 1989.
She has two sons, Rocky (T002C1) born in 2002, and Tumbo (T002C2), born in 2005.
Rocky Breaching (T002C1)
Tumbo has scoliosis, which causes a curvature of the spine, making his dorsal fin quite distinctive. As a result, Tumbo is often seen trailing behind his family, and has a hard time participating in hunting activities.
Rocky and Tumbo also have two sisters: Lucy (T002C3), born in 2011, and a new unnamed calf that was born in 2016 (T002C4).
This family is a common sight, hanging around the Discovery Islands, and many of the local tour operators in our region have developed a fondness and bond with these incredible mammals. Garry Henkel, owner and operator of Aboriginal Journeys has spent a great deal of time with the T002 pod, and believes he was lucky enough to be one of the first people to see Lucy (T002C3) at only one day old in the Cordero Channel in August of 2011.
Having spent most of his life out on the water, Garry has seen this orca family take part in many hunts – some more successful than others. The family has tried to take down everything from harbour seals, to unsuccessfully trying to eat a humpback calf. One victory was when Tumbo (T002C2) chased down a Rhinoceros Auklet (sea bird) and swallowed it whole!
Nick Templeman, owner and operator of Campbell River Whale and Bear Excursions also has a great deal of fondness for this particular family and has unofficially nicknamed the new calf T002C4, “Guardian.” This spring, Nick has seen the T002s travelling with another family, known as the T023. This family consists of the matriarch of the group (T023), her daughter T023C, and her granddaughters, including a brand new calf that is only about 8 weeks old.
With a young calf so new to the family, the T023 have been staying mostly in the Discovery Passage, as the family works to build up her strength before taking her on longer journeys. Orcas will come together for a variety of reasons. These two families are both transient groups, and likely have come together to coordinate and share for hunting purposes.
Orcas also spend time socializing, and this can include behaviours such as tail slapping, sticking their head out of water (spyhopping), and other aerial displays. Because our operators spend so much time out on the water with the whales, they often provide vital research to partners, such as the Vancouver Aquarium and the DFO. Tour operators in Campbell River love sharing their knowledge and passion for these marine mammals, and helping guests #DiscoverCampbellRiver.
Information and photos provided by Garry Henkel, owner and operator of Aboriginal Journeys and Nick Templeman, owner and operator of Campbell River Whale and Bear Excursions. General Information was found on the Vancouver Aquarium website.
For a complete list of Wildlife Tour Operators, visit our Marine & Wildlife Tours page.