Humpback Whale, Gray Whale, and Minke Whale

Gray Whale

Grey Whale

Gray whales participate in the longest migration of any animal. A year for the gray whale begins in late December when hundreds of pregnant females, along with the rest of the herd, arrive in the warm calving lagoons of Baja, Mexico, after completing an arduous 8,000 kilometre swim, non-stop from the Arctic. Within days of arriving, each cow gives birth to a single calf.

In mid-February, the whales begin their migration north to their summer feeding grounds in the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean. Approximately 20,000 gray whales migrate along the west coast of Vancouver Island. They stop to rest and feed in the Island’s protected bays, ending a fast that began the previous fall. These whales, with the exception of 40 to 50 resident whales who spend the entire summer feeding off Vancouver Island, reach the Artic by June.

The best locations to observe the resident and migrating gray whales are the Vancouver Island communities of Tofino, Ucluelet and Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park. The giant, 30-ton whales can be seen from shore as early as February, with the females and calves passing in April and early May. Starting in September, the whales begin their return migration, by the same route, to their wintering areas in Baja.

The gray whale belongs to a family known as baleen whales and is the only bottom-feeding whale. It scoops mud from the ocean floor and feeds by straining huge mouthfuls of mud and seawater through filter-like baleen plates in its mouth. Tiny marine organisms are captured by the baleen and then swallowed by the whale. These large, slow whales are often encrusted with barnacles and other marine life that are visible when they surface.


Gray whales migrate up to 22,530 kilometres each year
Times Colonist February 10, 2008

The marathon swimmers of the whale world are the greys, which make annual, round-trip migrations of up to 22,530 kilometres.

In October, the whales begin to leave feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi seas and head south for mating and calving lagoons in Baja California, Mexico.

The journey south takes two to three months and the whales remain in the lagoons for up to three months, allowing calves to build up a thick layer of blubber for the rigorous journey to the colder northern waters.

The greys are known as “friendlies” and, while in the lagoons, often approach small boats and allow themselves to be touched by humans.

Mothers and calves travel close to shore during the northern migration and can sometimes be seen from land, especially off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Some individual greys stay year round in Juan de Fuca Strait. 

The eastern north Pacific greys were hunted to the edge of extinction in the 1850s after the discovery of the calving lagoons and in the 1900s with the introduction of floating factories. However, the population has made a remarkable recovery and there are now about 24,000 greys, which scientists believe is close to original population numbers. The greys are listed as being of special concern. Grey whales eat small crustaceans, tube worms, crab larvae and mud shrimp and grow to up to 15 metres.

© 2007 Times Colonist


Minke Whale

Minke Whale

The Minke whale can sometimes be spotted around Vancouver Island; it has a dorsal fin similar to the female orca, but the fin is smaller and positioned far back on its body. The Minke reaches lengths of up to 32 feet and is a baleen filter feeders.


Minke whales can swim up to 44 km/hr
Times Colonist February 10, 2008

Affectionately called the stinky minke, one of the smallest baleen whales, can swim to speeds of up to 24 knots or 44 km/h.

The population appears to be dropping in the northern Pacific, although they are shy and spend little time on the surface, making them difficult to see. They occasionally appear in Haro Strait, but are being seen less.
Researchers hope they have moved to a quieter area rather than experiencing a population decline.

Worldwide, the population is believed to be about one million.

Some minkes migrate long distances and are found near the edge of the polar icecap, while others stay in their own backyards.

They eat mainly small schooling fish, such as cod and herring.

In addition to common whale threats, such as pollution, the minkes are also prey to transient killer whales.

© 2007 Times Colonist


Humpback Whale

humpback whale Victoria

Graceful and magnificent, humpback whales inspire awe in young and old alike. These marine mammals travel great distances to take advantage of the best breeding grounds and feeding spots. North Pacific humpbacks, for example, mate and give birth in Hawaii and then travel to Alaska each summer to feed.

These gentle giants are famous for their singing abilities – belting out seductive ballads to attract mates or to challenge other would-be suitors. But they also have other talents. Their unique hunting skill, called bubble-net feeding, involves a group of humpbacks working together to capture schools of herring. Each whale has a particular role in the process: One whale swims in a circle while blowing bubbles under a school of herring. When the bubbles rise, the school of herring can not escape and form into a tight ball in the center. Other whales vocalize – grunting or screaming – to scare the herring to the surface. The whales then rise with their mouths wide open to capture large amounts of fish.

Humpbacks have returned to northern waters
Times Colonist February 10, 2008

The giants of the deep are slow swimmers, which made them easy targets for whalers, who almost wiped them out.

About 2,000 live in the north Pacific and are slowly coming back to their traditional areas around Vancouver Island, but are still listed as threatened.

Around northern Vancouver Island, whale watchers are hearing the complex and beautiful songs of the humpbacks for the first time in decades.

Humpbacks, which grow to between 14 and 19 metres, with a huge fluke, travel in pods and migrate from feeding grounds in Alaska to their breeding grounds around Hawaii.

Overharvesting of small fish, which form the major part of their diet, exposure to oil and entanglement in fishing nets are their main threats.

© 2007 Times Colonist

Humpys, Orcas, Stellars and California Sea Lions all in one afternoon

Every day is a unique adventure out on the Salish Sea but today’s trip stood out. We launched at Pedder Bay Marina in Metchosin to place us close to Race Rocks. As the California and Stellar Sea Lion bulls were entertaining us from their perches on the rock formations we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a dozen or so of these mamoths swimming, diving and porpoising. Then the incredible happened. One of the stellars suddenly sprang out of the water not 40 feet from us with a huge salmon which it had just caught as it breached the surface. The salmon was squirming it the sea lion’s mouth. Just as quickly as the stellar had surfaced he dove again and repeated this motion 2 more times. All the while a dozen or so of his very excited mates were porpoising almost in unison as a group. In 12 years being out here on the ocean that was a first for me. This was just the begginning of our adventure. We had heard reports of 4 to 6 humpbacks in the general vicinity over the past week. As we networked with our colleagues we heard 6 transient orcas were nearby. We spent a bit of time enjoying the orcas before heading out in the direction of the shipping lanes where soon we spotted 4 humpbacks. They put on quite a show for us including some excellent tail flukes. The humpbacks were also very vocal. All this in the space of 4 hours on one of those special autumn days when the seas were calm and the sun was out.

Whale calf buoys hopes for pod - L118 Orca

A rambunctious youngster is causing waves among whale watchers around Juan de Fuca Strait.

The first new calf of the season for the endangered southern resident killer whales is racing around with other members of L Pod, said Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington.

Endangered western Pacific grey whale could be bound for Vancouver Island

Flex, an endangered western Pacific grey whale who has astounded researchers by leaving Russia and speeding across the Bering Sea, could be in northern Vancouver Island waters by the weekend.