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Granny (J2): Oldest Known Orca in The Entire World

Granny (J2) the 105 year old Southern Resident Killer whale has returned to the Salish Sea for another summer of foraging for Chinook salmon and socializing with her family J pod and the other Southern Resident Orca pods, K and L.

J2 has been observed and studied in our waters since the mid 1970s. There are photographs of Granny from the 1930s and the size and growth of Granny and the other orcas are used in the age estimates. Granny is recognizable from the gray saddle patch just behind her dorsal fin, and a half-moon notch in her fin. She is the matriarch leader of J pod and estimated to be born in 1911. The life span of a female orca is between 60 and 80 years old. Granny has surpassed those expectations greatly! Granny has no living off-spring but is grandmother of Samish (J14) and great grandmother to 3 other J pod whales.

Even at 105 Granny hasn’t lost her playfulness. You will often find her spy hopping and breaching along with the younger members of J pod.

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Humpback Whale Sightings


Although we spend most of our time with Orca Whales we are getting to spend more and more time each year with Humpbacks. We have had some amazing encounters with Humpback whales this season! We are very excited that the Humpback whale population is increasing as the sightings will continue to grow. Humpback whales are seasonal feeders and eat about 4,400-5,500 pounds of plankton, krill and small schooling fish each day during the feeding season. They are one of the largest whales that swim in our waters and grow to be about 15 meters long and weighing about 40 tonnes. These whales usually live to be 45-50 years old.


For the past couple of weeks there have been several reports of Humpback whales in the area. On one of our afternoon tours we got suited up and headed down south to the report of 20 humpbacks!! As soon as we arrived on scene there was one playful humpback breaching in the distance welcoming us. This was quite a sight to see! The humpback whales are very acrobatic and are known for breaching, spy hopping and slapping their tail on the water’s surface. This season we also got to spend time with Big Mama and one of her calves. The calf has been very active in its behavior and enjoys breaching in and out of the water.

690Humpback whales travel in large loose groups, or even alone with the exception of the mother and calf having a strong bond. We are so incredibly lucky that these gentle giants swim in and out of our waters. Please enjoy some of our best photos so far as we are hoping these endangered species stick around a little longer, as they make their way north to spend their summers feeding.


Transient Orcas

Transient OrcMay 2015 136as, also known as Bigg’s Killer Whales (named after Dr.Michael Biggs, famous for his Killer whale reseach), or commonly called T’s are an ecotype of Orca that are marine mammal hunters (they also eat the occasional bird, and very rarely a terrestrial mammal, but not humans :). These animals traditionally travel in smaller groups of between two and six individuals and have less stable family bonds (as compared to the Resident Orcas, Southern and Northern). Generally Transient Orcas vocalize less than the Residents and have a different dialect than the other ecotypes.

In the last few years the Bigg’s Killer Whales have become less “transient” in our waters, the Salish Sea. We have, in the 76 calendar days between June 1 and Aug. 15 of last summer 2015, saw transient whales on at least 49 days of 79! We have seen even more consistency so far this season! In the last 10 years, which is short for a species to recover, we have noticed undoubtedly that more and more transient Orca are returning to this area every spring.

InMay 2015 532creased Transient Orca Sightings

The increased amount of Transient Orcas in the area can be attributed to the influx of marine mammals, including harbour seals.The B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network doesn’t tally its counts until the end of the year, but co-coordinator Tessa Danelesko said it’s safe to say transient populations are increasing.
The Vancouver Aquarium says that we are seeing population growth of two to three per cent a year. And they think that’s directly linked to prey availability. It is believed that there are about 300 Transient Orcas living between California and Alaska. All of this is excellent news for a species of cetacean that was once listed as endangered and I know we are all excited to have so many back already this spring!

May 2015 146

May 2015 230

Looking forward to a great season!

What an amazing start to the season we have had! The beautiful weather and abundance of wild life has helped us have a great kick off to the season. We have been very lucky to have sightings of some of our Resident Orcas- J pod in the area since mid February, Transient orcas, Humpback whales, seals, sea lions and many marine birds. Over the last year and a half we have had a “baby boom” within our Southern Resident Orca population. Six of these calves have been identified as male and we were excited for the good news of the birth of female calf J53 (L123’s sex is still unknown). Often with good news, there comes sad news, another Resident Killer whale L95 and unknown neo-natal calf were found dead. This is another tragic loss for a beautiful and already struggling species. With these recent occurrings the total population for our Southern Resident Orcas now stands at 83.

On April 7th we were lucky to have the Global news along for a tour early in the season and got to spend the day viewing Transient Orcas, Sea Lions, Seals, Eagles and much more that the Salish Sea has to offer. Over the month of April and into May, the beautiful Sidney weather and the calm seas throughout the Gulf Islands has made for some very memorable trips and some great photo opportunities.

The team at Sidney Whale Watching is looking forward to another great season and excited to share these memorable experiences will all of our guests.

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82 Resident Orcas make for a great summer!

105This season for viewing wildlife in the Salish Sea has been one for the records. As of the summer of 2015, our Southern Resident Orca population has increased to 82 Orcas! During the past year we have had the birth of five healthy Resident calves. Three in Jpod, baby J50 (female) with mom J16 Slick, J51 (male) with mom J41 Eclipse, J52 (male) with mom J36 Alki, and two in L pod, baby L121 (male) with mom L94 Calypso and L122 (male) with mom L91 Muncher.


We have alsoQG9E7754 sl Orca pod (1) been very lucky this season with the amount of Super pod days. A superpod is when all three of our Resident Orca pods- J, K, and L meet up in the same area and often put on a great show, breaching, tail slapping, spy hopping and socializing together. J pod has 27 members, K pod is the smallest of the three pods with 19 members and L pod is the largest with 36 members.


123Over 99% of our tours this season have been spent with our Resident and/our Transient Orcas. It has been truly fantastic. With the amount of new Resident Orca babies and the general trend of more Transient Orcas and Humpback whales returning to this area, we are all hopeful for many more exciting summers to view these magnificent marine mammals.


Copy (1) of IMG_9867 line of Orcas








Each day as we pull away from our dock in Sidney we are obviously excited to spend time with our Southern Resident Orcas, Transient Orcas, and from time to time the Humpback whales that frequent our waters, but those animals are not the only things are we are lucky enough to see as we travel through the Salish Sea and the Southern Gulf Islands. Our trips are full of marine mammals, sea birds, and other amazing creatures. This post will focus on some of the beautiful sea birds that we encounter on our tours.

Sea Birds

We are so fortunate to have an abundance of sea birds just off of Sidney. Here are a few of what you might see when you head out on a trip with us.

Pigeon Guillemont A40Y1777 smg 2 Pigeon Guillemot with lunch (1)

You can find these birds from Alaska down to California. They belong to the Auk and Puffin family. They have black bodies and large white wings with patches. Their legs and feet are bright red. These birds feed on crustaceans, mollusks, and marine worms.


A40Y2169 sl smg OystercatcherOystercatcher

These large, stocky, black and white wading birds rarely stray too far from the coastline. They have long orange/red bills and reddish-pink legs. They make their nest on the shoreline. preferring the rocky terrain. These birds feed on clams, barnacles, and other sea creatures.


A40Y2238 sl smg Pelagic CormorantsPelagic Cormorants

This type is the smallest of the Pacific Cormorants. They are glossy black with a dark bill and a long, slender neck and a red throat patch. They are found near coastal areas on cliff faces or rocky islands. They feed mainly on fish, but are known to eat crab and other crustaceans. They have been known to dive up to 70 meters in search of their food!


A40Y2515 a sl smg a Rhinoceros AuckletRhinoceros Aucklet

This type of sea bird with a close relative of the puffin. It feeds on small fish and nests in burrows or natural caves between 1 and 5 meters deep. Their name comes from the horn-like extension of the beak, but the horn is only present in breeding adults. Their plumage is dark on the top and paler below. Breed adults have white plumes above the eyes and behind the bills.


A40Y5944 sl smg Common M urreCommon Mure

This bird is large and belongs to the Auk family. It has a black back and head and a white underside. It dives under water to catch it’s prey and feeds on fish, squid, and other marine invertebrates. The egg of the Common Mure is pointed at one end, so if it is pushed around on a flat surface it rolls in a circle. This could be to ensure that the eggs don’t fall out of the nest!


A40Y0945 sl s Eagle seaquestBald Eagle

This amazing bird is found to live along waterways and especially along the northwestern coast of Canada and the USA. They are a large eagle with blackish colour and a white head and tail and a yellow beak. They can weigh up to 14 lbs and have a wing span of up to 7 feet (2 meters). They have great eyesight that is seven times better than people. During flight they can reach speeds of over 120 km per hour. Their favourite food to eat is fish but will eat small mammals as well.

Thanks to Suzanne Huot for the fantastic photos of these amazing birds that we get to see on a daily basis!


Spring Orca Babies!

Wow, it’s hard to believe that June is here already! We have had an amazing spring season with a variety of whales making appearance in the Salish Sea. We have had two of our resident pods, J Pod and L Pod back in our waters with four healthy babies. We have also had some amazing encounters with Humpback whales this spring. As well, there have been sightings of Minke and Grey whales. We couldn’t ask for a better spring.

Humpbackshumpback whale 2 humpback whale 3 humpback whale 4 (1)

Our sighting of Humpback whales seems to be increasing every year as their population continues to grow again. Humpback whales are one of the largest whales that frequent our waters. They weigh in at around 15 meters long and 40 tonnes. Most humpback whales spend the summer in cool waters and winters in warmer tropical waters. The summers are spent feeding and winters are spent mating and calving.

Traveling from the frigid waters of Alaska to the tropical seas off Hawaii, Humpback Whales migrate through Canadian waters twice a year. Humpbacks use BC waters mainly as feeding grounds.

These whales are slow swimmers, making them easy targets for whalers in the first half of the 20th century, when they were killed by the thousands for their blubber. Now protected, Humpback populations have grown to nearly 54,000 worldwide— over 45 percent of their original numbers. The many years of whale hunting put Humpback whales on the endangered list. With recent conservation efforts they have been taken off the endangered list and are now listed as a threatened species.

Summer Ahead

We are looking forward to the upcoming summer and the return of all our resident Orcas. We also can’t wait to see all four babies continue to thrive in the Salish Sea.

Baby Boom

At last Spring is here! The sunny skies, warmer weather, and arrival of 4 new resident orca babies in 4 months has us very excited to begin our season. With the announcements of the two new additions to J Pod and the new L pod baby this winter we couldn’t wait to get the boats in the water and start viewing these new babies. The sighting of  another brand new J Pod baby just a few days ago has us even more eager to share our amazing resident orcas with our guests.

First TripIMG_8949

We started off our season with a bang. We met up with J Pod just north of Pender Island and were able to spend a few hours viewing as they made their way through Active Pass and into the Straight of Georgia. We were able to see for the first time J50 and J51 – the newest additions to J Pod (until a few days ago! We haven’t yet be able to get our own picture of J52.) They started to become more active as they made their way through active pass. We were entertained with spyhops, tailing slapping, breaching, and fin waves.




Whales and other wild life

The Gulf Islands and surrounding area has an abundance of wild life to see. As we were travelling with the Resident Oracs, we were able to stop and spend some time with a large group of bald eagles and a group of seals. We spotted 5 or 6 adult eagles and were able to see them flying with another 5 or 6 juvenile bald eagles. Such an amazing sight to see so many of them in one small area. In the same spot we were able to hang out with a small group of seals. The tide was quite high so most of them were just hanging out in the water.  Such a great day out on the water in Sidney. Can’t wait for more!




Mt. Baker

Best time for Orcas

We often get asked what time of day is best to see whales, and we explain that there isn’t really a “best time” to see whales. Everyday differs from the last and one day’s morning cruise may turn up super active whales but in the afternoon we find them sleeping. The whale watching companies work so well together to ensure that all of our guests are provided with the best experience possible on that day, but as one guest said, “every time you go out, it is a risk.”  That being said this summer has been so great for us  with the combination of great weather and Resident and Transient Orcas, Humpbacks, Minkes, and all the other marine wild life that we see. Now is the best time to see whales!

Sunsets and Whales


Enjoying the sunset with J Pod

So there isn’t really a “best” time to see whales, but we do have a favourite time of day to get out on the water. Whether we are doing a tour or just out in our own boat, going out for a cruise during the evening is our favourite time to be on the water. At this time it tends to be a little quieter (less boats), the lighting is great for photography, and it’s a beautiful sight as you catch the sun setting as you cruise back into Sidney.

Supermoon, Sunset and Whales

Supermoon Sunday, we were able to take the night off of work and head out on the water about an hour before sunset. We left Sidney and had a nice cruise through Boundary Pass and ended up with the whales just off of Saturna Island. We tried our best to will the whales to swim past us with the sun in the background to get some good pictures, but apparently these animals have minds of their own! We stayed out until the sun was almost completely downIMG_8007 and the water was being lit up by the moom. It was an amazing sight to see. Even with the bright light of the moon, after the sun had set the whales were extremely hard to spot. We sat with our motors off, not speaking, just listening. All around us we could hear the blows of travelling orcas. It was incredible to just sit and listen to the passing whales without being able to see them, but also a bit eerie. We have been lucky enough to see orcas and humpbacks breaching, tail slapping, spy hopping, and doing all they amazing stuff they do, but Sunday evening may have been the best orca experience we have had since we started doing this.

Oyster Catcher

Oyster Catcher


Orcas, Seals, and Birds

We have had some pretty incredible days this summer with weather and whales, but I think Thursday may have been one of the best so far. Our morning tour started off with J Pod just off of Sidney and we were able to hang out with them until they passed Saturna Island on their way to the Fraser River. It’s amazing how fast these animals can swim when they are in search of salmon. We started to return to Sidney with a quick stop at Java Rocks to check out the array of birds that reside there. On any given day you have the opportunity to see Rhino Aucklets, Pigeon Guillimonts, Oyster Catchers and Bonaparte Gulls. If you are lucky enough you also might see some seals hauled out of the water basking in the sun. A great way to start the day.

Transient OrcasIMG_7841

In the waters off of Sidney we tend to see two types of Orcas. One type is our Resident Orcas (J,K and L Pods). These are the salmon eating Orcas. The second type are Transient Orcas. This eco-type eats marine mammals like harbour seals, harbour and Dall’s porpoises and Steller sea lions and tend to travel in smaller groups (2-6) as compared to the resident pods (20+ in each family group). We were able to spend our afternoon tour with these animals watching as the chased down lunch. They all work together by diving around, over and under their prey, hitting them from above and below and hitting them their their heads. It’s a pretty incredible thing to watch if you have stomach for it!

Resident Orcas

IMG_7526The final trip of our evening was spent with part of K pod of our Resident Orcas. These animals return to our waters every year from about May until October. Their diet consists mostly of salmon and they spend much of their time foraging for food. When they are not eating or sleeping, these very social animals can be found breaching, spy hopping, tail slapping, and playing around with each other. It’s amazing to watch and we count ourselves lucky every time we get to be a part of the show that these amazing Orcas put on! The evening trips are a favourite of ours during the summer. It tends to be quieter on the water, the lighting is great for photography and we love returning to Sidney as the sun is setting.

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