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by Re Carroll
Abbotsford, British Columbia
July 18, 2004
The displays are very well signed and the enthusiastic and friendly volunteers are eager to talk about whales and other marine animals that live in the area. Although called Killer Whales, or Blackfish in First Nations language, Orcas are really a type of porpoise rather than a whale. There are three types: residents, transients and offshore. Each type has very different characteristics. Not a lot is known about offshore because they travel constantly but they can be identified by their continuously rounded dorsal fin. Residents have a semi rounded dorsal that ends in a point, eat fish and are very talkative, in whale speak that is. Transients have pointed dorsals, eat other whales, sea lions and even mammals if they can get them (there have been documented reports of orcas eating deer and moose) and keep relatively quiet so they can sneak up on their prey and attack. All orca pods are matriarchal and usually stay together for life. Although the males will go outside the pod to mate, they soon come swimming home to mama once they’ve had their fun (that caused some good natured joking about their resemblance to humans) whereas the female and her offspring stay with her pod.
True whales are well represented in the Centre too including the skull bone from a fin whale, the 2nd largest animal ever to have lived. A different but no less interesting display was a large section of baleen found in the whale species of the same name. Baleen is what whales use as a filter when scooping up water, fish and other food. The baleen allows the water to filter through and be dispelled while keeping all the food goodies behind. In order to illustrate this, a hands on display with pan of water and dense brush allows visitors to simulate how water is filtered through the simulated baleen.
The Centre is open from 1 June to 30 September, 10 to 6, 7 days a week. It’s very low key, no admission but a very much appreciated donation jar (suggested donations $5 per family or $2 individual) helps to cover costs of the centre.
For more information, check out their web site at: www.killerwhalecentre.org
From journal A Whale of a Weekend
Before boarding, our captain, Wayne, and on board naturalist, Robin, briefed us on safety precautions and what marine life we might see. Our group consisted of folks from Germany, Netherlands, U.K., U.S. and Canada and ranged in age from 70ish to an adorable 9 month old who stayed zipped up under his dad’s raincoat for much of the trip.
Not long after leaving the dock we came to an outcropping of rocks that was home to an older male sea lion who was a lonely fellow because he had no mate. Part of the sea lion mating ritual entails biting noses and he was making a nuisance of himself with seal pups in the area. The pups didn’t have a clue why this mean old sea lion kept biting their nose – talk about looking for love in all the wrong places!
As we went further out into the calm waters of Blackfish Sound heavy fog rolled in obscuring visibility. A minke had been recently spotted in the area so Wayne decided to cut the engine and just let the boat float and the sudden silence was peaceful but eerie. Luckily, instead of a ghost ship appearing through the fog we spotted the minke. It didn’t stay too long but whetted our appetite to see more.
After that things got pretty quiet with only occasional seals, eagle, sea bird (rhinoceros auklet, pigeon guillemot) and Dalls porpoise sightings. Robin got us together in the lounge to give a talk about resident orca pods in the area. She played tapes of various pod vocalizations and it was incredible how distinctively different each pod sounds.
Just when we were starting to get discouraged Wayne got a tip to head up Johnstone Straight toward Malcolm Island. All of a sudden my friend Ron let out a yell, "Whales at 11 o’clock" and sure enough, about 200 meters in the distance was a pod of orcas. Wayne killed the engine and obligingly the pod came closer until they were only 50 meters from the boat. Robin identified them as resident pod A12. The whales were in formation with two large males flanking the matriarch and other pod members. Robin explained they were in "resting mode" – half asleep but still alert to what was happening around them. They stayed nearby for about 5 minutes and then slowly made their way towards a small fishing boat in the distance – probably hoping for a snack.
Before we knew it our tour was over and the boat headed back to the dock, filled with damp but satisfied passengers.
Tours run at 9 am and 1 pm with additional ones at 5:30 pm in July and Aug. Reservations are required. Dress warmly, preferably in layers and be prepared for rain.