Wednesday, 7 September 2016

For unforgettable whale watching check out Discovery Marine Safaris in Campbell River

Johanna, our naturalist helped us identify what we were seeing
by Keith and Heather Nicol   
 With a forecast of clearing skies and light winds on Tuesday, September 6 we joined a whale watching trip with Discovery Marine Safaris based out of Campbell River. We set sail aboard the Tenacious III at 1:30 pm with 23 on board and were accompanied by passengers who had come from all over to see the marine wildlife in this area. There were passengers from Australia, Germany, Norway and Vancouver! Besides us there was just one other couple from Vancouver Island and it struck us that maybe local people don’t know what is on their door step.  Our trip couldn’t have been better!

Our first whale sighting was a humpback named KC
 We first headed north between Campbell River and Quadra Island and then part way up Discovery Passage we unexpectedly did a big U turn and headed south. “We have reports of a humpback” our Captain Chris Behrens told us with a grin and off we went. The Tenacious III can travel at up to 25 knots (45 km /hour) so can cover lots of water in a hurry. Soon we could see the humpback known as KC and Johanna Ferrie our naturalist guide told us this whale was born in 2002 and comes back to this general area every summer. “We’ve seen this whale grow up since we see him several times each year” she told us.  After seeing KC go for another spectacular 3rd deep dive Chris said that there were reports of Orcas on the other side of Quadra Island .So we rounded the south end of Quadra with its scenic Cape Mudge Lighthouse and headed to the waters between Quadra and Reid Island.
One Orca swam right under the tour boat
   Here another whale watching vessel had located 4 Orcas which Johanna determined had the clinical names of T002C (the mother) and her offspring T002C1, T002C2 and T002C3. The mother was born in 1989 and her children were born in 2002, 2005 and 2011 respectively. T002C1 was a male which could be determined by the large dorsal fin .The sex of the other children is unknown yet since they had shorter dorsal fins and males don’t grow a larger fin until they are at least 10 years old, Johanna told us. Johanna also mentioned that these whales were sort of an anomaly in that they were marine mammal eating Orcas (as opposed to fish eating Orcas) but that they had a smallish home range and were often found in these waters. “Some transient or marine mammal eating Orcas range over huge distances but for some reason this grouping likes these waters-perhaps because there are lots of seals and sea lions for them to eat” she added.
The Orcas put on quite a show for over 2 hours
      With great excitement watched these whales for over 2 hours and occasionally Chris would reposition the tour boat since the whales were gradually working their way toward the Breton Islands off Quadra Island. The whales displayed some amazing behaviour during our visit, diving under the boat on a couple of occasions,  frequent tail flapping , and to our delight one even breached several times. Both Chris and Johanna told us we were getting a special show. We even saw the whales cruising past small rocky islands that had seals on them that were fortunately for the seals, just out of reach. Then it was off to “The Gorge” on Cortes Island, an interesting bay with a cliff complete with Native Indian petroglyphs. Lastly, we paid a visit to seemingly barren Mitlenatch Island. This rocky island initially seems lifeless from a distance but on closer inspection is teeming with birds and has been designated as a Nature Provincial Park for its sea bird colonies, especially pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots and others.  For one more type of very interesting animal to observe there was a large grouping of noisy stellar sea lions along the southern end of the island. 

There were many good viewing areas on the Tenacious III
     As we headed back to home base Johanna reviewed what we had seen and how lucky we had been with our sightings but pointed out the difficulties facing orcas and other marine life in the Georgia Strait. We can’t say enough good things about the tour and recommend it to anyone wanting a memorable day on the water. Discovery Marine Safaris also does grizzly bear trips and several of the passengers on board had done that trip the previous day and raved about it. We will have to check that trip out as well in the near future. For more information on Discovery Marine Safaris see:  to find out which tours are sailing and their exact times.     
There were lots of  sea lions and bird life on Mitlenatch Island


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