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It’s a whale of a tale from Victoria waters!

Over-wintering humpbacks and a new Bigg’s calf are spotted
Prince of Whales’ Brendon Bissonnette spotted a new calf with a pod of Bigg’s killer whales near Sooke recently. Brendon Bissonnette photo / courtesy Prince of Whales

When it comes to whales and wildlife here on the West Coast, it doesn’t get much more spectacular than the massive humpbacks.

Once hunted to the brink of extinction, humpbacks are in many ways a conservation success story, with their numbers rebounding as they travel their typical migration route between their “summer home” on the West Coast to winter breeding areas off the coast of Mexico and Hawaii.

So, while humpbacks are among the “stars” of summer and fall whale-watching season, with their recognizable tails and distinctive feeding styles, they aren’t commonly seen here during the winter. Until now.

Three adult humpbacks – BCX0401, BCX1212 and BCX1416 – were consistently seen in South Island waters between January and February, notes Mark Malleson, with Prince of Whales Whale Watching.

In fact, every year the humpbacks get sighted later, although it’s not known why at this point – it could be a trend that they’re not migrating or possibly migrating later in the season as calving happens earlier in the year, suggests Malleson, who has 27 years of experience working in the industry in Victoria. He also assists research by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Centre for Whale Research.

Other possibilities for the change could include feeding habits. Because they feed here, for example, it could be that they’re too young to migrate and want to fatten up before taking such a journey.

New Bigg’s calf welcomed

Another highlight of the winter season involved the transient orcas, or Bigg’s killer whales.

The Prince of Whales team encountered five Bigg’s killer whales off Bentinck Island, slowly moving west close to shore in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Otter Point, near Sooke.

The new Bigg’s killer whale calf spotted recently off Otter Point remained closest to 13-year-old T086A3, or “Tyndall.” Brendon Bissonnette photo / courtesy Prince of Whales

Catching sight of the small pod while exploring the Salish Sea with Malleson, Prince of Whales’ Brendon Bissonnette identified the five whales as the T071Bs and T086A3 … with a new calf!

The calf, which appeared to be in good condition, remained closest to 13-year-old T086A3, or “Tyndall,” primarily in the echelon position, or alongside but slightly behind Tyndall.

“While the mother’s identity will not be officially confirmed until the calf is encountered again, if the calf does indeed belong to T086A3 this would be her first-known calf,” Bissonnette notes, adding that Tyndall’s older sister was also spotted with a new calf in September 2023. “We’re excited to see this family growing.”

Spring is the ideal time to get out on the water to enjoy the whales, along with seals and sea lions, porpoises, sea otters, abundant bird life and more. Prince of Whales’ zodiac tours continue year-round, with the large boat tours resuming March 28 – book your tour here!