Get a jump on whale spotting

Pods becoming easier to see.

Get a jump on whale spotting

Spotting whales and dolphins was easier than usual this year. Orcas (killer whales) spent much of the summer in Active Pass and along local shores, delighting ferry travelers and boaters.

Humpbacks were regularly observed in B.C. waters, Pacific white-sided dolphins cruised through Howe Sound, and gray whales thrilled Vancouverites and tourists, from Granville Island to Kits Beach.

Marine mammals are doing better than a few decades ago, when hunting, aquarium capture and ocean pollutants had brought many to the brink of extinction.

We also know much more about them.

Only in the 1970s did biologist Michael Biggs discover that there are completely separate orca populations, with different morphology, diet, and sounds.

Near the Fraser estuary, we have resident and transient orcas.

The southern residents, grouped in J, K and L pods, feed on chinook, other salmon, and squid; they are most commonly seen here between June and October.

They travel in large family groups, led by a matriarch, and stay together their whole lives.

These orcas are on the endangered species list.

Transient orca pods normally consist of the matriarch, the eldest male offspring and, at most, one or two other offspring.

They move fast and erratically along the coast, chasing down their prey of harbour seals, seal lions, and other marine mammals.

Their numbers may have increased in recent years, as more are being seen.

The False Creek gray whale made international news, yet these gentle giants are regular visitors to the mouth of the Fraser River and Boundary Bay on spring migration.

They churn up amphipod crustaceans by rolling on the mud bottom of the bay, sifting the tiny creatures through great baleen plates in their mouths.

A few spend each summer feeding in Boundary Bay and are visible from Crescent Beach in Surrey.

They are part of a slowly increasing population of “seasonally resident” gray whales, maternally guided from Baja California to their feeding grounds and showing site fidelity in subsequent years.

The rest of the eastern Pacific population, about 26,000 animals, travels up the coast from Baja to spend the summer off Alaska; they leave northern waters in mid-October and arrive back in Mexico in December.

This tremendous migration, over 8,000 km one way, is one of the longest of all the mammals, challenged only by the humpback whale, a species which is also slowly returning to the Georgia Strait.

Like the gray whale, humpbacks were hunted out and took decades to return.

The northern Pacific population, fewer than 1,400 in 1966, is now about 20,000.

This success in restoring whales to the Strait is heart warming and shows what can be done with good legislation.

To ensure whales and dolphins survive into the future, sustained effort is needed to maintain food sources, eliminate pollution, and prevent boat-mammal collisions.

For more information and to report observations, visit the Orca Sightings Network website at

Anne Murray is the author of two nature books: A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay and Tracing Our Past – A Heritage Guide to Boundary Bay, available at bookstores. Visit

Surrey North Delta Leader

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia’s (CFSEU-BC) Uniform Gang Enforcement Team (UGET) has arrested a man who was on the run for nearly a decade. (File photo)
9-year search for international drug trafficking suspect ends with arrest at YVR

Khamla Wong, charged in 2012, taken into custody Feb. 24 by BC-CFSEU

Pixabay image
Surrey council moves to update city’s telecommunication antennas policy

But councillor says health and safety protocols are nearly 40 years old

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum speaks at a press conference in August about provincial government approval of the city’s change to a municipal force, joined by councillors (from left) Mandeep Nagra, Allison Patton and Doug Elford. Members of the National Police Federation claim there is still no transition plan in place although Surrey RCMP’s contract with the city is due to end March 31.(File photo)
National Police Federation members slam Surrey police transition to Surrey Board of Trade

During virtual meeting, bargaining unit representatives say municipal force ‘not a done deal’

Boosh Food founder Connie Marples (right) delivers some Boosh Food items to Christine Mohr, CEO of Options Community Services, in December, 2020. Boosh Food has just moved their operations to Cloverdale. (Photo: Moonraker PR)
Boosh Food moves to Cloverdale

‘Plant-based comfort food’ company moving to 65A Avenue

B.C. Court of Appeal in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Court makes public ‘abbreviated’ reasons for judgment in Surrey Six slaying appeals

Six men were murdered in suite 1505 of the Balmoral Tower in Whalley on Oct. 19, 2007

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Shaelene Keeler Bell. (Facebook)
Candlelight vigil planned for Chilliwack mother missing for four weeks

Virtual event to ‘spread some light’ for 23-year-old Shaelene Bell of Chilliwack

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Vancouver International Women in Film Festival kicks off March 5.
Women in Film Festival features two B.C. filmmakers

The 16th annual festival kicks off March 5, 2021

The booklet roots present day activism in the history of racist policies, arguing the history must be acknowledged in order to change. (CCPA)
New resource dives into 150 years of racist policy in B.C.

Racist history must be acknowledged in order to change, authors say

Most Read