From October through April we have Stellar Sea Lions hanging out at Bold Bluff. They are fun to watch as they enjoy physical contact and often snooze together in groups, creating aquatic ballets. The males can weigh up to 2,500 pounds when they are fully grown. On a recent Bold Bluff hike, I was surprised to see a sea lion with numbers branded on its left side. Never have I seen this before.
At home, I sent a photo to Orca Network on Whidbey Island, WA to see if they had information on branding sea lions. Susan Berta and Howard Garrett tracked this sea lion down to Rogue Reef, OR in 2001, when scientists branded 179 sea lion pups. (Hence the “R”). This sea lion was #23 of the 179 branded that year.
Through the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in WA state, I found out this was a male who swam to SE Alaska where he hung out for 5-6 years. Recently he has been seen on the West Coast of Vancouver Island and now at Bold Bluff, Salt Spring Island, BC. The scientist who provided this information, Pat Gearin, thinks he is heading back down to Rogue Reef, OR where he will attempt to establish a breeding territory – when he is a bit bigger – in a year or two. (Neither the USA or Canada brands marine mammals anymore).
Branded Sea Lion 23R at Bold Bluff
What a gift of a day! On April 15, 2011 my neighbour phoned to say there were two orcas travelling south in Sansum Narrows. I found them by Burial Island and followed them for 45 minutes in my Boston Whaler with my Shepadoodle dog, Daisy. They were a beautiful sight, surfacing together and diving. We left them at Cherry Point and on our way home the ocean simply exploded in action near Burial Island, a tiny rock where seals haul out. Transient Orcas eat seals, so I assumed these were Transients having a feast.
My memory card was full, so I zipped home and fetched the 2 fellows pruning my orchard, begging them to come out and see the spectacular sight – a once in a life-time encounter. Dave drove the boat, I took photos, and Raj got to experience it! There were lots of babies and we thought there were at least 40 – 50 whales. I had no idea what the whales were doing because I was behind my camera, snapping photos wherever action occurred.
These whales hung out and had a boisterous party for six hours in front of my house! At home, I alerted Graeme Ellis and John Ford, marine mammal biologists in Nanaimo, BC. They came down to Bold Bluff by boat and recorded 31 Transients. This is highly unusual, as these whales usually travel in small groups of 3 – 8 whales. Not until I downloaded my photos did I see what they were actually doing.
Transient Orca Party! If you look closely, there is a baby in this photo. Can you see it?