July 2, 2004
I awoke for my 0600 shift to see the gorgeous Queen Charlotte Islands arising from the mist, resembling a scene from "Middle Earth." The waters of Queen Charlotte brought a diversity of cetaceans and today, I made my first sighting of sperm whales and fin whales. The characteristic low forward blow of the sperm whale and the high thin blow of the fin whale are now easily distinguishable for me from the humpback blow.
The Queen Charlotte's were also the locale of our first sighting of killer whales, also known as orca whales (Orca orcinus). The killer whales are not easily confused with any other cetacean, as their prominent dorsal fin and distinguishing saddle patch cut through the water. SPLASH scientist Michael Richlen is an orca expert and he spent some time explaining the various ecotypes and how to identify them by their physical characteristics and behaviors. The first ecotype, also known as the "resident" type, tend to occur closer to shore, and are thought to consume primarily fish. They travel in fairly large pods and have strong matrilinear family ties. The second ecotype, the "transient" type, are thought to consume primarily mammals, including seals, porpoises and other cetaceans, and tend to travel in smaller pods than the resident orcas. It is interesting that the two ecotypes are so genetically distinct that it is thought that interbreeding between the two is highly improbable. The final ecotype, the so-called "offshore" type, is the least documented, but is genetically distinct from either the transient and resident types. The residents that we encountered today were photographed from the left flank, to match the saddle patches with other catalogues.
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