As is typical of most days, we planned our trip according to wildlife reports from other whale watching captains. Our only real lead as far as whale sightings today, were two humpbacks heading south, fast. By the time we ended up catching them, they were entering the Straight of Juan de Fuca off of Discovery Island, near Victoria, BC. But that wasn’t before we had to drive 1.5 hours through 5-foot swells all the way across Haro Straight–what can I say, people really wanted whales. Luckily though, M/V Sea Lion is equipped with an indoor cabin, highly fashionable, floor-length yellow rain slickers, and a whole lot of railings to hold on to. Our guests were troopers and were just super stoked to see humpbacks, and rightfully so! The humpbacks we encountered were Big Mama and her calf, affectionately known as Poptart. These guys have been in the Salish Sea for the last few days and they never disappoint, but especially not today.
Now just as a quick background on myself, which is relevant to why I found this particular sighting so fascinating, I have a B.S. in Animal Behavior. Which means that in college, I took classes that covered just about every aspect of animal behavior, including play. Play is difficult to define, but overall is accepted roughly as an expenditure of energy with no clear internal or external goal being met. One theory is that play (especially because it is more frequently observed in young individuals), is practice for some useful adult behavior, the main event, so to speak. Today, PopTart, Big Mama’s <1 year-old calf, seemed to just be having a grand ‘ol time at the surface, presumably playing in the waves. I counted at least 4 peduncle throws (throwing tail and rear half of body out of the water), probably 7 chin slaps (raising “chin” out of the water and slamming it down on the surface), a few pec waves (pectoral fins waving willy nilly in the air), and 1 half breach (body fully out of the water–although in this case, half of his/her body). In this situation, if the calf is indeed a male, the “play-for-practice” theory makes a lot of sense. As an adult male on the breeding grounds, this whale will need to breach, pec slap, chin slap, tail slap, peduncle throw, and more in the competition pods in Hawaii. These behaviors are of course impressive to see in adults that can be up to 50 feet long, but in this ~15 foot calf, who is just learning the ropes, they were the cutest, most wonderful cherry on top of an already exciting humpback whale sighting.
M/V Sea Lion