British Columbia

Endangered resident killer whales, not seen for a month, spotted off Vancouver Island

Researchers at Fisheries and Oceans Canada report seeing all three southern resident killer whale pods, including a new calf born in May, off the coast of Vancouver Island last week.

Researchers report new calf born in May was swimming alongside its mother

Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirms members of all three pods of endangered southern resident killer whales have been spotted swimming off the west coast of Vancouver Island recently. (Twitter/DFO Pacific)

They're back!

Southern resident killer whales from all three pods have been spotted by federal researchers.

Scientists with Fisheries and Oceans Canada are celebrating after seeing members of K pod, L pod and J pod off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

A new calf, born to J31 in May, was also seen swimming alongside its mother.

The resident whales were not seen by scientists for an unusually long time prior to last week. They are normally spotted in the Salish Sea near Vancouver throughout June but were seen for the last time in May.

A southern resident orca breaches off the coast of Vancouver Island. (Twitter/DFO Pacific)

According to a statement from Fisheries and Oceans, researchers encountered four members of L pod on June 27 off Caramanah Point on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island at the entrance from the Pacific Ocean to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The same whales were spotted at approximately the same location the following day.

On Sunday, June 30, a large number of J pod whales, including mom and calf, and K pod whales were seen near Pachena Lighthouse, also off the southern west coast of the island. Members of L pod were also identified that day in the same spot.

The whales were all spotted off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. (CBC News)

Healthy and robust

Monika Weiland Shields, co-founder of the Orca Behaviour Institute in Washington state, saw members of J pod and K pod off San Juan Island in the Haro Strait on July 5.

She estimates she saw about 40 whales swimming up and down the island's west coast Friday morning.

Shields told On The Coast guest host Jason D'Souza the whales she saw, including the new calf, looked healthy and robust.

"They looked pretty happy to be back," said Shields, who saw them breaching, tail-slapping and playing in the kelp just a few metres off-shore. 

It was a welcome sight to Shields, who told D'Souza it was the first June on record the whales had not passed by the island and that in past years they would have been there daily. 

"There were lots of hugs this morning among those of us in the whale community," said Shields.

The southern resident killer whales are listed as a species at risk in Canada. (Twitter/DFO Pacific)

According to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, the whale sightings in the Haro Strait Friday morning marks the kick off of the port's Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation Program (ECHO) trial in the area.

The program is a collaboration with the marine transportation industry and government that involves the voluntary slowdown of vessels in the Haro Strait and Boundary Pass between Washington state and British Columbia.

The goal of the trial is to reduce underwater noise reduction in areas where the southern resident whales forage for food.

For more on the future of the Southern Resident Killer Whales ... you'll want to listen to a new CBC British Columbia podcast. "Killers: J pod on the brink" is hosted by Gloria Macarenko. The first episode comes your way July 18.  Subscribe from wherever you get your podcasts