The waters of B.C. saw a record-setting number of Bigg’s killer whale – or transient orca – sightings last year.
In 2023, a total of 1,413 unique transit orcas sightings were recorded, up about 14 per cent compared to the 1,220 sightings recorded in 2022, according to the Orca Behavior Institute (OBI).
The institute adds that last year’s total as an even more dramatic increase compared to one decade ago.
“To put into perspective just how much things have changed, especially for those newer to watching whales in the Salish Sea, this represents a more than eight-fold increase in sightings from just 10 years ago,” said the OBI in as social media post Wednesday.
The institute says that while the fall remains the busiest season for sightings of transient orcas in B.C., there are a growing number of sightings year-round in the region.
“The answer to ‘when can I see Bigg’s in the Salish Sea?’ is now ‘almost anywhere at any time,’ but the seasonal peak in August and September first noted for Bigg’s in the 1980s and 1990s still holds true,” wrote the OBI.
The highest number of transient orcas sightings last year was in August, when 200 unique sightings were recorded.
The fewest number of sightings was recorded in February, when 30 unique encounters were reported.
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Bigg’s killer whales primarily feed on pinnipeds, such as seals, sea lions and porpoises.
While their population seems to be thriving, the same can’t be said for their critically endangered cousins, the southern resident killer whales (SRKW).
There’s only an estimated 73 SRKWs left in the wild. These orcas, which primarily feed on salmon, recently celebrated a birth around Christmas Day, but also mourned a death, which the Center for Whale Research announced this week.