A group of Bigg's Orca's (Transients) spotted in the Salish Sea Friday (Photo: PWWA)

A group of Bigg’s Orca’s (Transients) spotted in the Salish Sea Friday (Photo: PWWA)

More than 50 mammal-eating Bigg’s orcas were spotted in the waters off southern Vancouver Island Friday, in what experts say is a show of what the difference in food sources can make.

Members of the Pacific Whale Watch Association spotted the transient orcas in three groups. One had five families near the San Juan Islands and each family had a calf under the age of two-years-old with them.

The other two groups were seen in the Strait of Georgia.

“Seeing that many in one day was pretty unusual and great,” said a spokesperson for the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

“The PWWA share on radios and when they get excited about something it’s a big deal… and the fact there are so many calves in that group in the San Juan Islands [is fantastic].”

The following groups were spotted:

  • Five families off the San Juan Islands: T49As, T65Bs, T75Bs, T75Cs, T123s
  • Ten families in the Strait of Georgia: T18s, T86As, T99s, T101s, T36, T36As, T36Bs, T137s, T87, T124C
  • A final two groups in the  Strait of Georgia: T124As and T124Ds.
A calf seen with the T75C family, that was spotted of the San Juan Islands (Photo: PWWA)

A calf seen with the T75C family, that was spotted off the San Juan Islands (Photo: PWWA)

The association attributes their thriving numbers to their diet. They feed on mammals like seals and sea lions, unlike the endangered southern residents who feed on Chinook salmon.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada reported back in December that out of Canada’s 16 Chinook populations, eight are endangered, four are threatened and one is considered of special concern.

Experts stress that the survival of Chinook salmon is the key to the survival of the Southern Residents.

Both the Bigg’s and residents use echolocation to find their food.

“It’s important for people to see the differences between the whales in our waters… it [all] goes back to their food source,” added the PWWA.

The T049A pod (Photo: Gary Sutton)

 (Photo: Gary Sutton

Julian Kolsut