ID photo of "Dusty" the grey whale by Christie McMillan. See the Marine Education and Research Society blog for many more photos and detail on Dusty (link below).

Two more unique whale events have been documented in the ocean corridor between Port McNeill, Sointula and Alert Bay (Northern Vancouver Island, B.C.,Canada).

Following the remarkable “visit” of offshore* killer whales at the end of March, on May 16th what is likely the largest group of marine mammal-eating** killer whales ever documented swam past our communities.

It is possible that there were up to 37 different animals in this group. These killer whales, as hunters of marine mammal prey, need to have a culture of stealth and unpredictability and therefore usually travel in small groups. It should be noted that the work of the Orca Lab documented this extraordinary encounter (both visually and acoustically) and that DFO expertise determined the IDs of the whales. (Click here for OrcaLab’s blog on the encounter). 

Then, this last week, we had frequent sightings of a little grey whale in front of our communities. Grey whales are already a rarity in our specific area but what makes this whale really unique is that s/he is potentially the first grey whale known to become a summer “resident” here.

Jared Towers and Christie McMillan (of the Marine Education and Research Society /MERS) confirmed that this is the same grey whale that they kept an eye on last year. From June to early October 2010, the whale was more often around Cormorant Island and the east end of Malcolm Island and became known as “Dusty” and “LGW” (Little Grey Whale). Dusty is relatively easy to identify as an individual because its tail bears the evidence of having survived an attack by mammal-eating killer whales and because there are distinct markings on its flanks including the larger white spot seen in the image above. 

This May 31st, Christie and Jared confirmed that Dusty had returned to the area and was the whale that many of us in Port McNeill, Sointula and Alert Bay had the great privilege of seeing while it fed near our shores. (Click here for Jared and Christie’s MERS blog with far more detail on Dusty and includes pictures). 

If we are indeed so lucky that Dusty is able to “make a living” by feeding here, we’ll be able to whale watch from land with some predictability.  We will also need to be good marine neighbours, since Dusty has been sighted very near the harbours of our communities and can surface very unexpectedly. 

* Offshore killer whales are most often near the continental shelf and their diet has been confirmed to include sharks. Click here for a previous “The Marine Detective” blog on the offshore killer whales sighted at the end of March, 2011. 

** The mammal-eating killer whales are known as “transients” and “Bigg’s killer whales”. The latter name is a recent move to honour the late Dr. Michael Bigg, father of killer whale research. Recent research has found these to be the most genetically divergent type of killer whale and they may be recognized as a different species.

Record of possible sightings of Dusty as of June 7th. 

  • June 7 – Port McNeill 
  • June 8 – Alert Bay (Source – MERS, confirmed as Dusty)
  • June 9 – Campbell River. (Source – Susan MacKay, confirmed ) 
  • June 11 – Campbell River seen heading north (Source – via Susan MacKay) 
  • June 12 – passing by the Orca Lab, Blackfish Sound (Source Orca Lab; ID photos to come)
  • June 15 – Port McNeill