Aaron's Eaglemaster Log

Hello from Sonora Island!

My name is Aaron Nagler, and I am a wildlife guide at Sonora Resort in the Discovery Islands of British Columbia. Each week, I'll be recording the wildlife encounters that guests and I experience aboard Sonora's eco-adventure boat, the Eaglemaster.

Over the past five seasons I have had the privilege of witnessing the natural wonders of this beautiful place from early May through mid October, and I'm looking forward to sharing weekly notes, photographs and video with you through this blog. I hope to share the seasonal flow of the natural world here with you as we move from the snow-capped spring with its wildflowers and bears on the shoreline, to summer whale watching, and finally to our grizzly bear tours in the fall. 

In the past few days:

One very unusual (and wonderful) aspect of this spring has been the large number of "transient" or mammal-eating killer whales that have been hunting seals and porpoises in the channels around us. Usually these stealthy predators travel in small groups and are only occasionally sighted in these parts, but this spring we have seen groups of twenty or more, and they've been an almost regular feature on our wildlife viewing excursions. A few ago days ago, we had the very rare opportunity to watch five of these predators chase, catch and devour a Dall's porpoise just a couple of miles from Sonora.

We were drifting in the Eaglemaster, watching the group swim slowly along, seemingly at rest, when a small herd of Dall's porpoise suddenly broke the surface as short distance away, and the chase was on! Unbeknownst to us, the killer whales had actually been quietly stalking their prey all the while. As the chase gathered speed, one of the pursuing orca leapt completely out of the water several times, probably attempting to crush a porpoise - and it must have worked - after the final leap, all was quiet on the surface for a few moments.

A few seconds later, all five orca (one of which was a young calf), broke the surface and began to splash and frolic as they shared the kill, while an enormous flock of gulls gathered to pick up the scraps of their meal. I didn't manage to get a good photo of the actual kill but I did get this shot of the gull and flocking over the whales. This tumbling and splashing continued for close to half an hour before the whales continued on their way. 

I don't know why the transient killer whales have been hunting here more frequently and in larger numbers in recent years, but I will be interested to see if they continue the trend this season. Perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of some significant change in their behaviour in this region? I look forward to sharing more with you next week in another instalment of the Eaglemaster Log.

 

Here are a few more pictures from the week:

The character of each spring here in the Discovery Islands is unique and only reveals itself slowly as the days pass. Changes in distant ocean currents and weather systems are reflected in changes in the growth, presence or absence and behaviour of the many plant and animal species that live around us in these islands.

 

As I mentioned in my last Eaglemaster Log, this spring has been the latest and slowest growing that I have seen here. As a result, there are many environmental consequences. One of the most striking aspects of this season has been our regular sightings of grizzly bears along the mainland shoreline. The salmon berries, huckleberries, thimbleberries and others that are usually ripe by this time of year, are still hard and green on the bushes, and so the grizzly bears can still be spotted in the mouths of rivers and streams, grazing on sedges and other plants, and snuffling along the beaches, munching on mussels and barnacles and rolling over rocks in search of little crabs.

I love the gentle irony of watching these beautiful grizzlies grazing contentedly - like big furry cows - just a few meters away from us. The reality is that they are far from being the vicious monster that we imagine. The grizzly bears that I see spend most of their time nose down, quietly munching away on some kind of vegetable matter. Come with me and see these real bears in their natural habitat. For more information on our Grizzly Bear tours, read here.