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Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island
Whale watching
Ben in Vancouver Island

Killer whale tours

Thursday, March 11, 2004
Ben is in Canada's picturesque Vancouver Island on a killer tour of a different kind.

In the 1920s, Telegraph Cove on the north-east coast of Vancouver Island was a sawmill village, with buildings on wooden pilings jutting over the water. Now fishermen go there for the excellent salmon, but the big attraction is killer whales.

Stubbs Island Whale Watching was founded in 1980 by Jim and Mary Borrowman, world-renowned whale-watching experts. Jim's love of the huge creatures began when he worked at the sawmill in the 1970s. He came into contact with them when delivering timber by boat and decided running tours would be wonderful.

He now has two boats. Nature cruises run from late May to mid-October in the calm, protected waters of Johnstone Strait and the Blackfish Archipelago. While they don't guarantee spotting a whale, they have more than 90 percent success. The boats, MV Lukwa and MV Gikumi are 17 metres long with toilets and heated cabins. Both have hydrophones fore and aft so you can hear the orca vocalisations. The six types of killer whale have very different vocabularies.

Killer whales have teeth and are referred to as wolves of the sea. Like wolves, they are stealthy hunters and work their pod to encircle and trap. They attack huge blue whales, seals, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins, turtles and sharks, diving up to 30 metres in pursuit of prey. The average orca eats around 250kg of food each day, particular migrating salmon, and they rip and tear their prey savagely. Their large throats allow them to swallow large beasts without chewing them.

Apart from humans, they have no predators, though old, sick or very young orcas can be attacked by sharks.

There are three populations of orcas along North America's west coast. They are genetically distinct and do not interact. In fact, observers say they avoid contact with each other. Researchers have named the three populations residents, transients and offshores.

Resident populations are comprised of genetically-related clans or extended family groups. They have established territories and predictable patterns of movement within those territories, travelling in groups of up to 20, scattered over a wide range. Northern residents range from southern Alaska to north and central Vancouver Island. Southern residents are found from the Campbell River south to Puget Sound.

Transients have neither established territories nor predictable movement. Their groups are just two to maybe six and they travel close to each other.

Researchers have recently had several encounters with the offshores, the third West Coast orca population. They prefer the open ocean and travel in pods of between 30 and 60.

The area is home to a wealth of other wildlife: Dall's and harbour porpoises, Pacific white-sided dolphin, sea lions, seals, Minke, humpback and grey whales. Bird lovers will delight in rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemots, harlequin ducks, sooty shearwaters and bald eagles.

Remember to dress warmly, even in summer, to get the most out of your adventure, which takes around three and a half hours.


Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island in Canada


Stubbs Island Tours start at around $85 per person and run from May to mid-October. Bookings can be made through Natural Focus Safaris in Australia.
Qantas flies daily to Los Angeles, with Alaska Airlines codeshare connections to Vancouver, starting at $2432 from Sydney, $2515 from Brisbane and Melbourne, $2839 from Adelaide, $3183 from Darwin and $3372 from Perth, per person. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of writing but may vary at time of booking. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.

More information

Natural Focus Safaris
259 Coventry Street
South Melbourne 3205
Ph: 1300 363 302 03 9696 2899
Fax: (03) 9696 4937

Stubbs Island Whale Watching
Box 2-2 Telegraph Cove
Vancouver Island BC V0N 3J0

Qantas: 13 13 13

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