Disembarking Kumealon, we left atop glassy waters warmed by sun breaks, excited for our adventures to the historic coastal town of Prince Rupert. We were joined by a few fishing and pleasure vessels last night, making for a scenic anchorage with everyone’s anchor lights against the waters. As most of us prepared to set off back onto our routes this morning, there was a handful of crew aboard the other vessels still anchored that were readying for their own day’s adventures in the inlet. With the sun higher in the sky, it was turning out to be the perfect day for it.
Tiding up to shipshape, we stowed lines and secured our vessels, reentering Grenville Channel. This will be our final stretch through Grenville, and as the fleet left Kumealon in a single file, we were off to a smooth start for a 36 nautical mile cruise.
Grenville Channel is 45 nautical miles long, .2 nautical miles wide at its most narrow point, and along our passage through we made 2 different stops for anchorage. Previously known as Greenville Canal, it was renamed by George Vancouver after William Wyndham Grenville, a British statesman. According to acquired dispatches from the late 1800’s, it was used primarily by the British Royal Navy to travel between the British Columbia Kitimat and Metlakatla. However, locals call this channel, “The Ditch”, as it can be a rather uneventful crossing.
We exited Grenville into Ogden Channel and as we kept Porcher Island on our port, we passed Kennedy Island to our starboard and spotted a grouping of Bald Eagles that caught the entire fleet’s attention. We had yet to see a gathering of Bald Eagles this size, and what made this moment so memorable, was the number of juveniles accompanying the mature individuals. Bald Eagles don’t molt into their mature feathers until they are around 4 to 5 years of age, and until that process they are often mistaken as hawks or even Golden Eagles. Much larger than a hawk, but similar in size to a Golden Eagle, the easiest way to rule out a Golden Eagle while identifying a juvenile Bald Eagle is by their plumage. Golden Eagles stay quite uniformly dark brown, whereas juvenile Bald Eagles flux between a light brown feathering that shifts to a molted white as they age, then shedding these feathers for their striking mature plumage of a classic white head and white-tailed appearance.
Entering Malacca Passage and weaving through the islets off Digby Island’s southern end, we kept Kaien Island on our starboard side and pulled into Cow Bay Marina at Prince Rupert. Cow Bay Marina was originally known as Cameron Cove, but in 1908 was renamed when a herd of cows was unloaded for a dairy farm off a barge. Officially established in 1910, Prince Rupert has held rich history for thousands of years as an intersection of trade and commerce for First Nations people and early settlers.
Tied up and secure, each crew headed into town to explore the seaside shops and restaurants, stabilizing their sea legs, and getting a taste for the local ambiance. A while after we all made our way up the docks, there was a hustle and bustle lofting around about a possible pod of Orcas headed our way south from Tuck Inlet. Working our way back down to the boat, we made it just time to get front row seats. Scanning the surface of the water for a bit, we finally spotted two pods of Transient Orcas on either side of the water way cruising right by us.
There were 4 animals closest to our dock, with 3 others cruising further offshore. As they surfaced next to our vessels, we were able to ID them as a transient pod given the number of individuals, and the distinct markings on their back. Behind an Orca’s dorsal fin lies what is called a “saddle patch”. This patch is a light grey marking that grows more opaque with age and flanks a short ways down both sides of their body.
When deciphering a species of Orca here in the inland waterways of the Pacific Ocean, there are 3 different groupings we often seen: Northern Residents, Southern Residents, and the Transient families. Transient individuals have a solid patch, while residents have a patch with a bit of a whisp, or an openness to them. These markings are clearly distinguishable when spotted, so much so that researchers can document and tag pictures of a specific patches to help discern certain individuals, comparable to a “fingerprint.”
The first tell tale of being alongside a resident pod is the number of individuals you are watching. All linages of Orca species are structed through a matriline hierarchy. The oldest female of the pod is the dominant individual, and the entirety of a resident pod’s family tree will stick together, sometimes equating to over 30 individuals seen traveling together.
When you are observing a transient pod, the number of members is significantly smaller, unless there are multiple families present. The mother of transient family leads her pod, and her children will stay close by, making for a pod not often larger than 6 or 7. However, when a transient female is sexually mature and ready to break off and create her own family pod, she will independently do so. Thus, this act keeps transient pods quite small. All the while, a male transient orca will most often stay with his mother and break off to only mate and hunt, then falling back in line with his family pod.
As the sun lowered, we all soaked in the day and spent time watching it set. With dinners wrapping up and vessels preparing to take off tomorrow morning, some of us stepped away to visit with other boats, chatting about our experiences so far and sharing the ones we are still looking forward to. Tomorrow will be our last anchorage and our last longest voyage of 51 nautical miles, headed into Foggy Bay, officially crossing into Alaska!
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