We almost hate to use the phrase apex predator when referring to BC’s Northern Resident Killer Whales, but, it’s an apt description — these animals are the top of the food chain, which is why so many folks arrive at Orca Camp just a little bit jittery at the prospect of kayaking with whales in Orca waters. They need not be.
Understanding Killer Whale Culture
Our kayak guides take great care in helping our guests understand the unique characteristics and behaviours of the Northern Resident Killer Whales and, as part of that process, we try to emphasize the cultural similarities between humans and the Northern Resident whales. This is not anthropomorphism — where humans attach human behaviours to animals, nope. Rather it is an education on the distinct culture unique to Northern Resident Killer Whales. According to the BC Cetacean Sighting Network (part of the Vancouver Aquarium), after humans, Killer Whales have some of the most complex cultures and social structures of any species on the planet. One such characteristic of these animals? They play. They play with each other. They play in kelp beds and at rubbing beaches. They even seem to play with us.
One of our recent groups got to see firsthand, just how playful Northern Resident killer whales can be, with an impromptu game of “Peek-a-Boo” with A-55, Echo, a 26-year old male from the A1 Pod, A Clan, A-12 Matriline.
Our group was paddling after lunch, slowly making their way back to base camp, keeping a watchful eye out for whale activity when suddenly, they saw the telltale sign of Orcas — a black fin slicing the water ahead. Rafted up together as close to the beach as possible, the group watched in wonder as A-55, Echo, surfaced and dove repeatedly nearby their boats.
“He wouldn’t just surface and dive again. He’d come up slowly and tilt onto his side and watch us with one of his eyes above the surface,” says assistant guide (and wildlife photographer), Jordan.
As curious as we are when whales approach, it seems they’re just as curious about us.
Jordan marvels, “He would just lay there, floating and watching us before disappearing again and repeating but in a different place, constantly keeping us guessing where he’d be next.”
A game of peek-a-boo or a game of hide and seek, we wondered. “Definitely peek-a-boo,” says Jordan. “With a six foot dorsal fin it’s easy to see where he is before he completely surfaces.”
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