A Rare Visit from Risso’s Dolphins! – 29/7/22

Today started out just like most days during the whale watching season. I was captain this day so as I entered the office I greeted the staff and had a quick morning chat before I grabbed the keys to my favourite boat, got my lifejacket and my standing platform (ok it’s really just a stool for me to stand on since I’m so short lol) and headed down to the dock. While getting the boat ready I planned out our search pattern for the morning with the other captains (so we all don’t search the same area) and then waited for my passengers to arrive with my naturalist for the day, Sara. It was a beautiful day to be on the water, glorious sunshine and stunningly flat calm seas. We headed out enjoying the views and searching for whales. As we searched, another vessel radioed that they had spotted some Risso’s dolphins!

Palpable excitement permeated the air as we all got very excited to hear there were some rare, very rare visitors in our area. The other vessel wasn’t able to stay with them but the seas were calm and flat and they shouldn’t be a problem to pick up again. We continued our search for whales as we started to angle in that direction. We were bound and determined to find these animals but as we were approaching the area the Risso’s had last been spotted, we were waylaid by a familiar dorsal fin and fluke. Orion, one of the humpback whales who regularly return to this area each year, popped up just ahead of us.

We let everyone know we found Orion, then enjoyed some alone time with him/her until some of the other boats arrived. As much as I love Orion, and I really, really do, I cannot for one moment even suggest that I wasn’t a little bit disappointed… I wanted to be the one to find the Risso’s again. Please don’t be mad at me, Orion, I still love you very, very much!!

One of the other boats had been heading in the direction of the Risso’s report from a different direction and was able to make it to the Risso’s general area. When they first spotted them though, they were backlit by the sun and looked very dark in colour, so there was a few minutes where they were mistaken for Orca.

I was asked if I could come over and identify what type of Orca they were. So I left Orion with another vessel and headed over. As we approached the animals, Sara and I looked at each other… these animals weren’t orca, they were the Risso’s we were hoping to see!!!! Our excitement was through the roof!!!

I have worked in whale watching for 11 years and never had the opportunity to see these guys in the wild. And definitely never here in our local waters! They haven’t been recorded in the Salish Sea more than a handful of times. So this was very special!!!

Seeing how different their dorsal fins are from orca, all the scars on their bodies, their unique colouration, all of it left us enthralled and wanting more time with them.

On our morning tour, we saw them a bit more spread out at first. It looked like they might have been foraging, but foraging for what is the question. We saw at least one of the animals breach a couple times before they all came together into a tight group and started to make slow circles in the area.

We even got to just shutdown and listen to them breathe a few times.

Our second trip was much like the last half of our morning visit with these guys, quiet and calm and beautiful. We were thrilled that we were able to spend time with these guys on both tours.

We did also spend more time with Orion (can’t forget or leave out that incredible animal!!) both in the morning and in the afternoon. Orion was large and graceful as always but the Risso’s dolphins definitely stole the spotlight and were the highlight of the day for us.

It was definitely a day to remember!!


This post was adapted from a voice recording in the forty second episode of the Whale Tales Podcast, listen here

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