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Whale Reports | Whale Report 7

From Baffin Island to the Azores via Newfoundland and Labrador

Author Dave Snow, Wildland Tours

The Atlantic Whales website has always worked to bring together tourism operators and researchers. In 2009 two expedition cruise companies - Adventure Canada (one our sponsors!) and Cruise North passed along orca photos from Northern Baffin Island to us. When we passed along these photos to government scientists in Northern Canada they were very grateful for the information. It turns out these scientists were looking for these individual orcas and the photos were a valuable contribution to their research. Their arctic study was pioneering the use of radio tags on orcas. In August they managed to get a radio tag on two of the "at least 16 animals" that were in this group of arctic orcas.

Orcas have a patchy history in this part of the north. While they were known to the Inuit, for many years none were sighted. Perhaps it is the decline in arctic sea ice or it may be some other factor that has encouraged their return; but the one radio tag that kept working revealed a group of orcas feeding in the high arctic - apparently on harp seals and narwhals - from August until October when they started moving southward. Orca scientists everywhere were curious about what would happen next. Would these animals join the many orcas known to over-winter off Greenland or would they swim south to join the Newfoundland and Labrador orcas who we suspect are over-wintering on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland? On October 23 the radio tag showed the animals to be about 400 kilometres east of Cape Chidley , the most northern part of Labrador. Ten days later they were swimming off Funk Island, Newfoundland. Then they swam across the Atlantic to the Azores where the transmitter finally failed. This is the longest movement of orcas ever recorded. Perhaps these arctic orcas are the same animals known to hunt pygmy sperm whales and other small whales off the Azores.

The whale world is still abuzz as we ponder this incredible north-south-east journey. And we encourage orca watchers from the Azores to Newfoundland and Labrador to the arctic to check the saddle patches just behind the dorsal fins of any orcas they spot for these small dark tags which may still be hanging on. It will be interesting to see if the individuals with the attached satellite tags can be found and photographed again. They may have more surprises for us.

For further information on the research going on into the life history of these Atlantic orcas check out this page, which provides details about the ongoing research into the orcas of the Arctic, on the website Orcas of the Canadian Arctic.


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