The Latest News on Corky - March 1998

Clear Orca Calls in Blackfish Sound

In mid morning, Paul [Spong] walked out to the lab to check the hydrophone system we use to listen for whales on. There was dreadful boat noise on both the stations in Johnstone Strait, but there was no boat noise in Blackfish Sound. He turned the gain up on the Flower Island hydrophone... and heard, in the distance, clear orca calls! It was such a suprise, Paul forgot to start a recording for a moment, then did, and listened. They were the calls of the A5 pod, Corky's family, and there were lots of them. It wasn't the fact of hearing A5 calls so much, as their location and number. All year so far, practically every day, we've heard A5 calls in Johnstone Strait. Hearing them keeps loneliness at bay, and recording them has been part of our routine. The sounds we've been hearing have come from just two members of the pod, the adult males A5 & A26 (Top Notch & Foster). We know that for sure, because we've been out in the Strait enough to know that only they have been there. Once, on February 11th, the I15s came in, briefly, we thought to snatch the two brothers... but after a night's revelry with their friends, they came back. And have been here ever since. It's been very interesting, listening to them meander back & forth in Johnstone Strait, grabbing the occasional bite to eat and making an occasional call. Our habit has become hearing a call or two in the middle of the night, running out to the lab to start a recording, going back to bed, & listening to a long silence before the next call. The boys, we figure, are really good at putting out a single call just before the end of a tape, or one just after it ends... keeps us awake, & keeps us burning up tape. The oddest thing about all this time has been the fixation that A5 & A26 have had on Johnstone Strait. Apart from the one excursion with the I15s, they've never ventured out of it. Until yesterday.

There were lots of A5 calls in Blackfish Sound, and a good variety of them... so we thought there must be more members of Corky's family there than just A5 & A26. Helena's guess was that it was the A23's, Corky's immediate family.... but she couldn't be sure. The tide was flooding, and the calls got louder, and eventually we heard close echolocation on Flower Island, so we kept our fingers crossed, hoping they would come through Blackney Pass & let us see them. As the tide dropped towards slack, and they still hadn't come into view, we considered for a moment whether to go out in the June Cove, to be sure. We resisted the temptation, and finally, were rewarded!

Suddenly, there were calls on Parson Island, at the entrance to Johnstone Strait. We immediately thought that A5 & A26 had come into Blackney from the Strait, to meet the others. But the first whale we saw was headed into the Strait, not from it. We caught a glimpse of a male dorsal fin going down quickly, someone in a hurry... and a few more surfacings later became convinced it was Okisollo, A27, Corky's brother! He looked to be in a major hurry, we thought probably heading towards A5 & A26, who we guessed might still be in the Strait, but suddenly he stopped & turned around, coming close to our Parson Island hydrophone, where he let out a clear N4 call. GREAT!... we always love it when we get an individual voice on tape, because it will help us, one day, to sort out who's who. Anyway, by then Helena had spotted another male, mid channel, just to the left of the lab. "It's A5!" she shouted. That put the theory about the boys still being in the Strait into the waste basket, and for a moment we wondered whether we'd been mistaken about A27... maybe that was really A26, & all the calls had been from the two brothers? Not so. As A5 took a very long dive, eluding our search, Helena spotted another whale, this time a female, also mid channel, directly across from us & travelling fast towards the Strait.

Eventually, after missing her full profile a couple of times, Paul managed to see her clearly enough to be convinced it was A23, Stripe, Corky's mum! Yahoo! Then A5 surfaced, A26 right beside him, the two brothers breathing as one, dorsal fins shining black in the bright light... even after all these years, quite enough to take our breath away. A couple of minutes later, along came two other smaller fins, who, by the time we got our 'scopes properly focused on, turned out to be three... a mum & a kid + another. Corky's sister A43, Ripple, & her now year old baby, Midsummer, together with Corky's youngest brother, Fife, A60. What a thrill, everyone there, looking GREAT! We continued listening to them long after they disappeared from our sight, hearing them fade from the Parson Island hydrophone to the one in Robson Bight... and for hours afterwards, way into the night, they were still there. Finally, in the early hours of this morning, silence. All today we've wondered when it would be broken by the cheeful sounds we know so well.... but we suspect that after all these months of their company, our pals have finally gone off to wherever they go at this time of year.

Sometimes it's impossible not to feel good. Just thought you'd like to know.

Cheers, & our best to you all,

Paul & Helena Spong.


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