© Victoria Times Colonist
Record numbers of transient orcas and humpbacks have been sighted in Island waters.
Someone forgot to tell the whales around Victoria and the San Juan Islands that this is their off-season.

Many whale-watching companies are holding off on their winter shutdowns because record numbers of transient orcas and humpbacks are in Island waters, said Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

"It's the time when they pull out of the water and they do maintenance on the boat or they take their vacation," Harris said.

"But they're still working and it's really demand-based and it's whale-based and it's weather-based."

Prince of Whales Whale Watching has reported seeing transient orcas off Victoria almost daily, as well as a sighting of the resident J-pod. Amy Kaplanchuk from Prince of Whales said the appearance of about a dozen orcas from J-pod is rare for this time of year. "They usually travel south to warmer waters."

Capt. Hobbes Buchanan of San Juan Island Whale & Wildlife Tours said it has been like "whale soup" at times. More than 20 transient orcas were seen last week in the entrance to Friday Harbor, he said.

Harris said the jump in whale numbers is not necessarily a positive sign.

"It just means that conditions are different and that we happen to have a spike in harbour seals this year." More harbour seals means a ready food supply for whales, Harris said. "I think it's absolutely prey-related, it's all about predation."

Despite the concern about other whale species, increased sightings of humpbacks is a definite positive sign, Harris said. Scientists link the increased humpback numbers to the fact that they haven't been commercially hunted for many years, Harris said.

Problems in the ocean could be leading the other whales here instead of elsewhere, Harris said. "It just shows us we've got to do something if we're getting these unusual conditions and unusual sightings. It means that something's amiss out there."

Ocean acidification, the effects of climate change and the greatly depleted Fraser Run salmon run could be influencing whale activity, Harris said.