Orcas’ amazing brains!

All orca photos in this post are from Eagle Wing Tours – check out their Instagram! I don’t try to attempt to take my own pics on whale tours.

I found some time today to sit at a tiny harbour where I like to watch the wildlife. Every day I see something cool, and I try to make a point of biking out here every day to get in some exercise and take care of my mental health. Sitting by the harbour, where I can usually spot seals, but have seen a glorious number of birds too, including: great blue herons, bald eagles, migrating vultures, harlequin ducks, barred owls (and chicks) and today I see two kingfishers chasing each other and vocalizing loudly.

Habour seal seeing if the humans have fish scraps for him.

As an animal communicator, I like to tune in to try and figure out what’s going on, but there is a fine line there. You don’t want to be the annoying human who’s always butting into animal business. “Hey! You! Kingfisher! Whatcha doing?!”

Instead I mostly observe and try to pick up on their feelings and motivations. Animals, especially wildlife, make me happy to simply observe their behaviour.

This is why, when I had my first vacation in a year and a half, I made a point to include animals.

My first order of business was to go on a whale watch.


I would really like to see the (endangered) southern resident orcas one day, but as their numbers are falling it’s rare to see them on tours. Instead, you’re more likely to see transient orcas, and I was hoping to see one group or the other. I was not disappointed!

You might remember my first and second ever lifetime sighting of orcas? The first time, off Tofino, I saw a baby orca, so new he was still orange. I then saw *exactly the same pod* years later on a trip off of Victoria! Of all the orcas in the ocean, how cool to see the same individuals? I got to see them feed both times as well. While the residents who only know how to hunt salmon are not doing well, the transients who hunt pretty much any sea mammal are doing just fine, thank you very much.

The really exciting thing about my whale trip this year was I got to see a massive, mature male orca in the wild for the first time. He is named Galiano (or T18B). He is many people’s favourite orca because he is just so damn *impressive*.

The funny thing about this tough guy, is he is a total mama’s boy. He travels almost full time with his mother. He loves her, he looks to her for leadership and he depends upon her for company.

I had always assumed that like elephants, who are also matriarchal societies, that all male orcas left their pod of origin after sexual maturity… and this does tend to be the norm with orcas too, according to the wildlife biologist on our tour.

Galiano, it seems, just loves his mama.

Another interesting thing I learned from the wildlife expert aboard is that when a female member of a pod goes into oestrus (her fertile period) the grandmother or dominant female of the pod will go with the fertile female to leave the pod and go find a nice healthy male to mate with… who is not her brother.

The biologist also explained how the sonar biology in these whales worked – how it allowed them to see even the inside of our boat, inside each other and their prey.

I thought to myself, “Wow! What must it be like to be able to see inside everyone’s body!” And I asked Galiano, “Could you please show me the amazing way you see with clicks?”

He obliged instantly. It was actually startling, how much information he had on *everyone aboard the ship*.

One of the women aboard had a hip replacement – he showed my he could see the difference. It registered to him as an injury, which to him was curious. Humans aren’t considered as prey in general, but a potentially crippling injury is always… interesting… to a predator.

Galiano showed me the topographical details of the bottom of the ocean right up to the shore, and for miles around. He showed me where his next “snack” was, a fat seal perched atop a rock. As it was low tide, the seal was out of reach, but Galiano was looking forward to going back to that rock just before the tide came up to the seal. It was like he was telling me about a bag of chips he was going to eat later. He was pretty confident in his ability to just “go get it”. Transient orcas hunt successfully, and eat, multiple times a day, so I think Galiano’s confidence was justified.


Finally, Galiano showed me two other orcas frim his pod which were out of human sight but close by orca standards, and another two orcas further out to sea, fourty miles at least, and how the six of them had just communicated and decided to meet up at a rocky spot close to shore but much further from Victoria. They were going to try for a sea lion. Sea lions are not as fatty as seals, and there’s more meat, but it’s easier to hunt when there are six of you.

I’d love to be a transient orca in some future incarnation. I completely understand why their brains need to be so much more complex than humans’; the sheer volume of detailed information they are constantly processing about their environment, their prey, and their pod members positions and activities relative to those things is astounding.

Sometimes, after a communication like this, I have a bit of an adjustment coming back to the human way of living. Our ability to take in detail is so limited. Our vision sucks. Our memory is TERRIBLE in comparison to an orca.

If an orca has to describe a crime they witnessed, they would be able to describe all the people, all the inanimate objects, how the crime happened as though they had a frame by frame camera in their brain.

“So the 5’6” male with heart disease, hazel eyes, curly brown hair, and a 1”scar on his left kneecap lunged across the 3’ wide formica counter top to grab the gold chain off of the 5’8” blond blue eyed man with the formerly broken nose and pins in his ankle…”

Incredible, right? They remember this intricate detail because it could be relevant for their next hunt.

I just love orcas.

Got to interact closely with ANOTHER apex predator on my vacation, but I’ll save that story for the next post.

Have a great day!

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