The T002C killer whale matriline is one full of history, perseverance, and unique genes. This is one of our favourite groups of Bigg’s killer whales that can be spotted around Campbell River.
You might’ve heard one of our captains call out, “Rockyyyyy!” once they’ve been identified on our tours. Maybe you’ve seen his enormous 6ft tall dorsal fin surrounded by the smaller dorsals of his mother Tasu and little sisters. Or perhaps you’ve heard of his late younger brother Tumbo, and his distinct S-shaped dorsal fin caused by scoliosis of the spine. But do you know the incredible history of their family? Let’s dive in.
T002C1 “Rocky” and his enormous 6ft dorsal fin. Photo by captain Bill Coltart, Big Animal Encounters.
Taking a step back in time to 1970, you’ll find T002, a female Bigg’s killer whale who was around 20 years old. She is now known as “Florencia”, but was named “Pointednose Cow” back then. She was travelling near Victoria, BC with four other whales:
- T001 “Charlie Chin” ♂ (Florencia’s presumed son)
- Had a significant underbite and protruding lower jaw
- T003 “Scarredjaw Cow” ♀
- T004 “Chimo” ♀ (Scarredjaw Cow’s presumed daughter)
- Had Chediak-Higashi syndrome, which caused her skin to be ashy white, a weakened immune system, and a lower life expectancy.
- T005 “Nootka” ♀
1970 was within the height of killer whale captivity, where captured whales were selling for upwards of $100,000 each. This group of 5 were targeted and herded into Pedder Bay on March 1, 1970 with the intention of capturing and selling them to marine parks.
They were kept in sea pens in Pedder Bay. It was unknown at this time that there were any difference between salmon-eating and mammal-eating killer whales. Their captors tried to feed them fish, but as mammal-eating killer whales, they didn’t accept any. Their health began to deteriorate.
Chimo (white) and her mother Scarredjaw Cow in the Pedder Bay sea pen, 1970. Photo provided by InherentlyWild
25 days after their capture, Chimo and Nootka were transferred to Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, BC. Here, they accepted fish and began to eat. Nootka was kept in aquariums for 20 years, until she died of pneumonia in 1990. Chimo died only 2 years into her life at aquaria, at the age of 4, from an infection.
Back in Pedder Bay, Florenica and Scarredjaw Cow were sold to Seven Seas in Texas and were awaiting transport. Charlie Chin was to be released. 75 days after their capture, Scarredjaw Cow, whose daughter Chimo had been taken from her, died of starvation in Pedder Bay.
After Scarredjaw Cow’s death, Charlie Chin was to take her place at Seven Seas. Both remaining killer whales were injected with appetite stimulants, and after two days, they accepted and ate salmon from their captors. They ate up to 450lb of fish per day and their health improved significantly.
Charlie Chin and his presumed mother Pointednose Cow. You can see Charlie Chin’s signature underbite. Photo provided by InherentlyWild
Then, on October 27, 1970, something miraculous happened. On this night, almost 8 months after their capture, someone weighed down the nets in Pedder Bay, letting Florencia and Charlie Chin escape.
A SECOND CHANCE
Florencia and Charlie Chin went on to become celebrities around the British Columbia coast. Florencia had 3 calves after her escape:
- T002A “Bajo” ♂ (1972-1988)
- T002B “Pedder” ♀ (born 1979)
- Named after Pedder Bay where her famous relatives were captured
- T002C “Tasu” ♀ (born 1989)
Pedder split off from the group and went on to have 2 calves that unfortunately both died. Tasu continued to travel with her mother, and went on to become a prolific mother herself, which we’ll talk about next!
Florencia was last seen in 2009, around the age of 60, and presumed deceased. Charlie Chin was last seen in 1992, around the age of 30, and presumed deceased.
T002C “Tasu” became the matriarch of a very interesting group of whales who we see around Campbell River on our tours. She comes from an interesting gene pool with disfigured jaws, Chediak-Higashi syndrome, and abnormal head shapes. And this would not end with her!
- T002C1 “Rocky” ♂ (born 2002)
- One of the biggest males on our coast, and a favourite to see on our whale watching tours
- T002C2 “Tumbo” ♂ (2005-2019)
- Had scoliosis of the spine
- T002C3 “Lucy” ♀ (born 2011)
- T002C4 “Kano” (2017-2021)
- Appeared to be more brown than black during their short life – perhaps due to Chediak-Higashi syndrome?
- T002C5 ♀ (born 2021)
TUMBO – A TALE OF SCOLIOSIS
Her second son Tumbo developed scoliosis of the spine, which affected his ability to swim and hunt. As he grew older, he often travelled far behind his family. Sometimes his big brother Rocky would hang back and keep him company while their mother and little siblings travelled ahead.
T002C2 “Tumbo” and his S-shaped dorsal fin. Scoliosis in the spine caused his dorsal abnormality, and made him very easy to identify. Photo by captain Bill Coltart, Big Animal Encounters.
Because Tumbo had difficult swimming and hunting, they often stuck around familiar hunting grounds for weeks at a time. This is unusual from Bigg’s killer whales, who don’t stick around in any area for very long and rely on stealth and the element of surprise while hunting. An area they stuck around regularly was near Campbell River, BC.
Because Tumbo has difficulty hunting, his family fed him. Mostly Tasu and Rocky were documented feeding him. Sometimes an amazing behaviour was witnessed on whale watching tours. The family would block off a small bay with prey inside, and let Rocky attempt to hunt! He was seen zooming around a bay after a harbour seal, while his family watched. His hunting attempts were never proved successful.
Tumbo was last seen in 2019, but amazingly lived to the age of 14 years old because of the patience and dedicated care of his family. If this isn’t proof that killer whales have strong family bonds, then we don’t know what is.
After Tumbo passed away, the T002C’s travel further and don’t stay in any one area for very long. However, we still see them pass by Campbell River from time to time. Mama Tasu and her children are always a pleasure to encounter.
In early 2021, a small female calf was born who has yet to be nicknamed. We still see her with her family, and after a successful hunt can be seen with the “zoomies”, zooming around and launching herself out of the water.
The T002C’s slowly travelling near Campbell River, BC. You can see mama Tasu with the notch at the base of the trailing edge of her dorsal, Rocky with his massive, straight dorsal, little sister Lucy, and baby T002C5!
Her older sibling Kano went missing not long after she was born, and is presumed deceased. Her older sister Lucy is healthy and around the age of sexual maturity. Rocky is still massively impressive with his 6ft dorsal fin, towering beside his mother and little sisters.
This weird and wonderful matriline have been spotted all around Vancouver Island, plus some sightings near Haida Gwaii and Alaska.
They are always a favourite on our whale watching tours. Join us on a tour in Campbell River, and you might just get to meet the T002C’s!