Whale researchers spotted the southern resident killer whales breaching and searching for food off the coast of Vancouver Island for the first time in more than two months.

Mark Malleson, with the Center for Whale Research based in the U.S., spotted the whales just west of Sheringham lighthouse in Port Renfrew.

A release from the centre says a "large assemblage" of whales returned to the interior Salish Sea after being conspicuously absent from their usual habitat around the San Juan islands all summer.

According to the centre, the residents have appeared near the San Juan islands almost daily in previous years. That's why Mike Bigg named them the "residents" in the 1970s.

There are three family pods of resident whales. They're known as J pod, K pod and L pod.

Last winter, the longtime matriarch of the J pod, known as "Granny," died. Researchers at the centre think whale J19 has taken her place.

All the whales researchers and photographers saw on Sept. 4 appeared to be "frisky and in good condition."

However, there were a few runts in the youngest generation of whales. Researchers think that's probably because poor salmon years put stress on the mothers while they were pregnant.