For passengers of a Vancouver tour boat, Harbour Cruises, it was a sight to remember when last Friday they witnessed a pod of orca whales cruising into the waters underneath the Lions Gate Bridge.
For a $30 one hour sight seeing tour of the city, the tourists in the boat on Friday had an incredible added bonus when employees of the cruise spotted to killer whales or orcas swimming east side of the Lions Gate bridge.
“We were jumping up and down. We were just like, ‘This is ridiculously rare, this never happens,’” said tour guide Nicholas Litt.
Immediately everyone in the boat crowded on the railings to catch a glimpse. Another tour guide then suggested to take a look at the back side of the vessel and sure enough there were six more orcas in the waters.
“You could see that one of their dorsal fins was gigantic…maybe a metre-and-a-half,” he said. “We kind of scrapped the tour at that point.”
The boat followed the whales from a distance as they pushed on toward the Second Narrows Bridge, Litt said.
As the tour ended, the new group of tourists too wanted to see the orcas and were immediately taken to the spot. But the whales were moving too.
Kim Bartfai a tour guide said,
“It looked like they were heading back in the opposite directions, under the bridge. Sometimes you feel like there’s so much marine traffic going on…I have no idea if they just got off their mark.”
According to animal encounter specialist for the Vancouver Aquarium Jen Derwojed, the pod was likely in search of food.
The pod was actually two families comprising of eight transient killer whales and liked to snack on harbour seals and porpoises.
“It’s a couple of big males, some juveniles,” Jen Derwojed said. “We do have these whales go up through Howe Sound often enough, so maybe they were just trying to find some other good eats.”
Derwojed added that the lack of salmons and increase in the harbour seal population this year might have attracted the whales to the inlet areas.
“The last time transient killer whales came through was in 2011 – when the Canucks were in the Stanley Cup Playoffs,” she said adding it was a rare sighting.
For Bartfai it was indeed a once in a lifetime experience.
“I’ve been a tour guide for years,” she said. “This would be the first time I’ve seen whales. I was just beyond excited that we actually could see them, that they were quite close.”
The inlet is about 500 metres wide under the bridge and she says it can become crowded with marine traffic quite instantly.
“Sometimes I feel like they may be a bit close, but I can understand why,” she said. “It’s hard to know what their communication is – did they know the whales were there? The inlet here is just so busy.”
“We are so lucky to even have the rare opportunity to see something like that, which is something that most people don’t even have the opportunity to see once.”
For the tourists, it is a tale they would be telling everyone for a long long time.