Katy McKillop is out on the water every week, but Thursday’s sunset cruise off of Gabriola Island was unlike any other as it was interrupted by a pod of orcas.
She and her group noticed the whales about a kilometre away, but then the orcas started swimming closer to them.
“We were like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool!’ So, [we started] taking some photos and then within five minutes, they were just swarming the boat, going underneath the boat. There were four of them. It was crazy. Once in a lifetime experience for sure,” McKillop said.
It was her first time seeing the killer whales.
“A lot of people see whales occasionally off the beaches or whatever, but I never expected them to come so close to us. Like, it was exciting, but it was also kind of terrifying,” she said with a laugh.
Josh McInnes, a marine mammal scientist at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, said while these occurrences are rare, they do happen and it’s best to keep your distance and be at least 400 metres away.
‘In this circumstance when killer whales do approach a boat like this, if you’re surprised by them, which it does happen, the best thing to do is just to sit through engines off and give them their space. Let them do what they’re going to do. They’re going to investigate and they’re going to move on,” he explained.
Turning off your motor also prevents the whales from possibly getting injured, which is exactly what McKillop’s group did — and they enjoyed the show that came with it.
“I think that experience … is so amazing. I don’t think anything can top it. Any other encounter with whales,” she said.
McInnes said the orcas that McKillop encountered were transient and it appeared as though they were simply exploring and passing through.
While they are predators on the hunt, he said they aren’t a danger to humans.
“They’re not out there to get you. These killer whales aren’t going to harm you in any way. There’s been no case of them attacking people in the wild,” he explained.
He said they were likely looking for a harbour seal which may have gone underneath the boat.
Being curious creatures, if the orcas don’t find what they’re looking for, they move on.