Some lucky boaters were given an evening show on Tuesday (July 20) near Ambleside in West Vancouver when two pods of killer whales stopped by to say hello.
Annsabelle Ramas Pronych was out boating with her boyfriend, Christopher McEachnie, and others when they spotted the killer whales, also known as orcas, in the distance around 9:15 p.m.
“We saw three in one pod and four in another pod,” she said, adding that two looked like calves. “We watched them for about an hour and a half.”
Pronych said the killer whales were just over 90 metres away (300 feet) and they “didn’t get too close.”
While Pronych has seen killer whales in the wild before, she said watching them at Ambleside was an “unexpected” delight.
“The experience was amazing because I didn’t expect to see them around West Vancouver,” she said.
In a short video captured by McEachnie, two whales can briefly be seen popping up above the water.
Pronych said the two pods later parted ways, with some whales swimming toward False Creek and the others staying by Ambleside.
Hopeful to see more of the beautiful marine mammals, Pronych said she and McEachnie were heading out on their boat again with fingers crossed to see if they show up.
“I hope they come back,” she said.
The Ocean Wise whale team confirmed the marine mammals spotted were Bigg's killer whales said Nic Schulz, director of communication and engagement. He said, unfortunately, there wasn't enough video footage to pull individual IDs.
"Previously known as transient killer whales, Bigg’s killer whales were renamed in honour of the late pioneer killer whale researcher Dr. Michael Bigg who discovered at least two types of killer whale that inhabit the coastal waters of British Columbia (B.C.)," Ocean Wise states.
Bigg’s killer whales roam over large areas of the British Columbia coast and beyond in smaller groups, feeding on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and even other whales, unlike resident killer whales that feed on Chinook salmon, explains Ocean Wise.
According to the Georgia Straight Alliance – a marine environmental organization working to protect the waters of the Georgia Strait – along the coast of the Pacific Northwest, the Bigg’s killer whale population is now around 400, with a vast home range that extends from Alaska to Northern California.
With a tendency to be continuously on the move, the alliance states it’s difficult “to track every single whale in the population year-to-year.”
While Bigg’s killer whales were listed as Threatened under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2003, in recent years, their population has been growing, with the rebound associated with the return of stable Harbour Seal populations.
Ocean Wise, a Vancouver-based conservation organization on a mission to protect and restore the world’s oceans, encourages whale watchers to record their sightings using the Ocean Wise Whale Report App.
“Logging whale sightings gives scientists at Ocean Wise and other organizations critical information to track the health of the at-risk southern resident killer whale populations [as well as other cetacean species],” Ocean Wise states. “Also, this data is fed real time to the Whale Report Alert System, which informs commercial mariners [like Ferry captains] that there are whales in the vicinity so that they can slow down, and take mitigating measures.”
You can also discover the best locations to see whales and learn more about shore-based whale watching on the Whale Trail.
Ocean Wise reminds all whale watchers to always be “whale wise,” and to give them space, especially when in a boat or a kayak on the water.