VANCOUVER -- There was a spectacular scene on the Sunshine Coast Thursday morning when dozens of Pacific white sided dolphins surrounded a couple that was out for a canoe trip.

Evan Lee-Dodek and Lisa Hawkins were in Sechelt Inlet, enjoying the calmer waves that come with paddling in the morning at this time of year, when they suddenly found themselves in the midst of about 50 dolphins.

"Initially I saw a bunch of big splashes," Lee-Dodek told CTV News. "Before we knew it the dolphins were circling us and coming up to us."

The pair put down their paddles and watched for about an hour as the cetaceans swam, socialized, fed, breached and slapped their tails on the water. They also captured eye-popping video from above and beneath the waves.

Lee-Dodek said it was one of the most awe-inspiring encounters he's had with marine life, despite spending last summer working as a whale watching guide in Vancouver.

"It was an experience," he said. "Even after a full summer of whale watching, this still goes down in the top three encounters."

While Pacific white sided dolphins are known to approach boaters, experts say Thursday's sighting was still quite rare because of its location.

Lance Barrett-Lennard of the Vancouver Aquarium said to get to Sechelt Inlet, the dolphins would have had to get through the wild Skookumchuck Narrows, a formidable barrier that can even be tough for orcas to successfully navigate.

Lee-Dodek, who is studying environmental science at UBC Okanagan, said he hopes the video he and Hawkins captured will serve as a reminder that there are magnificent creatures just off our coast that need protecting.

"Around 40,000 marine mammals die every year as a result of plastic pollution in the ocean," he added. "There's so much life out there, whether you see it or not, and everything we do does affect it."

Pacific white sided dolphins are named for the white colouration on their bellies and sides, which contrasts with their dark grey tops. According to the Vancouver Aquarium, the dolphins are usually encountered in groups of 10 to 100, but can sometimes number in the thousands.