Caught on camera: Preying orcas surround boats off B.C. coast
A group of B.C. boaters had a once-in-a-lifetime orca encounter this week after finding themselves caught between six of the apex predators and their prey.
Vancouver realtor Elliot Funt told CTV News he was boating with friends in Howe Sound on Tuesday when they noticed a number of touring vessels gathered near Bowyer Island.
They headed over to see what the fuss was about, and before they knew it they were trapped in the middle of a frenzied sea lion hunt.
"It's just nuts," Funt said of the experience. "I certainly had never seen anything like that in my life before."
Funt is an avid boater, and said he’s well aware of the rules requiring vessels to stay 100 metres back from killer whales and other cetaceans.
But according to the boaters, it was the desperate sea lion that approached them – and the hungry orcas were close behind.
Unable to safely turn on their propellers and leave, the group watched the action for about half an hour. Funt, who shot cellphone video of the rare interaction, said the sea lion tried to climb into one of the other boats while the half dozen orcas thrashed around in the waves.
His video shows the massive predators knocking against some of the boats, though Funt said the onlookers never felt they were in serious trouble.
"It wasn't all that frightening," he said. "It didn't really seem like it was too much of a danger of them flipping onto the boat – they're pretty smart animals."
Eventually, one of the tour guides suggested slowly steering boat that was providing cover to the sea lion over to Bowyer Island, where the beaten up but breathing sea mammal managed to reach land and escape.
"The sea lion ended up getting safe," Funt said. "I'm pretty sure it will recover. It didn't look like it was too badly injured."
Funt shared the video publicly hoping it would raise awareness of the changes potentially facing Howe Sound, an area known for its wild, natural beauty. He hopes the footage will encourage viewers to think about the potential impacts of a proposed liquefied natural gas processing plant on wildlife in the area.
The Vancouver Aquarium said the breathtaking incident is a perfect example of why there are distance guidelines for whale watching.
"Boats need to stay well back, because you don't really want a sea lion trying to jump into the boat with you," said Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, head of the cetacean research program.
A sea lion in that situation would be desperate and frantic, he added, comparing them to a person being chased by a towering dinosaur.
"You can imagine you've got tyrannosaurus rex bearing down on you and they are absolutely panic stricken," Barrett-Lennard said.
With files from CTV Vancouver's St. John Alexander