November 1, 2013 4:44 pm

Rare sighting of 1,000 dolphins off the Gulf Islands

Passengers sailing from the Gulf Islands to Tsawwassen were lucky witnesses to a natural phenomena when close to 1,000 dolphins came alongside the ferry yesterday afternoon.

Although there was a collective stunned amazement over the sight, one traveller, Rob Maguire, managed to capture the moment on video.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Maguire says, who moved to Vancouver from New Brunswick a little more than a year ago. “The last time I saw an orca or dolphin was more than 15 years ago.”

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It was on the leg between Galiano Island and Tsawwassen when the BC Ferries crew alerted passengers to a pod of orcas off the side of the boat, and almost 45 minutes later the giant pod of dolphins was spotted.

Lance Barrett-Lennard, head of whale and dolphin research at the Vancouver Aquarium, says they were aware of this enormous pod for two days due to their B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, which is a volunteer program that helps track dolphins, whales and turtles. From aerial video footage, Barrett-Lennard was able to determine it’s the Pacific White-sided dolphin in the super-sized pod.

The species, he says, is known to be gregarious and travel in pods of 50 to 200 and sometimes can grow to numbers nearing 2,000 but what makes this “a rare and unique occurrence” is where they were roaming.

“Normally you’d see pods this size on the outside of Vancouver Island, where they’ve been swimming off shore,” Barrett-Lennard says. “Even though there’s been more recent showings of dolphins in the Strait of Georgia, it’s very rare to get such a large number in Howe Sound.”

It’s the first time they’ve had reports of this many dolphins in that particular area.

The sighting is a rarity for the seasoned BC Ferries employees and regular, long-time travellers of this route as well.

“I spoke to one BC Ferries worker and he’s been doing his job for 25 years and had never seen anything like this before,” Maguire says.

The dolphins stayed alongside the ferry for about three minutes before fading into the distance, Maguire says. Even though it was a short amount of time, the effect of seeing such natural beauty was lasting.

“It was a pretty quiet ferry ride until the dolphins turned up because no one was really talking to one another,” he says. “But afterwards everyone was abuzz, strangers were talking with strangers and getting to know one another.”

Barrett-Lennard says it’s unknown how long the pod will stay since “it takes a heck of a lot of food to feed that many dolphins” but that it’s a good indication the eco-system in the area is improving.

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