There were some exciting moments Monday morning for Vancouverites lucky enough to be staring out to sea, as a pod of orcas made its way deep into Burrard Inlet.
Jody Olson and her 19-month-old toddler Oliver happened to be looking out the window of their apartment near Nanaimo and Wall Streets around 8:30 a.m. when they spotted the pod, and began filming.
Olson said she and her son often spend their mornings looking out to the window at the different birds and boats that pass.
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“We have regular eagle sightings but for the last two years of living here wondered if we would see some orcas swimming in the inlet. We thought, probably not,” Olson said in an email interview.
The pod was most likely Biggs, or transient, killer whales rather than endangered southern resident orcas, according to Lance Barrett-Lennard, director of the Oceanwise Marine Mammal Research Program.
Biggs killer whales sometimes come in to snack on harbour seals, rather than the salmon and other fish that southern resident orcas prefer, he said.
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Barrett-Lennard says they were first spotted passing under the Lions Gate Bridge around 7:30 a.m., and then heading back out towards Howe Sound four hours later.
“It’s pretty unusual to have killer whales come under the Lions Gate Bridge into the harbour, we generally seem to get about one visit a year,” Barrett-Lennard said. “But we did have a similar visit on March 5, so twice in one month.
“What I’d like to see happening is them going under the Second Narrows and up into Indian Arm, because that certainly is an area that was heavily used by killer whales historically.”
Barrett-Lennard said Biggs killer whales, which rely on sound to hunt, tend to avoid the busy harbour — but recent efforts by the Port of Vancouver to curb noise might have helped. He added that population numbers in the species are also increasing, and that reductions in industrial marine pollution in recent decades have also made the area more attractive.
The Vancouver Aquarium had sent a team out to try and spot and properly identify the pod, Barrett-Lennard said. Scientists are interested in whether the few orcas that do venture past the Lions Gate Bridge are the same group every time, or different groups exploring the area.
“This reoccupation of the traditional areas by the whales is very gratifying. It comes and goes in starts and fits. We might have killer whales visit a certain area two or three times and we get excited about it, and then it might be several years before they appear again,” he said.
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“The general trend, taking in these year-to-year fluctuations is a positive one. We’re seeing a general increase in the use of coastal areas by killer whales, and of course by humpback whales.”
It’s a trend that Olson and her son would be happy to see continue upward.
“I just thought, ‘Wowwww! What are they doing here? This is amazing. How lucky are we? What a beautiful city we live in,'” she said.