Robert Johnson’s shift was almost over at Vancouver’s seaplane terminal in Coal Harbor when he saw something he’s never seen before.
“Suddenly there were these massive black creatures under the plane’s nose,” Johnson told CBC News.
Two orca whales broke the surface of the lake right next to the terminal pier on Saturday at 5:30 p.m., and Johnson picked up his phone and captured it all on camera.
“It’s surreal to see that kind of amazing majesty. It was the greatest creature I’ve ever seen in my life. I can ‘t believe such a thing live. It’s crazy,” he said.
Johnson has worked at the terminal for three years and said it was the first time he had seen whales while on the job.
SE | Orcas break the surface next to Coal Harbor seaplane terminal:
“It’s definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity, no doubt. I mean, I don’t think I’ll ever see something like that again.”
Orcas have been increasingly discovered close to shore in recent weeks, according to Andrew Trites, a professor at the University of British Columbia and director of marine mammal research.
“What you see is the return of marine mammals to the Salish Sea. Some of them have been absent for 100 years and they have come back,” he said.
In the early 1970s, Trites said seals and sea lions were killed in what he calls a “false belief” that they were competing fishermen for salmon supplies.
“Now that seals and sea lions have stopped being killed, the population has increased, attracting orcas to a reliable food source close to shore,” Trites said.
Due to the increasing number of orcas, seals and sea lions, which used to be concentrated in certain areas, have begun to spread to hide from predators, which further attracted whales to a number of places around the coast.
“Now we see that the entire Salish Sea has become a large hunting area,” he said.
Trites noted that there may be an increasing number of young and naive seal and sea lion cubs in the waters since the mating season ended in August, providing easy prey for the whales.
It’s a change that Trites says he did not expect to see in his 40-year career, but he is encouraged by it.
“We have the orcas now, who are here in large quantities because their food supply is here and it is stable. We are seeing a return to a balanced ecosystem unlike anything I knew in my life and perhaps for the first time in centuries. “
VIDEO- Another whale of a meeting! Lisa Brougham and some friends had a visit from a whale near Bowen Island while out on a paddle board Friday night. A humpback photographed her sunset portrait last Sunday. @cbcnewsbc @CBCVancouver pic.twitter.com/TCqhfCZ07L
Observations around the BC coast are not limited to orcas. Humpback whale sightings were captured on camera near Bowen Island along with a rare spotting of a whale in Washington State’s Puget Sound.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries West Coast Region tweeted that they were following a beluga that looked hundreds of miles out of the whales’ usual range.
“It’s come here from the Arctic, from Alaska, but it’s really weird because they’re not supposed to be here. They’re an Arctic species,” Trites said.
He said the animal most likely strayed from its pods. He had no explanation as to why it would have done so, but says the whale is unlikely to survive if it does not return to the group.
Trites says that observations give those who witness the majestic animals a better understanding of those in our oceans.
“There’s a whole new discussion going on as we see this changing relationship with the Salish Sea. And I ultimately believe that it both enriches the ecosystem, makes it more diverse and productive. But I think it also makes it healthier for you and me. “