VICTORIA — A pod of killer whales made a rare appearance in Victoria’s Inner Harbour Thursday, frolicking not far from the British Columbia legislature.
The group of four or five orcas, including a large male and what appeared to be a calf, brought vessel traffic to a near standstill and delayed floatplane activity during the roughly hour-long visit.
Jackie Cowan lives aboard a boat in the harbour and says she was listening to marine radio chatter about a pod of killer whales in Juan de Fuca Strait and then suddenly heard the Transport Canada patrol vessel ordering the harbour cleared.
“I realized, oh my gosh, they are coming down the (seaplane) takeoff and runway lanes, which is straight down into the Inner Harbour,” she said.
Cowan, a member of Victoria’s Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Station 35 and a captain for a local whale-watching company, identified the pod as T49A, a family group of transient orcas which mainly eat seals and sealions.
The whales had upright dorsal fins, Cowan said, unlike the slightly floppy fins of their salmon-eating cousins, the endangered southern resident killer whales.
“One of the whales that came up was a male and had a large, cone-shaped fin,” Cowan said, adding that she also uses a book that identifies orca pods off the south coast by their markings and the distinctive nicks on their dorsal fins.
Cowan said a friend told her just hours earlier about an especially large group of seals and sealions at the mouth of Victoria harbour and she believes the pod was patrolling for a meal.
“They are always hunting, that’s what they are always doing,” she said of the visit that including an excursion under the Johnston Street Bridge and into the Upper Harbour.
“The fact that they would go that far in is unheard of, it’s amazing,” she said.
Dozens of whale-watching vessels and curious boaters flocked to the already busy harbour, but Cowan described the operators as “respectful.”
“Ultimately, the number 1 thing would have been to not even go in the harbour, but that is virtually impossible and also they were right in front of the seaplanes as well, so even the seaplanes had to stop,” she said, adding a tug towing a barge idled until the pod passed.
“There was a barge coming out with a tow, the seaplanes coming and going, and then there were the pleasure craft that were here — and that was a busy time of day in the afternoon on a beautiful sunny day — and then the whale watching boats, so it was pretty crazy.
The visit was astounding, Cowan said.