Killer Whales Spotted in English Bay

Photo credit: Crappy Wildlife Photography | Flickr

It’s possible to see lots of wildlife in Stanley Park – from racoons and squirrels to beavers and bald eagles.  But if you happened to be in Stanley Park around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, you may have caught sight of something special.

Just off of Stanley Park’s Ferguson Point, next to Third Beach, a family of six killer whales was frolicking in the waters of English Bay.  While killer whales, or orcas, are commonly spotted off the B.C. coast, it’s rare that they would venture this close to the big city.  This video from Global BC gives a bird’s-eye view of the action (if you can sit through the commercial).

The happy family consisted of six whales in total (which had previously been tagged by scientists for tracking):  a full-grown male born in 1981; the matriarch, a female born in 1986; her female offspring born in 1992; and that orca’s three calves. 

Scientists speculate that the killer whales were drawn close to shore by a population of coho salmon and herring in the harbour.  Initially, they appeared to be bound for the Lions Gate Bridge and Burrard Inlet but then changed course and were spotted off of Jericho Beach.  There they found an unlucky seal and a feeding frenzy ensued, with the whales thrashing through the water.

Photo credit: yourmap | Flickr

After it was all over, seagulls descended to feed on the scraps, and the whales did a “spyhop”: raising their entire heads out of the water to get a glimpse of the action on the surface.

Killer whales actually belong to the dolphin family (and you thought dolphins were just cute and cuddly).  Some just feed on fish, but others hunt seals, walruses and even other whales.  They’re apex predators – kings of the sea with no natural enemies.  Killer whales are also famously social animals.  They travel in stable, matrilineal groups and develop elaborate hunting techniques and vocal communications specific to each group – a kind of whale “culture.”

Killer whales off the British Columbia coast fall into two main groups, residents and transients.  Residents, with a population of around 300 whales, are commonly found on the coast from April to November.  Transients constantly move in search of prey and number around 225 whales.  Monday’s visitors were transient orcas.

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