Captain’s Blog

Orcas in Whytecliff Park: What Do You Think?

July 12, 2017

What would you do?

For two swimmers enjoying a leisurely dip in the cool waters of Whytecliff Park in West Vancouver near Horseshoe Bay recently, a popular summer hotspot for locals and tourists alike, they barely had time to ask the question.

Stunning footage surfaced recently online of a small group of orca whales investigating what all the fuss is about with Whytecliff Park. Robin Leveille posted the video on instagram, and it starts innocently enough. Orcas aren’t unheard of this close to shore in West Vancouver, but it’s hard for the heart not to skip a beat when you see the two men scrambling onto the rocks as the huge orcas bear down on their location.

What would have happened if they hadn’t climbed out of the water? Well, I hesitate to use the word ‘escape’ – but that’s sure what it looks like. There has never been a documented report of an orca attacking a human in the wild.

But it only takes once.

Respecting the Orcas’ Natural Habitat

Here’s the thing – there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the natural amenities afforded to us here in coastal British Columbia, and places like Whytecliff certainly qualify. But when we dunk our heads beneath the waves of the pacific, make no mistake, we’re entering their territory. Their natural habitat, not ours.

So it’s not that surprising to see the orca whales of Whytecliff Park investigating these seal-heavy waters.

In the article linked to above, I will, however, disagree respectfully with the opinion of Lance Barrett-Lenard, head of the Vancouver Aquarium’s cetacean research department, when he surmises the orcas might have mistaken the swimmers for seals initially.

My take is that these transient orcas were reminding the human beings of the pecking order.

But make no mistake, I’m a writer and a researcher, I don’t study orca whales for a living – I study the people who study orca whales. In any event it doesn’t what either of us think.

The Power of Orcas in the News

I choose to believe that there are corners of the planet where humans do not enjoy complete domination. I’m not an apologist for our spot on top of the food chain, but if the orca encounter in Whytecliff Park is any indication – and I choose to believe it is – then there are places where people ought to be extra careful and respectful of the natural order of things.

A natural order that’s been tested over the centuries, but a natural order nonetheless.

Regardless of what I think or what you think or the naturalists at Orca Spirit think, the swimmers removing themselves from the situation as quickly as possible was an exercise in precaution at worst, and self preservation at best. Our mission at Orca Spirit is to respectfully observe orca whales, sea lions, seals, birdlife and all the magnificent creatures that share the BC coast with us. Our zodiacs and cruisers are meticulous in their approach (literally) to orca observation, but it just goes to show that these animals aren’t more afraid of us than we are of them, as go the stories told by our parents when we were children.

No, if the orcas at Whytecliff Park have proved anything, it’s that the killer whale’s growing presence in the area proves they anything but afraid. Curious perhaps, ambivalent most likely.

But afraid? Not a chance. But that doesn’t mean we have to be afraid either.

Just cautious.

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