British Columbia

'Really odd' killer whale draws a crowd in Comox Harbour

A lone killer whale that moved into a Comox, B.C., harbour more than a week ago is thrilling crowds on the local waterfront with a swimming and leaping spectacle as it patrols its new hunting territory.

Transient male orca is a known loner, expected to leave area any day, researcher says

A transient killer whale has been seen in the Comox Harbour for more than a week. (CHEK)

 A lone killer whale that moved into a Comox, B.C., harbour more than a week ago is thrilling crowds on the local waterfront with a swimming and leaping spectacle as it patrols its new hunting territory.

Comox Valley Harbour Authority spokesman Robert Clarke said Tuesday hundreds of people stood on the community promenade along the shoreline and watched the orca breach and swim around the harbour.

"I'm looking out here right now and there's probably 300 people on it looking over the side, watching the whale swim around in the bay," he said. "It's a non-stop nature show."

Clarke, a former whale-watching guide, said killer whales do appear in the harbour but it is not a common event and they rarely stay for long.

He said there have been reports of the whale swimming up the Courtenay River, part of which flows through the Vancouver Island community and the same animal has been seen at Union Bay, about 20 kilometres south.

He said the harbour is busy with commercial, sport and recreational vessels, which prompted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard officials to arrive in the area to enforce the 200-metre whale viewing limits for boats.

"I wouldn't say (the whale) is interfering with vessel traffic," said Clarke. "I would say more the vessels are interfering with whatever it wants to do. We're a commercial fishing harbour and we deal with a lot of recreational [boaters] throughout the summer and when they come in most of them are pretty darn excited to see the whale."

The whale, known as T73B, tends to be a loner, according to one researcher. (CHEK)

Josh McInnes, a whale researcher at the University of Victoria, said he has encountered the same whale, known as T73B, in waters off Alaska.

McInnes, who is currently doing whale research in Monterey, Calif., said in a telephone interview that the full grown killer whale is what's known as a transient, which is a mammal-eating orca.

The resident killer whales found in the waters off Vancouver Island and Washington state are fish eaters.

'A bit of a weird whale'

McInnes said the male in Comox Harbour is a known loner from Alaska with a reputation for scouting out its own hunting grounds.

"All of the times I've bumped into him have been in southeast Alaska," said McInnes, who last saw the whale in June 2017, hunting alone in waters near Endicott Arm, Alaska.

He said transient killer whales spend much of their time in groups of about three to five but they also hunt alone. The transients hunt by stealth, sneaking up on their prey as opposed to the resident orcas who hunt in a pack, said McInnes.

Despite the natural solitary tendencies of transient orcas, the Comox whale appears to be a unique animal, he said.

"He's a bit of a weird whale. He is really odd," McInnes said.

"He took these really long dives and the way he surfaced was a bit weird."

McInnes said he expects the whale to leave the Comox area any day now, continuing its travels along the Pacific coast from Alaska to California.


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