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'Closest sighting': Orcas swim within a metre of Gabriola Island shore

Witnesses watched multiple pods of orcas swimming off Gabriola Island.

A group of orcas gave Gabriola Island residents the show of a lifetime on Wednesday as they spent about two hours just a few metres from shore. 

People started spreading the word via social about orcas being spotted in the water about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. 

When Kumiko Hawkes, who diligently posts and shares sightings of orcas on the Gabriola Island Whale Sightings Facebook page, received word of the orcas, she set off to Malaspina Point — getting there just in time. 

“That was the closest sighting I have ever had,” she said. “It was [a] once-in-a-life experience.” 

A video posted of the orcas shows them surfacing right beside the point before diving. Hawkes said they were about one metre from the shore. 

“I’m very glad that so many children were there to watch,” she said. 

The orcas stayed in the area for about two hours. 

Sean MacConnachie, the head of Aquatic Ecosystems and Marine Mammal Science at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, believes the orcas were Bigg’s or transient killer whales foraging for food. 

“That would be a normal behaviour or foraging for marine mammals, specifically for seals,” he said. 

Unlike the southern resident orcas, which feed primarily on chinook salmon, Bigg’s orcas eat marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, porpoises and dolphins. 

“What a great opportunity to observe these beautiful animals and just let them be,” he said. 

Alex Noel, also is an administrator for the Facebook group with Hawkes, was at the point enjoying a coffee when he spotted the orcas. 

“It was amazing,” he said. “This was by far my best view of them, just the amount and how active they were.” 

Noel believes there were roughly 30 orcas in the area, likely a few pods together. 

Gabriola resident Shayla Young, who was also at the point for the show, captured spectacular video of the encounter. 

“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” she said. 

“That was the first time I’ve ever experienced anything like that and anyone could pay however much money and not even get that close to an orca, so that is definitely a treat.” 

She’s still stunned that she was able to be that close to the orcas. 

“It doesn’t feel real because it was so surreal to the point that, you know, it’s like a dream,” she said. “But I got a videotape. So I got it remembered for life.”