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Orca pod swims beside B.C. Ferries vessel, surprising passengers

A pod of orcas swam right beside the vessel between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen.

People travelling on a B.C. Ferries vessel were dazzled by a special encounter with a pod of orcas over the weekend. 

A video shows the pod swimming in Active Pass as the 1 p.m. Sunday sailing between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen goes by. 

Salish Sea Orca Squad, a non-profit organization that raises awareness about orcas, shared the video on social media. 

“We saw them coming and right away we knew they were transient orcas. There was a group of about eight,” said Rachelle Hayden, the group's co-founder.

People on the ferry can be seen crowding together on the upper deck to catch a glimpse of five whales — including a calf — surfacing. 

“I always get excited to see people on the ferries being able to see them go through,” Hayden said. “Seeing everybody excited, it gets us excited as well because we love the orcas.”

Passenger Ali Hicks, who also got footage of the orcas, called the experience magical. 

“I’ve been lucky enough to see orcas last year on a B.C. Ferries [vessel],” she said. “I’m lucky to see them again.”

When the captain made the announcement about the whales over the PA system, Hicks was already outside on the deck.

“I just wish they could have stuck around longer,” she said.

The whales stayed beside the vessel for about five minutes.

Salish Sea Orca Squad has identified the orcas as T049As, a family of Bigg’s killer whales. 

B.C. Ferries slowed down, whales unfazed

Hayden lives on Galiano Island and often sees vessels and whales navigating the space together. She believes B.C. Ferries slowed down and was aware of the whales.

“They slow down as much as they can. Considering that they have a massive boat... they’ve got to be aware of other vessels in the area,” she said.

At the time of the whale sighting, there was a fast current in Active Pass.

“They did the best they could and as an observer and a person who monitors whales in the area as well as vessels, I feel as though they did a good job,” Hayden said.

In a statement to Glacier Media, B.C. Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said the health and welfare of marine mammals is "an important issue" for the company.

"With 170,000 sailings each year, we go to great lengths to responsibly share coastal waters with marine life," she said, noting deck crews are always on the lookout for whales. "Our captains have standing permission to deviate course to increase distance from whales." 

Vessels can also slow down when in confined waters and deviation is not possible.

Anna Hall, a marine mammal zoologist at Sea View Marine Sciences, said the video clips show that the whales are not stressed.

“Everybody’s coming up together... Although it’s a very short clip, the ventilation pattern appears to be quite consistent,” she said. “Within that group, we’ve clearly got adult females, adult males and juveniles. It appears very calm to me.”

Hall notes the area is tricky to navigate as there are very strong currents.

“This, to me, looks like just one of those magical moments that sometimes happens out there in the ocean,” she said.