For a group of British Columbia anglers, a recent fishing outing took a bizarre and unforgettable twist when they were approached by five killer whales that were engaged in a savage assault on a harbor seal, which sought refuge by scurrying onto the stern transom of one of the boats.
Harbor seal hauls out onto boat’s engine platform in an attempt to escape a killer whale attack. Bottom photo shows seal amid two orcas. All photos courtesy of Kelly Aspinall and protected by copyright laws.
This played out in Nanoose Bay on the east shore of Vancouver Island. Aspinall was on one boat with friends. Greg Beldham was aboard another boat. The killer whales, which also are called orcas, had corralled the seal and were doing what mammal-eating transient killer whales sometimes do with pinnipeds.
“They would repeatedly rocket towards the seal at full speed, often knocking the seal clear out of the water,” Aspinall wrote. “The seal, in all the commotion, spotted our boats and began to swim over to use us for cover. As he tried to get over to us the whales continued their assault on him with devastating power.”
Aspinall described the scene as “something right out of National Geographic.”
The seal seemed to realize its only chance was to escape onto one of the boats. Somehow the battered mammal, while still under assault, hauled its 300-pound body onto the flat aluminum engine platform behind Beldham’s boat.
Beldham didn’t know quote what to do. None of the fishermen wanted to interrupt a natural predation event but the seal could not be persuaded — understandably — to get back into the water.
“At this point the whales knew exactly where their meal had gone and began investigating,” Aspinall continued. “Greg made the decision to get out of there before things got messy.”
Beldham headed for the nearest island, with the seal for all intents and purposes glued to the platform. The killer whales began to spread out, their cat-and-mouse game having abruptly ended.
Once at the island Beldham had trouble persuading the seal to leave, and it did so only after Beldham had backed the boat into very shallow water.
The seal made it shore, but with what appeared to be serious injuries. Aspinall harbored doubts about whether the seal survived, but many probably would like to think it did.
Aspinall concluded with this passage: “Afterward both of us agreed that the action had gotten far too close. We never recommend interfering with wild animals or being within the legal 100 meters of whales. The way events played out, however, it was difficult to avoid and we feel that we made the correct decisions in the unique circumstances.”
As for the killer whales, they were later seen hunting another seal, but the fishermen let them be.