A whale of a tale

Christy Boyd
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For anyone who enjoys boating, one of the most exciting things to see is a whale. Just catching a glimpse of a fin or tail directs everyone’s eyes to the water — some even try to capture a great photo of one of nature’s most beautiful creatures.

On July 14, boaters around Exploits Island not only saw whales, but they were treated to a pod of approximately 15 killer whales. The killer whales were feeding in the area, and provided an once-in-a-lifetime experience for the boaters.

The Beacon’s sister paper, the Pilot, in Lewisporte contacted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) last week to find out how common killer whales are to the area.

Dr. Jack Lawson explained, “We are currently tracking about 67 killer whales in the area, but we anticipate there are quite a few more.”

There are several types of killer whales, and DFO is studying them to determine what types are here in the area. One type of killer whale is a mammal eater, with its diet consisting of smaller mammals, and Dr. Lawson said it will eat smaller whales, such as minke whales, while the other type eats fish such as capelin and herring.

The killer whales use a carousel feeding method, whereby the pod will swim around the fish herding them into a large ball and then eat them.

Dr. Lawson said, “Killer whales don’t pose any real danger to people. They are very curious animals and will swim close to boats. They love the bubbles from the propellers, especially the juveniles.”

Hope Ryan of Lewisporte was enjoying a day on the water with her friends when they came upon the pod.

“They were everywhere. It was amazing to see them swimming so close. I don’t know if we will ever experience that again,” she recalled.

During a research trip Dr. Lawson recalled being surrounded by killer whales in his five-metre zodiac. The whales were close enough to touch, and followed the boat for quite some time, but he didn’t feel at any time he was in danger. He doesn’t advise jumping in the water with the killer whales.

“If people come upon the killer whales they can go ahead and take photos and video,” he said. “Then send them along to me for study. We are particularly interested in the left side to check for scarring, but any photos would help our research.”

Velma Wells of Embree was boating with her family and saw the killer whales.

She commented, “We were out for a ride and saw the whales coming in our direction. I was nervous at first, but then I wanted to get some photos of them. They were beautiful and big. I’m glad I got the chance to see them.”

While killer whales are more common in the Northwest Atlantic, they are being seen more often in northeastern waters. Last week, a tour boat in Durrell saw a pod of about 25 killer whales.

Dr. Lawson said, “They are magnificent creatures and certainly a sight to see.”

If anyone has photos or video they would like to share with Dr. Lawson, he can be contacted by email at jack.lawson@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

The Pilot

info@ganderbeacon.ca

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Geographic location: Lewisporte, Exploits Island, Northwest Atlantic

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