Two people got caught between a pod of killer whales and a sea lion off Vancouver Island.
A peaceful day of fishing in Pedder Bay was shattered for a couple from Saanich when a panicked California sea lion launched itself out of the ocean on their 14ft aluminum boat in a desperate attempt to escape a pod of passing killer whales.
Ernest and Viesia Godek saw the orcas and cut their engine on Monday afternoon. But they were shocked when shortly after “there was this huge hit against the bottom of the boat”.
Seconds later, a terrified sea lion poked its head over the side of their craft and touched the side of the ship. “It looked like he was very distressed because he was breathing heavily and his teeth were exposed,” Ernest said.
This turned out to be the sea lion’s first attempt to jump into his ship. Ernest started the engine to leave and as the boat left, the sea lion jumped on it again.
“It rocked the boat to the point where we had to hold on to the gunwales, water started pouring into the boat…I was just hoping we wouldn’t totally rock.”
Viesia had flattened herself on the bottom of the boat. Ernest was waist deep in the water inside the boat.
The event was so dramatic and everything happened so quickly that Ernest does not know if the sea lion actually landed inside the boat. He thinks it might last a few seconds.
“It’s all just amazing,” he said.
When the Godeks saw the sea lion up close, “you know how big, fast and powerful nature can be. You don’t normally realize this. When there’s contact, it’s like, ‘Wow these things are huge.’ ”
“We were both scared,” he said.
The large adult male sea lion nearly capsized the boat, said Mark Malleson, a senior guide with Prince of Whales, who was ferrying a group on a whale-watching trip. He witnessed the event and then followed Godek’s boat to make sure they were okay.
Three Bigg’s killer whales, also known as transients, had eaten a harbor seal and were leaving Pedder Bay.
Malleson saw Godek’s boat and spotted the sea lion. “That was pretty hard work. At one point I yelled at them, ‘You’re going to want to get out of there. The sea lion was trying to get to their boat.
The whales weren’t hunting the sea lion, which “misinterpreted the situation,” Malleson said.
But he probably heard them vocalize, spotted them and freaked out, he said.
“He’s probably seen killer whales before and seen his buddies get eaten. It was his instinct to get out of the water.
When the Godek’s ship moved forward, the sea lion chased after it, porpoising in the water for some time, Malleson said. In the end, the sea lion was fine. The killer whales have gone elsewhere.
Andrew Trites, professor and director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, said sea lions “have no trouble launching themselves out of the water. Jumping on a moving boat to escape, I’ve never seen anything like it, it’s just remarkable.
Killer whales will target California sea lions and Steller sea lions. Harbor seals are travelers’ favorite prey, he said. “It’s just delicious and full of fat.”
If a seal is brave, it may try to climb on the back of a boat to avoid the killer whales, but often it is too scared to do so. But sea lions aren’t terribly afraid of people, Trites said.