Smart seal hops onto boat to evade hungry orcas
Published Tuesday, August 23, 2016 2:46PM PDT Last Updated Tuesday, August 23, 2016 2:50PM PDT
A video of a harbour seal escaping a pod of hungry killer whales is showing once again how enterprising the marine mammals can be when it comes to survival.
The creative critter was filmed hopping into a whale-watching tour boat Aug. 22 off the coast of Vancouver Island, according to a post written by a man who witnessed it.
It was first spotted being chased by a group of 12 transient killer whales, according to Nick Templeman, owner of Campbell River Whale and Bear Excursions.
“After about 30 minutes in one position we could finally see one of what I believe [were] two harbour seals,” wrote Templeman. “They were leaving him on the surface and coming at him in a big group, the juveniles taking turns on him.”
Heavily outnumbered, the seal started swimming closer to the whale-watching boat, which Templeman said was keeping its distance from the whales.
“He made a beeline for us from quite a ways away, circled the vessel then found the low swim grid and up he came,” he said. “Now we have 12 killer whales that want their prey and know he is there.”
The video begins after the seal hops into the boat. When Templeman dips his GoPro camera into the water, the killer whales can be seen circling right underneath.
After about half an hour, the seal fell off the swim grid “and there was quite a scene when that happened,” said Templeman. It’s unclear whether the creature survived.
A marine mammal expert with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it’s not unusual for harbour seals to escape predators by taking advantage of vessels.
“They’re thinking at that point humans are less of a danger than a transient or Biggs whale,” said Paul Cottrell. “It’s unfortunate in some respects because it’s interfering with the natural sea event but it does happen.”
While he lauded the tour boat operator for turning off the vessel’s engine and not touching the seal when it hopped up, he said the video is an example of why operators need to keep their distance from whales – especially hungry ones.
“You need to give them lots of space, especially when they’re foraging, to make sure inadvertently you don’t get caught up in a situation like this where you’re close enough where a seal will seek cover,” he said. “You don’t want to get close to a seal that’s jumping into your vessel because it’s a wild animal and they do have very big teeth.”
Templeman said in his post that he did not intend to provide shelter for the seal and that there were around 10 boats in the area at the time.
Still, he said he felt fortunate that his was chosen by the quick-thinking animal.
“The most amazing thing to happen to me in my career on the water,” he said.
Anyone who spots an injured, distressed or tangled animal in B.C. waters is asked to call the province’s marine mammal hotline at 1-800-465-4336.