Liam Brennan had a once-in-a-lifetime experience while kayaking near the University of British Columbia last Wednesday.
The 23-year-old headed out near Locarno Beach in the evening, a route he frequently paddles.
But this time, his routine route was far form ordinary.
As he lifted his paddle to turn around and head back in, he noticed an unusual sound about a kilometer in the distance.
“I heard the blow, which I suspected was a whale, but I immediately told myself, ‘there’s no way,’” said Brennan.
But his instincts were right.
“I looked over my shoulder and there was huge a dorsal fin on the horizon,” he said. “It was a mix of terror, but exhilaration like, ‘Oh my god this is actually happening?’”
Within a few minutes, a pod of orcas came within metres of his kayak.
“One male kind of did a circle around me, there was a female on one side of me. At one point I was just surrounded, which was just spectacular.”
The incredible moment happened within minutes, but he managed to pull out his DSLR camera to capture the experience.
“It raised its head right out of the water, must have been 15 or 20 meters from kayak, so unbelievable”
Fascinated by marine life, he posted the photos online in hopes of identifying the pod.
Researchers determined the three transient killer whales were a mother with her two sons.
“Scientists that spend a lot of time around these whales can ID the individuals based on their dorsal fin, the white patch above their eye and the grey area behind their dorsal fin,” said Dr. Beth Volpov with the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia.
“This is an extremely rare experience, seeing a transient killer whale from a kayak is like winning the lottery.”
There’s about 350 transient killer whales swimming in and out of Salish Sea. A male orca can grow up between six and nine metres long, more than triple the size of an average kayak.
“My images, especially of the male orca, right in front of the city skyline can be a pretty powerful symbol of ecological resilience,” said Brennan. “I think it’s a pretty cool juxtaposition to have this symbol of wild nature right in front of the city and I hope it conveys the message that we’re always connected to nature.”
The incredible moment was made even more special for Brennan, who now holds a UBC Environmental Science degree.
“For it to happen, just under a week before I was graduating was pretty amazing, I was pretty excited.”
His dream to paddle alongside orcas is what he says he’ll remember as a graduation gift–a memory he’ll never forget.