Dolphin day in Squamish 

Orcas follow their smaller prey into blind channel

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ASHLEY GANSKE - Big Air Howe Sound Secondary student Ashley Ganske snapped this photo on Saturday, March 8, when dolphins and orcas dazzled onlookers at the Oceanfront area in Squamish.
  • Photo by Ashley Ganske
  • Big Air Howe Sound Secondary student Ashley Ganske snapped this photo on Saturday, March 8, when dolphins and orcas dazzled onlookers at the Oceanfront area in Squamish.

Dolphin and orca sightings are becoming more common in Howe Sound, but for the first time in decades Pacific white-sided dolphins ventured into the Mamquam Blind Channel.

Waterfront visitors were treated to an amazing show on Saturday, March 9 when a large pod of dolphins was spotted at the northern end of Howe Sound. Word quickly got out and the crowd of people grew as a pod of orcas came onto the scene.

Howe Sound Secondary student Ashley Ganske was there with her camera and captured an image of a killer whale breaching as well as a series of dolphin photos.

"There were so many dolphins," said Ganske. "It was amazing.

"It was pretty exciting because we don't get this stuff happening in Squamish all that often."

Jack Cooley, of the Squamish Streamkeepers, managed to capture video of the unique site then posted his material to social media websites.

He had learned earlier in the day on Saturday from a friend of his at the southern end of Howe Sound that the dolphins were headed north, so went to Nexen Beach to see if he could spot the pod.

"I got my eyes filled with dolphins and orcas," said Cooley.

"I think they were chasing the herring and the orcas were chasing them," Cooley said of the huge dolphin pod.

According to Cooley, the dolphin and orca show is an indicator of a healthy herring population in Howe Sound.

"There's lots more herring than there are dolphins, so I'm sure Mother Nature has designed it so that the herring will spawn somehow," said Cooley.

He went back to Nexen Beach the next day hoping the dolphins might return, but the marine mammals didn't make a return visit.

Cooley and other members of the Streamkeepers group have been working since 2005 to increase herring survival rates in Howe Sound by putting protective coatings over pilings in the Squamish area. The coatings protect the eggs laid on the pilings from being harmed by creosote.

Since the start of the project the number of herring returning to Squamish to spawn each year has been growing.

This latest evidence of renewed abundance in Howe Sound followed a strong pink salmon return in August. The spawning pinks were so large in numbers the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) decided to allow commercial fishers to dip nets into Howe Sound to catch pinks for the first time in decades.

Seine boats were permitted to catch the returning pink salmon Aug. 22 and 24. According to the DFO, more than 280,000 pinks were pulled onto seven commercial fishing boats.

Earlier in the summer, orcas were spotted in the upper reaches of Howe Sound. Sailors reported seeing killer whales on June 7 and then again on June 15.

Kate Birdsall of the Vancouver Aquarium, who is with the BC Cetaceans Sightings Network, keeps tabs on orca and dolphin movements.

She said in a recent interview that the network is analyzing sighting data collected by citizen scientists to learn more about the wildlife living in the waters of coastal B.C.

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