Four days after it was first spotted, a grey whale can still be seen near the mouth of the Squamish River. Food - and plenty of it - is keeping it there.
The whale is gorging on fresh spawn of herring and it might be there for a while until it decides to make way to its final destination, the Bering Sea. The animal's pit stop at Howe Sound, experts say, is unusual, but not abnormal.
"It's quite surprising. It's not completely out of the question, but this is not really the place where you would see them," said Caitlin Birdsall, a research assistant with B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network.
Birdsall said the grey whales are usually seen this time of the year in Boundary Bay, White Rock, and off the west coast of Vancouver Island, as they migrate from Baja, Mexico to the Bering Sea. But with the abundance of fresh food in Howe Sound, the whale took a detour.
"This guy is off track a bit, but he has stumbled upon a great food source with herring spawn and it's just munching away," said Paul Cottrell, the marine mammal coordinator at the Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Cottrell said his department is keeping a close eye on the whale.
Someone else is doing that too. John Buchanan, a local conservationist, has been tracking the whale since he first saw it on Friday, April. 30.
With his canoe packed on his truck, his binoculars and two cameras at the ready, Buchanan goes to the Squamish spit every day, sometimes twice a day, to study the mammal's eating habits. In this, he's working closely with researchers from the Vancouver Aquarium and the whale research lab at the University of Victoria.
"It comes up every three minutes and it's going around in all the inlets here, scooping out whatever it can eat," Buchanan said.
Buchanan has seen the animal several times, but he still can't shake off the initial excitement of having seen it so closely from his canoe.
"It came right up near my canoe and had a good look at me. I was like, holy cow. It was so neat, just that once in a lifetime experience," he said.
Thrill seekers and the curious have been coming to the dyke every day, eager to see a mammal some say hasn't appeared in these waters for a century. Some stand with binoculars fixed to their eyes; others scan the water for a snout and a drizzle.
"If I don't see it today, I'll be coming back tomorrow, for sure," said Kendra Wood, a Squamish resident who had been waiting for more than 20 minutes Tuesday to catch a glimpse, without much success.
The grey whale is one of the 23 whale species to be found in British Columbia. It is listed as a species of special concern in the Endangered Species Act of Canada.
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