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'Closest sighting': Orcas swim right beside B.C. island, feet from people on shore

Witnesses watched multiple pods of orcas swimming off Gabriola Island.

Orcas decided to swim very close to a B.C. Gulf Island, giving onlookers a surprise that will stay with them for a lifetime. 

People started spreading the word on a local Facebook group about orcas being spotted in the water near Malaspina Galleries at about 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday. 

Kumiko Hawkes diligently posts and shares sightings of orcas on Gabriola Island Whale Sightings page so everyone on the island could enjoy the sightings for themselves. When she received a report from a person who had seen the orcas, she set off to Malaspina Point — just in time. 

“That was the closest sighting I have ever had,” she says. “It was [a] once in a life experience.” 

A video posted of the killer whales shows them surfacing right beside the point before diving back down. Hawkes says they were about three feet from the shore. 

“I’m very glad that so many children were there to watch,” she says. 

The orcas stayed in the area for about two hours and many people were able to come watch them. 

Sean MacConnachie, the head of Aquatic Ecosystems and Marine Mammal Science at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, believes the whales are Bigg's Transient Killer Whales and that they appear to be foraging for food. 

“That would be a normal behaviour or foraging for marine mammals, specifically for seals,” he says. 

More whales are present in the Salish Sea and come to visit more frequently, which MacConnachie says is an interesting development. 

"What a great opportunity to observe these beautiful animals and just let them be,” he says. 

'Remembered for life'

Alex Noel, also is an admin for the Facebook group with Hawkes, was at the point on Wednesday morning enjoying a coffee when he spotted the whales. 

“It was amazing,” he says. “This was by far my best view of them, just the amount and how active they were.”

Noel believes there were roughly 30 killer whales in the area, likely a few different pods together. 

Another Gabriola resident who was at the point for the whale show captured spectacular video of the encounter. 

Shayla Young describes seeing the whales as ‘magical’ and wanted to share her video with other people so they can experience it too. 

"I've never experienced anything like that,” she says.

“That was the first time I've ever experienced anything like that and anyone could pay however much money and not even get that close to an orca, so that is definitely a treat,” she says. 

She's still stunned that she was able to be that close to whales. 

“It doesn't feel real because it was so surreal to the point that, you know, it's like a dream. But I got a videotape. So I got it remembered for life,” says Young.