A seal escaped the jaws of hungry orcas by hitching a ride on a nearby tourist vessel on July 1, and the encounter was caught on video.
Several transient orcas were hunting the harbour seal in Frederick Arm, an inlet located about 1.5 hours north of Campbell River by boat, when the savvy animal swam up to the boat and climbed aboard.
Footage provided by Pacific Yellowfin Charters shows the worried-looking animal hiding behind the boat’s outboard motor on the swim grid, a low platform at the stern of the vessel.
The clever seal occasionally glances up at the humans aboard the 26-foot fishing boat. But it’s mostly focused on its hungry hunters, which circulate below and breach menacingly just meters away.
Colin Griffinson, captain of a “luxury expedition” ship called the Pacific Yellowfin, said that crew members were going ashore in their smaller craft, the Yellowfin Swan, when they observed the pod of whales attacking a seal.
The melee continued for some time without a kill, and the seal made a break for it.
“He got away and just came bee-lining for our boat, from about 150 feet away,” he said. Sure enough, the animal climbed aboard the Swan and lived to see another day.
The animal now has a name: Lucky.
“We said, what will we call the seal if we actually ended up keeping it?” said Griffinson. “We just joked that we’d call it Lucky.”
He described it as a “big, fat seal” and a “very healthy animal.”
“Maybe that’s why they didn’t kill it so easy,” he said.
“It was a prime seal” and “obviously it had some smarts because it survived this far,” he said.
Griffinson stressed that he didn’t intend to interfere with the hunt. Indeed, the crew was “looking forward to seeing a kill,” he said.
It was the first time an animal had actually jumped aboard one of his vessels, Griffinson said.
To deal with the situation, he consulted with Nick Templeman, who was also on the scene, observing the orcas on another vessel with a whale researcher.
Templeman, owner-operator of Campbell River Whale and Bear Excursions, had experienced this kind of thing before. A seal jumped onto his boat in 2017. He also witnessed a seal leaping into someone’s Zodiac last year, he said.
Both seafarers said they weren’t worried the orcas would flip the Swan in pursuit of their prey.
“The orcas know what they’re doing,” said Templeman, saying the whales are too intelligent to recklessly destroy a boat for a snack.
Griffinson also said that in his many encounters with orcas during fishing trips, whales have never interfered with his equipment.
The whole encounter unf0lded over the course of 30-45 minutes. And while the seal held on for dear life, the whales also hung around.
“They continue[d] to look and wait for that seal,” he said.
Griffinson eventually navigated away from the scene. But even after some gentle prodding with a pole, the seal wouldn’t disembark.
“We did give it a push at one point in time, but it just got back on again,” he said. “We decided that the seal had had a tough enough day and we weren’t going to bug it anymore.”
The crew opted to leave the seal aboard the boat at the dock. But as they entered the shallows, near a spot where the seals haul out, Lucky slipped away.
“He obviously recognized the place,” Griffinson. “He just jumped off.”