When Anna Mihalj decided to go for a run on Valentine’s Day, she wound up being at the right place at the right time to witness something spectacular.
The new-to-the-area resident said she was running along the Cable Bay Trail on the outskirts of Nanaimo about mid-day on Feb. 14. At the same time, a pod of orcas were “rolling on through” Dodd Narrows — a narrow, fast-movement passage between Vancouver Island and neighbouring Mudge Island.
“I was just like, ‘I can’t believe this,’” she said of the encounter. “I was really lucky.”
Mihalj said she had been through the passage on a sailboat before during slack water, but wanted to see what the area looked like at high flow, so she set out for a run after checking the tide tables.
“And I got a bonus too,” she added.
While her first marine mammal encounter may have only lasted a few minutes, the runner said one of the whales was within two metres of her at one point.
“The video didn’t do justice to how close they were at first. They were right there because the water goes so deep right away,” she said.
In an e-mail, the co-founder and president of the Orca Behavior Institute, Monika Wieland, referred to the sighting as a special and unusual occurrence.
Based on Mihalj’s video, Wieland said they were able to determine the whales passing through were members of J-pod by identifying their unique markings, and added that while there are records of southern resident orcas transiting through Dodd, it’s not a common occurrence. Bigg’s killer whales, she said, also known as transients, tend to travel through the passage more regularly.
“They were likely heading through on their way to the Strait of Georgia, where they typically spend a lot of time foraging for food this time of year,” Wieland said. “They’re lunging higher out of the water than usual to help fight the strong currents … While they don’t often swim in currents this strong, they’re well-adapted to manoeuvre through them, and do occasionally encounter strong currents in other narrow passages throughout their habitat.”
Wieland also noted that orcas were also spotted in March 2022 going through Dodd Narrows, and suggested this could indicate a new preferred travel route this time of year.
Mihalj originally posted the video to Facebook’s Nanoose Whale Watch page for other people to enjoy, but noticed that it has also been shared by other wildlife institutes and environmental groups.
“Which makes it even more important,” she said. “They’re trying to protect [the area] right now too, because it’s not fully public land. So there’s been some response to the video in that regard, which I had no idea about.”
An online petition to preserve and expand the Cable Bay Trail area exists on on www.change.org.
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