Christie Jamieson was out for a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) outing when a pod of transient orcas made a dramatic appearance in the Ucluelet Harbour.
“My whole body is still shaking. I don’t even know what to do with this energy. I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s the best adrenaline ever,” Jamieson said.
Jamieson, a former SUP instructor and whale-watching industry staff member, said she set out on the water at around 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 19 and was on her board for almost three hours. She said she was keeping a safe distance and wasn’t being aggressive or trying to paddle in the middle of the pod.
“At a certain point, they came my way. It’s not like I can paddle away from them. I’m not going to put my paddle in when they are coming towards me because that will look like a seal or a sea lion, so at that point you just have to sit there.
“I don’t get scared of them ever. It’s almost like I’d rather be in the water than on the board. I would love to be an underwater animal photographer. That would be my absolute dream,” Jamieson said.
“Every single time I see whales, it doesn’t matter if it’s orcas or humpbacks, greys, I always cry when I get that close to them.”
Icon Developments also captured the orca visit on video, and posted it to their Twitter account (@jamieiconcarson).
A few summers ago, Jamieson was treated to a similar killer whale encounter in the Ucluelet Harbour, and she’s also paddled beside humpbacks.
Many locals raised concerns about boaters, including Jamieson on her self-propelled SUP, getting too close to the whales during the Jan. 19 appearance and thus violating the Marine Mammal Regulations.
Under Canada’s Fisheries Act, people must keep 200 metres away from killer whales in the B.C. Pacific Ocean, and 400 metres away from killer whales in southern B.C. coastal waters between Campbell River and just north of Ucluelet (June 1 – May 31). Vessel operators are also asked to turn off their echo sounders and turn engines to neutral idle, if safe to do so, when a whale is within 400 metres.
Ucluelet First Nation member Tissa Deline said she was watching the orcas from Whiskey Dock when she saw someone run down to the water with a SUP.
“I was outraged by what I saw and stuck watching my workplace’s front door while I watched in horror as she paddled out into the very middle of a six orca pod that included two calves learning to hunt. I’m incredibly disheartened and outraged,” Deline wrote in an email to the Westerly.
Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson watches a pod of orcas on Jan. 19, 2021 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O'Malley photos)
Marine Education and Research Society reacts
Jackie Hildering is a communications liaison for the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS), an organization dedicated to promoting conservation and understanding of marine ecosystems through scientific research, environmental education, and marine wildlife response.
Hildering says Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is investigating the events of Jan. 19 for violation of the Marine Mammals Regulations Fisheries Act.
“It’s unflinching and non-debatable whether this was a violation of the law. There is an ongoing investigation to see what this actually leads to,” Hildering told the Westerly on Jan. 20 from the MERS office in Port McNeill.
“If the paddle boarder was outside 200 metres and viewing the orca, there would be no violation. Moving or positioning within 200 meters with intent to target the whales is a violation. But this isn’t about the vilification of this individual. This is an opportunity to learn about what is legal and what is not.”
Hildering notes the Marine Mammal Regulations are for motorized and non-motorized vessels.
“Disturbance goes beyond noise. There is research that supports that even the presence of a vessel is impacting the life processes of the whales,” she said, adding that if in doubt, it’s best to stay further away.
“Something like this is directing negative attention to whale watching,” Hildering said.
MERS colleague Jared Towers identified members of the orca pod to be the T109C and T028A matrilines of Bigg’s Killer Whales (the mammal-hunting population).
Anyone that may have witnessed an incident of concern, is encouraged to call the DFO Incident Reporting Line at 1-800-465-4336.
(This story has been updated from the original to reflect public reaction to the encounter)
How far is 200 metres? graphic by Fisheries and Oceans Canada