Liam Brennan said he’s always dreamt about spotting an orca, the mesmerizing apex predator of the ocean. And just a few weeks before his graduation, his dream came true.
Brennan told Daily Hive that he usually paddles in his kayak in the Vancouver area but had a dream he used to think was “absurd.”
However, on May 10, after a long day at work at UBC, he decided to head out on his kayak near Locarno Beach in the evening.
After an hour out on the water, the sun started to set, and he said he began to head back to shore.
Then, he said he heard a distant blow.
“There’s absolutely no wind; it was a perfect day … practically no waves, so you can hear things at quite a distance. And I heard the blow of what I thought might be a whale off in the distance.
“It turns out my instincts were right.”
As he looked over his shoulder, he said he saw a dorsal fin of a large orca about a kilometre away.
At that moment, Brennan’s dream came true. Not only did he spot one, but three orcas swam near him.
He said the closest the orcas got to him and his kayak was about 10 to 15 meters away.
He told Daily Hive he was simultaneously filled with terror and exhilarated.
“Certainly, as the apex predator of the ocean, my well-being was in their proverbial hand, I guess you could say,” he said. “Certainly feeling a sense of terror, but that was reassured in the back of my mind that in the wild, they generally aren’t aggressive towards humans.”
Brennan assured he kept his distance from the orcas, and while he watched them swim around the area for about 10 minutes, he leaned over and pulled out his camera to snap once-in-a-lifetime shots of the marine mammals.
The 23-year-old has now graduated from UBC with a degree in environmental science and said this experience was particularly enriching with his studies as “I got to engage so closely with these animals.”
With the help of researchers, he said they were able to identify the group of orcas as transient killer whales.
“So based on the markings of the saddle patch, which is the gray area behind the thin eyepatch, as well on the dorsal fin, you’re able to identify individual pods,” he explained.
Brennan said the fact that he could spot the orcas in BC suggests to him that this is a “conservation success.”
“The presence of predators is … often a sign of really strong ecosystem health. So we’re seeing this kind of icon of the wilderness and ecological health right in front of the Vancouver skyline, one of Canada’s densest urban centers,” he said.
“So I hope my images can kind of be a symbol of ecological resiliency, and we can really find ways to coexist with nature and with the wildlife in British Columbia.”