An orca, or killer whale, not commonly seen in Nova Scotia waters, put on an hour-long show Tuesday for a whale-watching tour boat off Brier Island.
“It was a pretty amazing sight to see,” Roy Small, who captains the Island Link for Welcome Aboard Whale Watching Tours on Brier Island, said Wednesday.
“Everybody was just ecstatic, including (the crew). It was a very, very, good day.”
The last reported orca sighting in the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia was about two years ago, Small said.
“This is the very first time I’ve seen one,” he said.
Small, his crew and roughly 10 passengers had been on the water for three hours Tuesday and had already been treated to sightings of several humpbacks, a fin whale that was surface-feeding, a minke whale, dolphins and porpoises.
The boat was about 12 kilometres northwest of Brier Island watching a group of about six humpbacks when a passenger spotted an unusual fin nearby.
Crew member Tania Campbell was up on the bow when she heard Small shout.
“All I heard was, ‘Holy smokes. I think it’s an orca!’” Campbell said Wednesday.
Small said an orca’s dorsal fin is very distinctive.
“It is about three feet high,” he said. “There is no mistaking it.”
He said the male orca measured 7.5 to nine metres and was travelling alone.
Small, who has also been a lobster fisherman for 22 years, said he has not done much reading on orcas and wasn’t sure what to expect.
“He was really friendly. I was really surprised,”
“He came right to us. He made a close approach to us a couple of times. We watched him from a distance and he’d come over and check us out, go around the boat and underneath. He’d roll up on his side and look at us.”
Hal Whitehead, a biology professor at Dalhousie University who specializes in the study of whales, said orcas are not often spotted in Nova Scotia waters but are more frequently seen off Newfoundland and Labrador.
“They are pretty rare around the Maritimes in general, but they are seen from time to time,” he said.
“They come by from time to time. We don’t know quite why or what they are up to.”
Campbell said she felt a little shaky when the orca made such a close approach.
“It was a slightly different feeling, just that really tall dorsal fin,” she said. “It is just a different sort of presence — I think, I guess, maybe because it is a toothed whale.”
The orca breached, or leaped out of, the water three times, and Campbell was happy that she managed to snap a photo of the unusual sight.
Small radioed another whale-watching boat nearby so its passengers could also have a chance to see the killer whale.
“I think the other boat got a pretty good show too,” Campbell said.
Small said it seemed a shame to finally have to call it a day.
“Nobody wanted to go in. We all wanted to stay and keep watching it.
“The weather was starting to deteriorate so we had to go.””