A routine search and rescue exercise off Howe Sound was crashed by hundreds of dolphins Thursday night.
Crews from the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue’s West Vancouver station were out performing their regular daily exercises between Fisherman’s Cove and Bowen Island.
Ian Grantham, the coxswain of the West Vancouver boat, said, “We were just out training like we do every night. Next thing we know, we go ‘Hey look, there’s a dolphin.’ And then someone goes, ‘Uh nope, looks like there’s about 200 dolphins.’”
Grantham said the dolphins surrounded the search and rescue boat, chasing the vessel.
“They were jumping in and out of the wake, flipping around, going under the boat, having a lot of fun.”
Grantham said he had never seen anything like that in his years serving the search and rescue station.
“We see porpoises all the time, otters, the odd whale…(the dolphins) sort of change their direction as a group, like birds. It was really neat to see.”
Caitlin Birdsall from the B.C. Cetacean Sighting Network said that the dolphins in Howe Sound are relatively new to the environment, possibly moving in due to a large herring population, one of the dolphin’s favourite foods.
“Really in the last four years they’ve become much more common in Howe Sound,” said Birdsall, “This is the same species that you also get out in the Strait of Georgia and around the coast.”
The numbers are not strictly unusual either, though the groups are less stable than other animals like killer whales, and often either break down into smaller groups, or sometimes form much larger ones.
“Off the coast, there have been reports of thousands of the dolphins travelling together,” said Birdsall.
As to why the dolphins follow boats, Birdsall said there was “no perfect scientific reason” but that following the wake of boats — including ferries — is something that the dolphins like to regularly do.