Fishing Freshwater Salmon and Steelhead Fishing

Watch: Killer Whales Try to Steal Angler’s Salmon

"An amazing experience but a little too close for comfort"
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The anglers were able to horse the fish out of the water before the whale ate it off their line. reimer47 / Instagram

A Canadian charter captain recorded a rare and up-close encounter that she and her clients had with a couple hungry killer whales this summer. While reeling in a chinook salmon, they nearly lost it to a whale as it chased the hooked fish within a few feet of their boat. It’s about as close as humans and orcas will ever get outside of Sea World. As a bonus, the anglers were able to land the salmon without harming or disturbing the two whales that surfaced boat side.

In an Instagram post she made last week, the charter captain, who goes by Téa, shared the video along with the full story of what happened. She called it an “amazing experience” but added that it was “a little too close for comfort.”

Téa writes that she’d gone salmon fishing with clients that afternoon. It was just like any other day on the water, she explains, until they hooked a chinook and one of her clients started to play the fish.

“The fish had taken a run at the boat,” she writes, “so as usual I look over to see the size of the fish when I saw a massive flash of white underneath us.”

Téa recognized right away that the massive flash of white was actually an orca chasing the hooked salmon. She quickly cut the engine and turned off the boat’s sonar. This was done partly for the whale’s sake, as the high-frequency pitch made by sonar devices can harm killer whales and other marine mammals that depend on echolocation to hunt and navigate. It’s also a legal requirement because orcas are endangered, and captains in both the U.S. and Canada are prohibited from turning their propellers when the whales are nearby.

“[Then] I instructed my guest on just horsing it in because I wouldn’t be able to net it with the orcas out there,” Téa explains. “I wanted that fish out of the water before we caused an issue.”

The video shows them frantically working the fish in as one of the orcas gets within inches of the hooked salmon more than once. The whale gets so close that it could have easily rammed the boat if it wanted to.

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“Ughh, go away!” she yells at the whale as it noses up to the fish splashing on the surface. “Don’t you fucking dare.”

Seconds later, she gets her hands on the leader and yanks the hooked salmon into the boat. The curious orca then turns and swims away in search of an easier meal.

“I’ve never seen that before!” Téa says, laughing with relief. “I think I peed a little.”   

It’s unclear where this video was filmed. But judging from the scenery and Téa’s social media profile, the encounter likely took place off the coast of British Columbia. The ocean waters around Vancouver Island are home to three Southern Resident orca pods, along with a number of transient orcas that roam from Alaska down to California.

These giant whales sit at the top of the North Pacific food chain, but their primary food source is chinook salmon, also known as king salmon. This is especially true of Southern Resident killer whales, and these fish make up roughly 80 percent of their diet. Unfortunately, as chinook runs have declined in recent decades, so has the region’s orca population. According to some estimates, there are only about 75 individual killer whales remaining off the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.