Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Three orcas approached Liam Brennan and his kayak within sight of downtown Vancouver on May 10.Liam Brennan

As three orcas approached his kayak within sight of downtown Vancouver, Liam Brennan says he felt a mix of terror, exhilaration and awe.

News of Mr. Brennan’s encounter earlier this month is now getting out, along with the photos he took of the experience.

It all began during an evening of kayaking for the UBC student shortly after he had seen some porpoises. That experience might have been a highlight for most, but then things took a turn.

Mr. Brennan, 23, said Sunday that he heard the blow of an orca out in the distance, then looked and said he saw a dorsal fin only a kilometre away.

The southern resident killer whale, among a marine community living in a range from Alaska to central California, wasn’t in the distance for long.

“What I initially thought was one individual turned out to be three individuals who proceeded to swim into my vicinity,” he said, recalling the May 10 experience.

Open this photo in gallery:

The orcas moved on after 10 to 15 minutes.Liam Brennan

Endangered whale population now threatened by inbreeding, study finds

The quest to free Lolita the orca from five decades in captivity

Within five minutes, they were close beside him. There were two large males on one side, and a female on the other. He could tell their gender by the shapes of their fins.

Mr. Brennan reached for his camera.

“I was hoping, I was praying that they weren’t going to accidentally bump me or come too close,” he said. “My well-being was in their proverbial hands.”

He says he felt terror. “These are the apex predators of the ocean,” he recalled. “And there was a mix of exhilaration because it has been a long-term dream of mine to paddle with orcas.” He also found it poetic because the encounter came as he was graduating from university.

“They were certainly moving with intention,” he said. They eat marine mammals, and he had just seen the porpoises, one of their prey. “I had the impression they were likely hunting. This is not scientific, just my gut feeling.”

“There was a lot of gratitude for the wonderful experience I had had.”

After about 10 to 15 minutes, the orcas moved on.

Mr. Brennan, who is from Ottawa, has never had this kind of orca experience before, though he has previously worked as a sea kayak guide on the east coast of Canada and came across humpback and fin whales

He now hopes this close orca encounter is not his last. “If it happened to me, it could happen to anyone. It could also happen to me again.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe