During a recent trip off the coast of British Columbia, a group of boaters found themselves playing "monkey in the middle" with six hungry orcas and a hiding sea lion. A video of the encounter has racked up mixed reviews since it was posted online, but those involved handled the situation well. 

Vancouver resident Elliot Funt filmed the clip in Howe Sound, a network of fjords situated just north of the city. While you should always give marine mammals a wide berth (officially 100 metres in Canada), the boaters made the right decisions here: they cut their engines and did not make any attempt to touch, feed or approach the animals.

"I am certainly aware that one is not supposed to get that close to whales," Funt clarified in a blog post about the experience. "And I was trying to keep my distance like a safe boater. The situation occurred because a sea lion that was escaping the whales found refuge on the side of the boat next to us."

Funt and the other skippers, who included the team at Prince of Whales Whale Watching, had been observing the orcas for about half an hour before the sea lion made a break for closer cover.

"The event all happened quite quickly," he recalls. "The killer whales followed, and it was too late to move – I didn't want to risk hurting any of the whales with the propellor. I decided it was best to turn the engine off."

At one point, the sea lion attempted to hop onto one of the boats – which can quickly turn dicey. Threatened animals can act erratically, and wildlife officials have urged anyone in a similar situation to do what they can to prevent a boarding.

After a tense wait, the captain opted to head back towards dry land and away from the pod.

"It appeared to be the best thing to do at the time," says Funt. "Once the sea lion made it to shore, the killer whales quickly swam away. Given the circumstances, I feel that the correct decision was made. No killer whales, [and no] sea lions, were hurt in the process."

Funt also hopes that his video will help to raise awareness about the diversity of marine life that relies on this pristine stretch of habitat, which is currently under review for the construction of a natural gas processing plant. 

"I'm an avid power boater and sailor and have been since I was a little kid," he says. "For these reasons, I've chosen to invest most of my volunteer time protecting Howe Sound."


Top header image: Hélène Surmont/Flickr