Killer Whale Attack at McInnes Island Lighthouse!

Killer Whale Attack at McInnes Island Lighthouse!

2 HP Evinrude electric trolling motor

One early morning I was out on the water trolling for salmon from my 12 foot (4 metre) aluminum boat. The sun was just rising and I had just completed and transmitted my first weather of the morning. By the time I had a coffee ready, loaded rods and lures into the boat and lowered the boat into the water via the highline it was probably about 04:30.

At the time I did not have the money for a gas outboard so was using 12 volt Evinrude 2HP electric motor for trolling. Becauseof winds and tide this was only good on a a flat calm day which this was. As the sun rose it became warmer and I could see better. Behind me in Catala Passage the water began to boil and the herring gulls started to appear from nowhere. It was a herring ball!1 (a.k.a. bait ball as there are many types of small fish that ball up when attacked)

This is always a fisherman’s dream! Hopefully when trolling close to the ball one can catch a salmon that is feeding from underneath and forcing the ball to the surface. I turned the boat and slowly trolled over to the side of the ball.

herring ball

 The salmon usually strike the ball and then drop down to pick up the injured herring and hopefully my hook as well. It was a large ball and the gulls were wheeling and diving and the small diving birds were intermixed with the gulls. It was a quiet morning but the gulls soon changed that with their loud cries. No bites!


gulls wheeling and diving

I was just turning to make another turn across the ball when my portable radio blared “John, there’s a pod of killer whales coming around the west end of the island and heading your way.” My assistant Dennis had gotten up early to do my next weather so I did not have to come in right away.

He had seen the whales heading for the corner of the island from up beside the engine room. “OK, thanks Dennis. I’d better get out of here as they are probably heading for the herring”.

photo - John Hyde - Wild Things Photography

I also didn’t know what the sound of my little electric motor would do to the whales – attract or repel them. I pulled up my lines just as a large killer whale rounded the corner and breached clear out of the water in a shower of spray and then landed with a splash that would have sunk my little boat. The resultant smack came to my ears a few seconds later after it hit the water. What a display! Behind this one were two more smaller whales, all heading my way.


Highline rock (middle) - killer whales were between it and larger background island - photo Glenn Borgens

Lines onboard, I headed for the highline anchor rock about 250 yards away (229 meters) and let the boat sit in the kelp by the rock and waited for the whales to come past the West end of the island as they were out of sight right now from my position. The herring ball was still milling in the center of the pass.

Just then, from around the corner where I was expecting the whales to show, came six sea lions almost walking on the water they were moving so fast. They were close to shore and barely touched the water in their fear of the whales.

I half expected the whales to be coming right after them but no, they appeared, and headed straight for the herring ball. I was so engrossed in watching the whales attack the herring ball that I completely forgot about the sea lions.

Stellar sea lions - Jackie Hildering; www.themarinedetective.ca

Hearing a splash I looked around and here I was sitting in my little boat in the midst of the kelp when six sea lion heads popped up and extended half their body length out of the water. All six were so close to the boat I could have touched them and they were also watching the killer whales! So all seven of us watched as the whales cleaned up the herring ball and then headed Northwest out of the pass into deeper water.

As the killer whales had probably cleaned up most of the herring and disturbed any salmon, it was not worth it to continue fishing. The sea lions sensing no more danger, headed back to their rock at the front of the island. I turned and rowed back to the highline hook and got the boat ready for lifting.

It had taken just over half an hour for the whales to clean up the herring and disappear.

Sure wish someone had taken a photo of the seven of us hiding out behind the rock. It would have been priceless! I don’t think the whales even saw us.



I did not know where to put this cartoon, so figured this was just as good as any! A herring ball in action!





1 Herring Ball – a milling ball of herring fish caused by predator fish on the bottom and herring gulls, diving birds and sometimes eagles on the top, which causes the small 3 – 4 inch (8 – 10 cm) herring to mill into a ball and break the surface of the ocean with silvery flashes while trying to escape. – retlkpr 


Aside note: That electric motor really paid for itself! On the left is a picture of me taken last summer (2011) with the very same electric motor which my son now uses. It is at least 25 years old and still running. It has been in salt water tidal streams, and fresh water lakes, and at times it has worked very hard.

One time we loaded my fourteen foot (4.3 meter) Zodiac with a 25 HP Evinrude, two 5-gallon gas tanks, electric motor, 12 volt battery for motor,  fishing rods, rifles, two dive belts, tackle boxes, food, down-rigger weights, down-riggers, radios, etc. – I forget everything we packed along. Later in the day we (two of us also in the boat) were motoring UP a small shallow stream with the propeller barely in the water, and we still had steerage-way! That little motor was a wonder.

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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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