We were fishing for salmon off the west coast of Vancouver Island a few days ago, trailed by a lone sea lion who was looking for an easy snack-on-a-hook, when I spotted a plume of mist on the water about a mile south: killer whales, spouting. About 20 orcas were moving north at speed. For me, this was cream in the coffee at the start of a great day on Pacific water. But you could practically see a shudder ripple down the 15 or so fishing boats strung out above the underwater ledge where sockeye, coho and spring salmon linger. For big, fat, juicy fish, the arrival of orcas triggers the equivalent of the “Dive! Dive!” response in old submarine movies: they vamoosed, pronto. As the whales approached we saw a wavy dorsal fin, likely that of the famous J-pod orca named Ruffles, who is thought be almost 60 years old. An adult and juvenile whale swam right under our boat.
And yes, the salmon strikes dried up for a while, until the whales cleared a distant lighthouse and the fish resumed their biting.
It was a pure lesson in the sacred importance of sustainability, and a thrill to realize that, on the ocean, even with depthfinders and an experienced boat captain, you’re not at the top of the food chain.

Back at the marina, later, salmon heads were lopped off and tossed to a hungry harbor seal while seagulls cried and dove.

Next night: roast spring salmon with a ginger-soy glaze and melted leeks.
To see orcas in video action, check out:
To see the members of J, K and L pods, which range up and down the west
coast, see:

For recipe inspiration, try our Top-Rated Salmon Dishes.