As the sun was setting on Saturday, Aug. 26 three kakawin, the Nuu-chah-nulth word for orca, traveled into Port Alberni’s Harbour Quay for what some would say is the farthest up the Alberni Inlet they've been seen.
Only meters from Fisherman's Wharf, orcas breached multiple times, putting on a show for the lucky crowd who cheered them on. Soon, videos and photos would be circulated on social media to share the incredible sight.
Throughout August chinook salmon have been arriving in the Alberni Inlet, making their way to the Somass River system. When the kakawin arrived, the inlet was abundant with the largest species of salmon.
Residential killer whale populations are known to eat salmon and travel in larger groups, whereas Transient killer whales travel in groups of three to seven and hunt marine mammals, such as sea lions and porpoises.
Jennifer Steven, owner of the Tofino Whale Centre, shared that though it was difficult for her to identify the exact species of killer whale because the photos do not provide a clear depiction of their saddle patch, the off-white spot behind their dorsal fin used in identification, she believes they may be Transient killer whales.
“I would say they are Transient killer whales from what I can see,” wrote Steven in an email to Ha-Shilth-Sa. “These whales travel in smaller groups and hunt mammals (sea lions, harbour seals).”
“The breaching activity could be after a kill or hunt,” she wrote. “They could have been celebrating.”
Many believe that the whales followed the chinook salmon through the Alberni Inlet into the Harbour Quay.
“Some say the kakawin also help us celebrate,” said Aaron Watts, a cultural support worker for ʔuuʔatumin yaqckʷiimitqin (Alberni Indian Residential School working group). “The kakawin were not only following the food source through the Alberni Inlet up to the harbour there, but they were celebrating with us as well.”
Watts shared that for Nuu-chah-nulth culture kakawin, among other sea life, are traditionally teachers.
“We’ve learned many ways of life through our animal kingdom,” said Watts. “The kakawin is one of them who has shown us the strength… and they also have a very powerful spirit.”