Huge sea lion tries to jump into B.C.’s couple’s boat and nearly capsizes it

As It Happens6:22Huge sea lion tries to jump into B.C.’s couple’s boat and nearly capsizes it

A B.C. couple got a fright on Monday when a frantic sea lion tried to jump into their small fishing boat to get away from a pod of orca whales.

Ernest and Viesia Godek were enjoying an afternoon on Pedder Bay, about a 30-km drive from Victoria, on Monday when they saw a pod of orcas go by.

“We were just parked on the water quite away from the shore. Something just hit [the boat] from the bottom. It was definitely something that was alive and that was huge. It was very scary,” Godek told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. 

Mark Malleson, a nearby whale-watching guide with the tour company Prince of Whales, saw the encounter and told the Victoria Times Colonist that the sea lion wasn’t being hunted by the orcas, but may have heard them and then panicked.

“Based on what we’re hearing from very experienced boaters and fishermen, it’s never happened before,” said Godek. “So it happened to us, and we’re here to tell the story and share it with people.”

Here is part of their conversation.

Your boat’s not that big, right?

We were the smallest vessel out there. There was a number of them. Our boat is 14 feet long [four metres] and it’s like an open, from the 1970s, aluminum boat that has a bit of a leak in it. So it’s not that sturdy.

And then something hits it. What did you think it was?

We thought it was an orca whale, because they were heading our way. So they submerged under water about 20 metres from the boat as they were passing by. They were heading our direction, and at the beginning I thought it was a whale, which would be unusual for a whale to actually hit a boat.

And it wasn’t an orca. So what was it?

It was a huge sea lion.

And so how does one react in that moment?

It was very frightening because we thought that, you know, there’s something that’s connecting the orcas with the sea lion … and we were caught in the middle of it.

Sea lion tries to jump into B.C. couple’s boat

A sea lion tried to jump into a B.C. couple’s small aluminum fishing boat off the coast of Vancouver Island in order to get away from orca whales.

You thought there would be more things hitting your boat, more creatures trying to jump on your boat.

Exactly … whether it was a hunt or some kind of a struggle or a fight, we thought that we were caught in the middle of it. And it was really frightening because of the sheer size of these animals.

I can only imagine. So do you scream in a moment like that or are you trying to stay quiet?

We were actually whispering to each other because there was a bang and then the head popped up and then it disappeared again underwater and it was just silent. So it was calm, and so we were whispering, [trying] not to make any noises.

I don’t know what triggered us to do that, but we didn’t scream. We didn’t seem to, you know, struggle violently in any way. We were just looking at each other going, “What do we do?”

What was your wife Viesia doing and saying? Were you holding on to each other for dear life?

So my wife Viesia was [sitting] in the front at the bow of the boat.

When there was the thud … on the bottom of the boat, she immediately climbed onto the floor of the boat so she wouldn’t be as close and as exposed on … the higher level of the boat.

So she went on to the floor and she lied down on the floor. And I think she may have even closed her eyes because she can’t recall the sea lion being there.

Two people, a husband and wife, smile in front of an installation. The wife has long blonde hair and is wearing a black-and-white checked top. The husband is a white man with short brown hair, wearing a blue jacket.
Viesia and Ernest Godek were whispering to each other after something bumped into their boat this week. Then a sea lion tried to hop in. (Submitted by Ernest Godek)

I bet you can. And I’ve seen video, it seems to happen very, very quickly. But I bet it was like slow motion for you. How close did it get to you? Did it touch you? Could you smell it?

It was arm’s reach. I definitely smelled it. My clothes got soaking wet when the boat submerged halfway under water because of the weight of the sea lion and … I was wet, soaking wet up to my waist, and I could smell that smell for the rest of the day. It just didn’t leave me. 

It’s unexplainable how quickly everything happened and how little time you have to react. That’s why, you know, it’s important that we have our lifejackets on all the time because they’re just split second moments.

What’s your sense of why the sea sea lion was so keen, I guess we could say, to get on your boat?

The orcas [seemed] to at some point change their course and they were heading straight for our boat. And I’m thinking that the sea lion, that was on the path of the orcas, was trying to get away from them. So it was trying to make [its] way to safety … it looked very distressed.

It was breathing very heavily when its head popped out of the water. It didn’t seem to be calm at all. It was clinging to the boat until it decided that [the] safest refuge for it would be on top of the boat. But it was not because it’s not the size of the boat that would hold a giant like that.

A small boat buckles as a sea lion perches on its edge.
The sea lion didn’t make it into the boat fully and slipped out again, said Godek. (Brendon Bissonnette/Prince of Whales)

Did you guys just speed off after that?

It came on, the boat filled up, you know, partially with a lot of water. And we were trying to — I was trying to balance it back to … on top of the water and the sea lion must have realized that … the boat won’t hold it up. So it slipped off, slid off. And at that time, I revved the motor and I was trying to make my getaway from the area.

How are you feeling now?

I’m still a little shaken. We saw the video for the first time last night, and … it’s a pretty scary moment where you’re quite, you know, in a very vulnerable position.

That struggle for … your life in a way that just, you know, brings back some thoughts and feelings even as we speak about it now. But I’ll be out there again.

Written by Andrea Bellemare. Interview with Ernest Godek produced by Morgan Passi. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.