Victoria’s whale watching community is shocked and saddened after a whale watching vessel capsized near Tofino, killing five people last week.
On Sunday, the MV Leviathan II, operated by Jamie’s Whaling Station, was on a whale watching expedition when it sank west of Vargas Island. Twenty-one people were sent to hospital and one person is still missing.
According to the B.C. Coroner’s Service, Katie Taylor, 29, who lived in Whistler, Jack Slater, 76, who lived in Toronto, Nigel Francis Hooker, David Wyndham Thomas and his 18-year-old son Stephen David Thomas from England were killed in the accident.
The tragedy has left Victoria’s tight-knit whale watching community saddened.
“Devastated, dumbfounded, shocked. All of the above, any adjective you can come up with to describe ‘did that really just happen’?” said Brett Soberg, co-owner and operator of Eagle Wing Tours, who heard about the incident on social media. “We offer our condolences to the staff at Jamie’s and the families that are going through this tragedy.”
Another Victoria whale watching company said they were deeply saddened by the news.
The cause of the sinking is still under investigation, however preliminary information by the Transportation Safety Board indicates a rogue wave struck the vessel, causing it to roll and capsize.
Soberg said it was a freak accident that could happen anywhere, but was quick to note the difference in Tofino’s water conditions compared to Victoria.
Typically on the west coast of Vancouver Island, vessels are subjected to more of a mountainous swell, which can be more like “big hills rolling at you,” said Soberg, adding he’s never operated a vessel in waters off Tofino.
In Victoria, waters are more protected with landmasses breaking down the energy of the wind resulting in more choppy conditions.
“I suppose anything is possible, similarly hopping on a bus, getting into your car or popping onto a plane,” said Soberg, adding they’ve had a perfect safety record in Victoria. “There’s always that very, very finite chance that something could go wrong, but we all do our best to mitigate any potential issues.”
Victoria operators go through annual inspections and operators are cleared by Transport Canada.
On a regular basis, Soberg said companies complete daily visual inspections such as checking vessels for leaking fluids or some mechanical part showing signs of fatigue.
Eagle Wing Tours has had a few cancellations since the incident occurred, but Soberg said they won’t know what kind of effect the incident will have on local businesses yet.
There are currently 34 whale watching companies operating in the Pacific Northwest.