The sighting of a killer whale (or orca) can be rare, but they do love to hunt and play in the waters between Vancouver and Seattle, so one of the activities we absolutely wanted to do (in addition to the harbour seaplane flight) was to go whale watching.
Just South of Vancouver, in the quaint Historic fishing village of Steveston we hopped aboard our boat, and spent the day on the water cruising the coast looking for whales, other marine mammals and seabirds. The regular chug-chug-chug of the boat motor for a couple of hours lulled me into a meditate state as we sped our way over the State line from Vancouver, back down to the waters of Washington State.
The shimmer of the water all dappled in the sunlight, the slow, measured tones of our guide and snuggling into my warm jacket against the sharp breeze off the coast was just enough to make me forget my worries, and zone out from all of my modern day dilemmas.
Honestly, it needs to be prescribed on the NHS.
Forget hauling yoga mats and sitting in sweaty concrete rooms with patterns trying to hide the utilitarian backdrop, just hop on a boat out from Vancouver. Not having much success closer to the British Columbia shores, our captain decided to head south past the Canadian/American border.
Incredibly, the resident killer whales of the San Juan Islands are the most studied whales in the world; they, in turn, have observed humans for at least six thousand years.
Stable family groups, called pods, represent several generations and include grandmothers (the pod leaders), adolescents, infants, and huge bulls. Each family member is recognized by its distinctive markings and can live as long as a human. Much of what is known about the orca whale’s highly-organized social life has been learned from the resident pods in the San Juan Islands of Washington.
Scanning the horizon (the first person to spot them promised another muesli bar) we eagerly peered through the windows, each hoping to see the distinctive fins and tails.
Huzzah! A shout went up, and we all peeled out of the cabin up to the main deck.
We’re told that they were likely to be hugging the coast, on the hunt for tasty salmon.
And they got closer and closer as we watched, took a couple of snaps and quietly put away our cameras. Sometimes you just need to be in the moment (and concentrate on not looking like exotic salmon Tartare.)
Staying a fair distance from these wild, incredible, sleek Nereids, we watched with awe as they slid through the gentle slap of the waves.
Then got closer and CLOSER, at one point coming within around 20 feet of where our boat was bobbing along.
After about 15 minutes of threading through the boats and getting much, much closer than they usually do – unlike wild dolphins who adore the boats – they got sick of their prospective dinner being wrapped in woollen scarves, preferring to slide off to waters undisturbed and full of fins.
We watched, full of pleased adrenalin as their fins took off into distance, and shook our heads in thrilled disbelief.
On the way home, we saw a multitude of sunning seals, ocean birds and a bald-eagle who was simply going about her business.
Just another day at the cliff-face (literally.)
It was an amazing experience, totally worth the hours out at sea – and despite my imagination running away with me, the whales showed no interest in human snacks at all.
What is your most memorable nature experience?