Recently everything in my life and around me was coming up Orcas. Or maybe those days were like all the others but the difference was that I started paying more attention to news about them. Possibly it was due to the fact my family and I were going on our very first “Whale Watching” tour soon.
This past Christmas our family friend, Miss Jovana, bestowed my daughter a book “Orca Chief” reminding me of that attraction. She made me add it to our list of plans for the summer. I had been delaying this tour for years always finding good excuses. First, we were working overtime which was a priority, then we were pregnant, next it was our little girl was too small and wouldn’t remember, finally the sun was too strong when the ship disembarks. Although sometimes I didn’t want to admit it, the underlying of these delays were often about incomprehensible human disengagement. You hear about the Orcas so often that it’s easy to think the tour will forever be at our disposal.
I turned this page during the month of April when I started to search for the tour agency. I hoped I would find an offer that would best suit my family.
At the same time, my husband and I were preparing our child for the trip. We read to her the book “Orca Chief.” That story is just one version of an old First Nation legend, which was recorded and illustrated in 2014, by Roy Henry Vickers.
….. Thousands of years ago four fishermen sailed out to sea. They were supposed to bring food for their village. Tired of paddling they stopped and threw the stone (i.e. an anchor) into the water. Carelessly they did it without saying a prayer or thinking of how it would affect the residents of the marine world. Their anchor hit the house of the Orca Chief and disturbed the whales. When the chief realized that the people didn’t care for their act, he became furious and decided to face them...
– Does this mean I can’t throw stones into the water anymore? – asked my daughter.
Along with collecting shells and making sand castles, that was one of her favorite summer activities.
– You can, but you have to be cautious.
– And then, the Orcas will come and talk to us? – she wanted our story to be like the one from the book.
– Well, on this tour, they will probably swim around the boat – I told her in the hopes that it will be so.
When I went to the tourist agency the first thing I learned was that there’s no guarantee we will see Orcas. Every year from April to October the number of whales in the region significantly increases. The reason is the abundance of food. This period is also the prime season for the excursions. But even then, no one can know whether Orcas will show on the surface of the water, or rather choose to play hide-and-seek with people.
– How do you know where to look for them? – I continued chatting with the woman at the agency.
The Salish Sea is a huge water area partially separated from the open Pacific Ocean by Vancouver Island. It is a network of coastal waterways that includes the southwestern portion of the Canadian province of British Columbia and the US State of Washington. In that sea resides several types of whales: humpback, gray, minke whales, and Orcas, which are actually members of the dolphin family, but we call them whales.
– We are in touch with local fishermen, people from the other islands, hydro-jet companies. Usually, we get tips from them.
– Great. And what if they do not have any information?
– Then the crew relies upon their own experiences.
The local agency, “Five Star” I chose started their business 35 years ago. All of the members of the crew, the captain Trev and marine naturalists Christine and Katie, had many years of experience, knowledge and a tremendous love for the sea and marine life.
I have to accept this, I said to myself while saving the voucher in my bag. Also, we’re not tourists who arrived from the other side of the world to check out this attraction. We could always go on another tour.
A week before our departure, although spring was coming to an end, it was still wet and windy. There weren’t any signs of sunny days in the forecast. I wondered if the cold and the rough sea would spoil our excursion.
I finally found relief two days before the tour. On the front page of our local newspaper, The Times Colonist, I read, “Rare sight: Orcas spotted in Victoria’s Inner Harbour.” People were recording videos and putting them online. I watched them several times.
(Photo credit: Kevin Smith and Maple Leaf Adventures)
Now, I didn’t mind if we had to sail and search for Orcas beneath our umbrellas. I knew this would be a remarkable experience and memory.
– Check this out! – I showed my daughter pictures and videos as soon as she came back from preschool. – The Orcas came to say hello. They probably couldn’t wait any longer to see us – I made up the story.
A few days later, on the boat, Christine explained to us how such an attraction could also be dangerous for the animals:
– Orcas produce sounds for communication but also use them to navigate themselves. Lots of sounds and there were many in the busy inner harbour can harm the whales. We were happy when we heard they went back to the open sea.
We sailed for a long trip overseas. Christine gave us the instructions to look for the signs of whales. We searched for sudden bursts of water, which Orcas drop when they breathe and for flocks of birds. They are always in places where they can find good fish to eat.
After an hour and so, our search bore fruit.
(Photo: Five Star Whale Watching)
Like all the others there, our boat kept its distance from the Orcas. I read later that there is a strict regulation in this part of the world. 100 meters is the closest you can approach the whales. If you decide to move closer, it is advised that you turn off the boat engine or idle it only.
There are two types of Orcas in the Salish Sea, Resident, and Transient. Naturalists say you may recognize them by their different physical features, but I couldn’t. For me, it is easier to identify Orcas by other characteristics. Resident Orcas move in large groups; they are louder than their cousin-passengers and they also have different eating habits. They love salmon. The other, Transient Orcas swim in small groups, they are quieter and they feed on larger animals: sea otters, sea lions, seals, and other whales. Because of these hunters, all Orcas are known as killer whales.
Like every mammal Orcas are very attached to their mothers. They will remain close to them until they reach maturity, which is around the age of 15. On that day we spotted together, a mother and a calf.
(Photo: Five Star Whale Watching)
After 30 minutes, we turned back. Our mission of whale watching was declared both successful and completed.
We spent four hours that day on a boat. Sailing back and forth we passed other ships, sailboats, and yachts. We also sailed by the many, large and small, islands. Apparently, there are 419 in the Salish Sea. Some of them, the larger ones are populated and all look fabulous. Both the houses and docks reminded me of good children’s movies. Some smaller islands are private properties or mainly the houses for animals: birds, sea otters, and seals. There was also an island with a lone wolf, he swam one year from Vancouver Island and hadn’t left since.
I enjoyed looking out at the vast cerulean distance while listening to Christine and Katie share with us all this interesting information.
Upon our return, I stayed in the same atmosphere for some time. I was quiet while we were going through the inner harbour. It was full of people, busy bars, unpacked colorful stands and taxi-boats, which were embarking one after the other. While sitting in the park, watching my daughter climb the monkey bars, I started a conversation with my husband. Again about the old-new topic we were considering: buying a boat. But this time I was able to see us sailing around the island and having picnics by the coves.
It was already Monday morning. I checked my calendar and the list of plans for the coming days. I had scheduled a reading event a few weeks earlier to meet some local, children’s authors. They would be presenting their new books and I wanted to see them, hear them, and buy a couple for my daughter.
I opened the invitation to check ahead the place and time and began to laugh.
– Can you, please, ask me why am I laughing? – I turned to my husband.
He was passing the dining room and heading to the kitchen to grab some fruit when he stopped and looked at me.
– Orcas, they don’t want to leave me alone – I said. – I just realized that all the books that will be presented this Wednesday are published by “Orca Book Publishers.” Can you believe that?
– You know what – I continued – I am not waiting to buy a boat to sail the island and search for Orcas. I’m going to write my story where I found a way to swim around with them in the icy Pacific Ocean.