Monday, August 15, 2011

Orca Drive-by

We had a close encounter while traveling yesterday that I can only describe in driving terms. We were proceeding south about three miles off the west coast of Vancouver Island (off Flores Island on our way into Clayquot Sound). The sky was gray, and the sea was almost calm, with just the mildest ocean swell; there was no wind, and we were motoring along at our regular 7 knots. We had seen many whales in the distance during the day, some we could identify as Humback whales, and others, closer into shore, that looked like Orcas, or Killer Whales. But nothing out of the ordinary.
Now here’s the driving analogy. In conditions like this, driving the boat is like driving on a stretch of highway through very large desert, at 7 miles an hour. The mate was at the helm (in the driver’s seat), and the captain sat facing the helm. We were chatting about something inane. All of a sudden, two orca whales surfaced just beyond the captain, at a distance of ten or fifteen feet.  They were traveling the opposite direction, and it was as if they were in the next lane.  The dorsal fin on the larger whale was probably six feet tall, and his back a beautiful black curve. Sort of as if a beautiful black Maserati were to appear next to your car without warning, as you were driving slowly through a very large, deserted desert…..
Always slow, the mate just gaped, speechless, and pointed, and gaped some more.  The  Captain finally turned to see the group – we think there were four – calmly surface, then submerge, then surface again as they continued their northward journey.  There were several different fin forms, and several quite small Orcas, so we imagine this may have been a family group. The photo (not ours, but credited to a Tofino based whale watching boat: does a good job of showing what we saw - only our whales were several lanes closer!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those episodes can be charming or frightening.

I remember one day leaving the mouth of Yes Bay, Alaska (you two have been there). We began to see the spouts from whales near the mouth of the bay. We slowed down and saw a very large pod of Orcas and then we stopped. The problem was that there were two groups of Orcas. The adults were about two hundred yards out from the mouth of the bay, but a group of juveniles was in close, right against the rock walls.

As we sat there watching, suddenly a LARGE (we assumed male) Orca suddenly rose straight from the water, with his body all the way back to the dorsal fin out of the water. He was obviously looking at us.

Meanwhile the pod of juveniles had passed us and was about three hundred yards further along and we were no longer between them and the adults. The BIG Orca slid back into the water and the adults continued on their way. Leaving us a bit shaken thinking about what could have happened if the adults had perceived that we were threatening the juveniles.

Of course, just like every time something spectacular has happened (like the eruption of Mt. St. Helens) I did not have my camera along.


August 16, 2011 4:47 PM  
Anonymous Cheryl said...

I am awaiting the inspirational painting from this experience!!!!!

Love the photo and thought it was yours!!! But I guess the flabbergasted response didn't leave time for a camera retrieval.


August 18, 2011 6:58 PM  
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August 19, 2011 7:00 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Six foot tall dorsal fin?! Amazing!

August 20, 2011 11:42 AM  

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