I was on Vancouver Island last week for the first time, with a party of 30 in tow (all family, God help me) and we were busy doing all the regular tourist things. One fine day we took a whale watching tour. Cynic that I am, I didn’t expect much the brochure showed giant orcas breeching all over the place, but I knew we d be lucky to see a fin on the horizon, and prepared myself for a relaxing afternoon cocktail cruise.
We set sail in an aluminum clad vessel that looked more like a miniature warship than a touring boat and after a short trip past lovely downtown Victoria and across the strait of Juan de Fuca (how many times this unknown explorer’s name is mispronounced I dare not wonder) we arrived at a popular whale-watching spot just off San Juan island. The air was crisp but pleasant as we drifted, all 30 of us, quiet as stones, struck dumb by the suddenly momentous job of inspecting the waves for signs of orca.
Sure enough, there in the distance, we saw a fin. Just a hint of a fin, really, but enough to ignite a chorus of squeals from the group. The younger kids rushed to the railing, where the grownups among us reluctantly relinquished their (not our) spots. We oohed and awed for a good while longer, and saw several fins of various shapes and sizes. They were bona fide sightings our guides had given these orcas names and identified them as all belonging to the same pod, and it was fabulous just knowing they swam among us. But still we wanted more. We wanted to see the Big Fish (er, mammal). We wanted our Discovery Channel moment.
Our guide was busy setting expectations *really, that’s a good number of sightings for a typical trip,* and the camera doesn t really capture the moment, he said, and just as he was advising us to put away our cameras and enjoy the scenery a commotion began stirring off the starboard side…
Now here’s where fact and fiction often collide in fish tails, but believe me when I say that this was not just one orca, not two, but three, who were now engaged in some kind of ritualistic feeding frenzy or mating dance not more than 20 feet away. (Really.) They tumbled in the water, they plunged, they swirled, and just when we thought we’d seen all we could expect to see for our tourist fee one of the males shot out of the water in a spectacular breech that we learned was the whale s way of seeing what s up in the waters around him (a spot walk, I think it was called). This was better than Discovery Channel, better than the whale shananigans at SeaWorld, because it was right in front of us, with no glass filter and no dramatic voiceover. The only sound in fact was the group s collective ahhh as the whales continued to tumble, until they finally disappeared beneath the boat, swimming RIGHT UNDER US as (no joke) a rainbow hovered over their shadows in the water.
Some of the group rushed to the other side (what IS the opposite of starboard anyway? My nautical knowledge fails me again) but I stayed put, knowing I had just seen more than I could possibly hope for in one afternoon of my life. For once I had my camera on and operational, and I actually managed to click a few shots, but for me nothing would do the moment justice but my own remembered emotion and it was a powerful emotion caused by the animal world in utter juxtaposition with the human.
The competitive among the group (there are several in my family) decided that this occurrence WAS just for us no other boat in the area had seen it as they were on the other side of the whales from us and our boat was blocking their view. The environmentalists decided it was a message from the gods, a sign that we needed to protect these waters and its progeny. But the true animal lovers among us knew the truth: it was a random event, brought on by who knows what in this who knows why You Tube age. I found the fact that the one video camera on board did not capture the moment proof that this event was not meant to be downsized by the act of uploading. And while I captured the whale s breech I did not manage to get the rainbow on the water. That rainbow has now become for me the piece de resistance, my moment of realization that God is always there, present in all things.
But I will not resort to nature philosophy plenty of others do a much better job of that. Suffice it to say that the competitive subgroup in our clan were happy to know that our guide decided this event rated #4 in more than 1,000 whale-watching trips. Of course we d have loved to be #1, but that spot is held by the group who saw two whales play catch with a young seal before one of them devoured him whole. I don t know what #2 and #3 were, but if I d seen much more I might ve quit my day job and moved to B.C. Besides, We re #4! has such a nice ring to it, you know?
Posted by Rachel
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