My Chance Encounter with a Humpback Whale
September 30, 2015
Growing up in rural Alberta didn’t offer a lot in the way of animal encounters. The only wildlife common to the prairies of my youth were gophers, deer, coyotes and the occasional moose. However, my sense of wonder about animals wasn’t extinguished – in fact the opposite was true.
I became obsessed with whales. Orcas in particular, humpback whales too.
I remember well a large blue book in my elementary school’s library. The book had orca whales on the front, humpback whales on the back. I’d check the book out at least once each week, much to the chagrin of my parents who were forced to read it over and over again.
But for me, whales, dolphins, seals and other marine animals were more of a legend than a reality because the ocean was so far away. I’d read the book and drift off imagining a brave new world beneath the waves filled with vast societies of intelligent beings. Reading about these mysterious creatures was merely a fantasy for me, a means of escaping the harsh responsibilities associated with being a seven year-old.
There’s a Humpback Whale in Your Backyard
A few years ago after I moved to Vancouver permanently, I found myself a witness to one of life’s most astonishing coincidences. It was the first time I was a guest on a friend’s boat just off the coast when we were greeted by one of earth’s most primal creatures: a humpback whale. The first signal was the spout of hot air on the surface of the water. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Sure, I’d seen orcas and belugas in captivity before, but this was the open water, the whale’s wild and free environment, and we were just visiting.
We followed the whale (or he followed us, it’s tough to clarify who was in charge) for about an hour before the great beast swam further out to sea.
He’d seen enough.
And like that, he was gone, back to open waters, a fresh meal and new adventures I could only dream about, much as I’d done as a wide-eyed second-grader 25 years earlier.
A Mesmerizing Natural Encounter
I’ll never forget the power and the emotion I felt during that close encounter. The random chance behind it all reminded me that you’ll never fully know what goes on beneath the surface of the water. There was no radar involved, we weren’t experts tracking the migration patterns of the animals and we certainly weren’t qualified to cruise in for a closer look. There were no news bulletins alerting everyone to the presence of the whale, no twitter updates or Facebook status’s.
This was the wild waters of British Columbia, a natural encounter between man and beast.
But that’s what happens in this corner of the world. These animals are funnelled naturally between the mainland and Vancouver Island to feed, grow and live with each other. We’re bound to run into one another from time to time even when we’re not planning on it.
Although, recent footage of a kayaker surrounded by a pod of curious orca whales made me stop to think. We’re completely visible to these animals. If they didn’t want to be seen, they wouldn’t be seen.
But like my encounter with the humpback and the kayaker’s encounter with the orcas, it seems as though our deep-water neighbours are just as curious about us as we are of them.