Captain’s Blog

Tagging Along for a Newcomer’s First Whale Watching Experience

July 26, 2017

“I don’t know what to expect.”

It’s a common phrase from a lot of newcomers embarking on their very first whale watching experience with Orca Spirit. Sure, they know to expect a ride out into the Victoria harbour and beyond into the Strait of Juan De Fuca. They know there will be animals.

But they don’t know how they’re going to feel.

I’m talking with Katie, a 34 year-old social worker from Vernon who was in Vancouver for a holiday to visit friends and decided it was time for a whale watching adventure.

“You’ve never been on a whale watching excursion before?” I ask.

“True fact,” says Katie.

“What’s going through your…”

“So excited! I’m going to go see whales doing their whaley things. I don’t really know anything about orcas or any whales so I’m looking forward to learning a little bit.”

“Why is this something you decided to do on your vacation?”

First time trip audience  note: it took a couple minutes for Katie to answer this question because she was attempting her own phenomenal rendition of a whale song. Orca? Is that a Minke Whale song? Some sort of seasick seabird?

As you might be able to tell, staring down your first trip out on the high seas to see these animals in their natural habitat is a fun experience.

“Cheesy answer but it’s true: our oceans are this enormous, expansive, and terrifying place, and we don’t get to see how it really works out there. It’s a mystery to me, and to people everywhere, so to get the chance to see wildlife in that world is super compelling.”

Katie is originally from Hartley Bay so as a small child she lived near water. The ocean is nothing completely new, but she hasn’t had the opportunity to see marine life on its own turf until now.

And its home turf is something different all together.

The adventure finally begins after we suit up in warm, head-to-toe life preserver suits (y’know, just in case), and we climb into the zodiac boat with our guide, Nicholas. It’s easy to see that Katie isn’t the only newbie. Nervous anticipation mixes with excitement from bow to stern as Nicholas zips us through the harbour into open waters. After a quick rundown, the zodiac explodes out of the gate like an orca would if it was ever raced against other orcas (which would never happen thankfully).

And then we wait. At any moment a spout of breath could pop up in the distance or right next to the boat. The zodiac is thick with anticipation from bow to stern. Honestly, it’s part of the allure. These animals are on their own schedule, not ours.

Which makes the next moment all the more magical.

A huge spout in front of us accompanied by a massive tail gliding up and then down into the water. Not one, but two humpback whales. Bobbing up and down, lazily feeding, one animal suddenly appears right behind us. It swam under the boat! For some reason that’s the highlight for Katie, our crew, and me, too!

There was plenty more to see that day that I’ll cover in the next few weeks, but nothing can truly explain the power of seeing two humpback whales, and then another solo humpback, going about their business.

“I’ve never seen a humpback whale with its tail saluting the crowd like that, let alone three in close proximity to each other. And to us!” said Katie.

“All that separates us from them are these big life jacket suits. It was powerful to know there’s that much room down there, because those guys certainly need it.”

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