Adventures with Whales

We chose the Orca Network as one of the organizations we wanted to support because they have made a huge impact on our lives. We first learned about The Orca Network on Facebook. A friend we knew from Tacoma City Ballet followed and commented on their posts, and shared amazing photos she had captured. A “like” and some posts in our feed later, we were interested, but not too invested. Casual fans, if you like.

Then one day, early in our training for Seventy48, we had an unexpected visit from  a pod of orca off the south tip of Vashon Island. They spread out around us in the waters of Dalco Passage, tail slapping and occasionally breaching. Then they turned and headed back towards Commencement Bay and we continued on our way into Colvos passage. This was the first time I had seen an orca from my kayak, and I’ll never forget it. It’s one thing to see them from shore or a ferry, but quite another to be in a kayak, with your head only a few feet above the water. From that angle, it is so impressive to see an orca jump clear of the water or glimpse the dorsal fin of a male that even at 1/4 mile away seems impossibly tall. Once we reached shore, we turned to Orca Network to learn that it was K pod, the smallest of our Southern Resident Killer Whale groups:

In October 2018, were landlocked with work, but kept seeing posts about a humpback whale in the South Sound throughout the week. We’d long had a plan to paddle from Point Defiance to Jensen Point in Quartermaster Harbor, and then hike through Burton Acres Park for coffee. When we found a break in our schedule, we thought the long-delayed trip to Vashon and the possibility that we might see a whale sounded like the perfect way to spend our first day off in a long while.

As we were preparing to launch on a foggy morning, the humpback whale passed by. It was close enough to Owen Beach to hear the sound of its blow and make out the distinctive dorsal fin. We considered ourselves lucky to have that experience and carried on getting ready. How fortunate to live and paddle in an area that we can see such wildlife from the shore.

About an hour into our paddle, I saw the humpback surface and blow. It was on a parallel course, heading the opposite direction from us about a mile away. The next time I saw it blow, it seemed it was in about the same place, but this time when it dove I saw the top of its tail… there was a humpback pointed at us! We stopped paddling and decided to wait and see where it surfaced next, then we could decide which way to paddle. As we bobbed in the water, the current and wind spread us out a little. Suddenly, the Humpback surfaced about 250 yards in front of us, its breath a loud whoosh in our ears. The vapor cloud rose high in the air before it slipped back below the water, leaving barely a ripple behind. It did this a few more times, before diving with an impressive tail show, to then move on. This is the closest I’ve ever been to a humpback. It is humbling to see such a large animal move with effortless grace.

On several occasions, we have learned about whale sightings nearby from Orca Network’s Facebook posts, and followed the recommendations to see these impressive creatures from shore. We drop what we’re doing to hop in the car on a whale “hunting” adventure, seeking a view of Southern Residents, Bigg’s (Transient) orca, or a visiting humpback. Once we get to a viewpoint, we’ve often found others that were also drawn away from their routines, in favor of catching a glimpse of whales in their natural habitat.

But it’s not just the ability to know when there is the possibility to see the orca. The Orca Network has also educated us about the various marine mammals living in or visiting the Salish Sea. From links to meetings about the Southern Residents to reports on environmental impacts to the whales (be they oil spills or military exercises), they constantly share information on ways we can help protect the orca and their environment. So we chose The Orca Network as one of the organizations we want to support, educating people about the orca and other whales that inhabit the waters of the Puget Sound, the difficulties that confront them, and the things we need to do to help them so that we can always be guests in their world.

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