Whale watching

Roaming around the inlets, islands and open ocean searching for whales, sea lions, seals, otters, bears and eagles has been a feature of this summer’s vacations on both sides of the country.

One the most outstanding memories was gearing up into our all-weather survival suits and launching off in the zodiac. Crashing through the waves, smothered in the cold spray of the North Pacific was an experience I think I could quite happily cope with for every day of the rest of my life. Having the freedom to explore and discover the coast and islands around the west coast of Vancouver Island would be my ideal way of life. The zodiac was the best way to travel – it is flexible and able to get into coves and areas that larger boats would avoid. Thanks to Ocean Outfitters for an amazing experience.

On this particular trip, out of Tofino, we were lucky enough to encounter grey whales feeding, with their great, white and grey marked backs appearing out of the water as they dived for food. We were able to get close to a floating family of sea otters, disguised at a distance as the bumps of kelp – the underwater forests of kelp sustain the otters, as they act as caretakers for the seaweed.

My personal favorites are always the sea lions – they are noisy, smelly, gregarious and plentiful with a great sense of humor and a measure of curiosity which means they are as interested in looking at us as we are at them. The fat males belched, slapped their huge bodies around and pretended not to care, but the juveniles, the females and the less important ones stared at the boat and made a show of jumping out of the water, splashing down and chasing each other through the waves. Lying at rest on the rocks, their relaxed expression put me in mind of a well-fed Monty settling down for a long nap.

Fisherman's Wharf, Victoria

Fisherman’s Wharf, Victoria

Our second whale-watching trip was run by the excellent Eagle Wing Tours. We left Fishermans Warf in downtown Victoria in search of a resident orca pod – and were definitely not disappointed! This time the boat was a bit bigger and we could speak to each other and the very knowledgeable guide while skimming the waves in search of the orca pod. To the boys eternal happiness there was still spray soaking us and the deck. This time we were watching a family of orcas feeding in a fairly concentrated area as the sun went down over the San Juan islands.

The guide took great pains to explain how tenuous the balance is in the ocean ecosystems for the orcas now – in particular I am not eating anymore farmed salmon. He also explained studies on whale poop using dogs to sniff out the scat is helping to understand the stresses of the resident orca pods. He was keen to point out that the boats used for whale watching did not seem to stress the orcas out as they have been around boats – either fishing of whale watching for years now. Right when he was explaining this and how their behavior is totally natural and wild, a couple of the orcas decided to get a good look at the sun going down. It was just an awesome way to end our trip to Canada and BC – a spy hopping whale in the sunset!

The trip out of Boothbay harbor in Maine was on a bigger boat, but still a wonderful experience.  Several of Maines picturesque lighthouses protected the naturally rocky harbor. This time we were lucky enough to find a Finn whale and several humpbacks feeding in the open ocean. They made several dives to feed and after a while one could predict when they were preparing to dive and prepare for the tail photo opportunity. My mum had the best view of the day though, feeling ill, she was sitting at the back of the boat by herself, while the everyone else on the boat was watching the humpbacks at the front. Suddenly from up under the boat, a humpback surfaced about six feet from her – so close she could clearly see all the markings and stripes. She just sat and watched it quietly.

More of my photos are in the gallery ‘Whale Watching

One thought on “Whale watching

  1. John Monaghan

    Brilliant photographs. The work being done at the University of Washington is just part of a major research project into whales, sharks, seabirds etc. From a mass spectrometry viewpoint, stable isotope (C and N mainly) analysis can tell us a lot about habitat, feeding patterns and feeding grounds, and breeding behaviour.

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