Wow! What an amazing day! I know that might sound sightly biased, given I work for SpringTide, but yesterday has to have been the most memorable whale watching experience of my life!
Before I start my story about my first experience as crew on Marauder IV, I will introduce myself. My name is Amy and I have worked for SpringTide in an Online Marketing & Graphic Design roll since February 2014. However, yesterday was my first day working as a Naturalist on SpringTide’s 84 passenger Ocean Cruiser, Marauder IV. And, what an experience it was! We had a truly amazing day out on the water and I thought you might want to hear a little bit more about it, from the perspective of a new crew member.
From the day the roster came out I was excited about the trip. I couldn’t stop thinking about questions the passengers might ask and wondering what we’d see on that particular day. The first trip of the day set off just before 10:00am. It wasn’t long after we left the Inner Harbour that the questions started, and of course, everybody wanted to know, “Where are we going and how long will it take to get there?” After checking in with Captain Bill, I was more than pleased to be able to show the passengers a map and explain that we had a confirmed Orca sighting at William Head, just North of Race Rocks! For those of you who don’t know the area well, William Head is a quick 20-minute trip west of Victoria Harbour.
It wasn’t long before we were on scene with 12 members of L-pod (the largest of the three Southern Resident Killer Whale pods). When we arrived everyone was elated, and a little surprised that we had located the pod so quickly after departing the harbour. The whales were in a tight travel formation heading toward Bentinck Island. All was looking good until one of the SpringTide Zodiac skippers came across the radio transmission stating that the Canadian Navy was detonating explosives in the water surrounding Bentinck Island – exactly where the whales were heading.
Captain Bill immediately got on the radio and notified Captain Dan (Co-Owner of SpringTide) about the situation at hand. With no hesitation Dan contacted Victoria’s Canadian Defence Ministry and alerted them of the fact that a pod of endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales were heading toward the blasting zone. In the meantime, the passengers up in the cabin with Bill and I began to nervously chatter, unfortunately distracted from the awesome tale slapping displays from the Orca below. Luckily our fears were quickly put to rest as Dan was soon back in contact with the boat, letting us all know that he had successfully contacted a military representative, who had agreed to cease blasting immediately to ensure the whales were able to pass by safely and soundly.
Sighs of relief quickly turned of shrieks of excitement as one the female Orca came flying right out of the water in a magnificent breach. It was almost as if she had heard the conversation and wanted to show us her appreciation for taking action. We escorted the whales past Bentinck Island and were treated to a show of tale slapping, spy hopping and breaching before the pod spread out into a hunting formation. With just a short return trip home and the knowledge that the Canadian Navy are willing to respond quickly to ensure the safety of our local whales, it was a wonderful and exciting first trip!
Nevertheless, it was the second trip of the day that will stay in my mind forever. After a short ride out to our destination – south of Discovery Island on the USA side of the border, we arrived on scene with J-pod. They were in hunting formation, spread out over a quarter of a mile, zigzagging back and forth in a seemingly unpredictable fashion. The first two whales we came across were Granny and Onyx. With Granny being the oldest known Southern Resident Killer Whale, at an estimated 103 years of age, she was quite popular with the passengers.
After about 25 minutes, the passengers were still pleased to be with the whales, but it was obvious that they really wanted to see a breach, or at least, a spy hop (as did I!). The pressure was on when one gentleman approached me and said, “Well I think the dorsal fin is the best look I’m going to get today.” I assured him that we still had plenty of time left, but also that the Orca were clearly hunting and that they typically stay in the water while chasing salmon. Just as he walked away, up to the bow to get a closer look at the female ahead, one of the Orca in the distance flew out of the water! It was amazing.
Shortly after, I was talking to a passenger on the back deck. We were the only two out there as everyone else was viewing from either the bow, side decks or top cabin. Out of nowhere, and very unexpectedly, one of the Orca popped up into a spy hop position off the back of the boat. It was surreal! I’ve seen whales many times, but this was truly awesome! Both me, and the man next to me, gasped in awe of the Orca’s size and beauty.
With about 15 minutes of viewing time left I was really hoping that we would catch at least one breach that all of the passengers could see. And, with that, it happened. An awesome display… the type of viewing that every passenger hopes for when they purchase their tickets. A female Orca to the left of the bow threw herself out of the water. Just moments later she did it again, and again, and again. After the fifth breach we all thought the show was over. But then, a huge male began to breach. Between his breaches, the female flew of the water two more times. A much smaller Orca, also to the left of us, also began to breach. For at least 10 minutes we all watched breathtaking show.
When it was time to leave, all of us on board, including the captain and crew, felt elated. Even though it was hard to pull ourselves away from the Orca pod and head back to the Inner Harbour, we all knew we been extremely fortunate to see such a display.
When I went to sleep that evening all I could think were those last few breaches and the possibilities that future trips would provide.
A big thank-you to all of the guests on board, and of course Biologist Jim, Captain Bill, and of course, the whales for helping to make my first day out on Marauder IV as crew absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to get back out on the water!