Friday, September 5, 2008
Wednesday evening was perhaps one of the most beautiful nights of the summer. With the clouds whispering over the Haro Straits, the water was absolutely dead calm. The repetitive cheers of Harlequin ducks could be heard echoing across the shores amidst the calls of bullfrogs and Belted Kingfishers. As the sun began to fall beyond the terrain of Vancouver Island, so did the hope that the orca whales would make a pass on the west side with enough light remaining to commemorate the pass in photos. Jeanne Hyde had called to let me know the whales had been spotted- so I made my way to Lime Kiln to see the approaching superpod.
Sometimes the lighting is perfect or the seas lay down in such a way that the fins of the whales come into focus by themselves- no talent needed, the photograph takes itself. Other times, you have to put the "perfect photo" aside and simply revel in the moment- whether it is a close pass to shore where the orcas play in the kelpy shoreline or where the sounds of their blows echoing off the waters literally takes your breath away. It's not always about the shot, although that has been a hard lesson to learn. Tonight was one of the latter...
With the sun fading, the first dorsal fins came into view. While many whales passed miles offshore, we sat in reverence as several groups passed very close to the shoreline, the golden waters embracing the shadowy profiles and the blows echoing across the waters. The pass brought a hush to the crowd...each of us experiencing the interaction in absolute silence. It's so difficult to describe a moment like this...one where you are absolutely awed by the orcas and the overwhelmingly majestic beauty of the Islands. And while we watched, two perfect fins sliced through the waters, a harmony created by 50+ years at one another's sides. It was Granny (J2) and Ruffles (J1)- the matriarch of J pod and her constant companion for the last 50 years, gliding through the oceans side by side, their exhalations echoing to our ears. It was such an emotionally beautiful pass, just a couple of photos to commemorate- but one that will linger in my mind as almost ethereal.
Returning home to the now dark Straits, I couldn't allow the moment to end. I sat outside on the shoreline, listening with awe as the blows echoed across the straits, some close to shore at my feet, others surely headed towards Discovery Island..and many in between. Even the most seasoned whale watcher can still be awed, as well it should be with these magnificent creatures.
The Seattle PI wrote and beautiful series on Granny and the whales' plight which is truly worth reading. This six-part special report both chronicles the long life of Granny, the respected elder in her Northwest orca pod, and examines the weak regulations, spotty enforcement and political foot-dragging that have put local orcas in jeopardy. Enjoy! Until next time...Sandy
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