TESS VAN STRAATEN: Having one whale of a time

Monday columnist joins her mom, a whale-watching rookie, in ocean adventure

Tess van Straaten

Monday Magazine columnist

Zipping along the water in a bright yellow zodiac, bouncing up and down as we hit waves, our wind-whipped faces are filled with excitement. We’re taking my 72-year-old mom Dee, who grew up in Victoria, whale watching for the very first time.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” she told our Prince of Whales Whale Watching captain over the roar of the engine and splashing water. “This is so much fun!”

Adventurous and always up for anything, my mom was the first in our 10-person tour group to get her bulky survival suit on and first in line to board the boat. As we leave the Inner Harbour, it’s one of those perfect Vancouver Island summer days where the sparkling sun glistens across the water and the Salish Sea is so smooth it looks like glass. But the Prince of Whales team assure us that despite the warm weather, it will be cold out on the water and they’re right.

Feeling wind-battered as Ogden Point gets smaller and smaller behind us, I pull my survival suit hood over my head. Our captain scans the horizon for whales and gets the latest location information on his radio. Part-way across Juan de Fuca Strait, we see other boats huddled in the distance. It can only mean one thing: whales.

Slowing down, we move closer and then our captain cuts the engine once we’re at the legal viewing distance. I see them first – it’s a pod of six orcas and they seem to be as interested in us as we are in them. The whales swim toward our boat and the smallest in the group, clearly a youngster, ventures a little too close. Another whale we decide is his mother splashes her pectoral flipper as if to say, “Get back here right now!” and we watch in amazement as he lingers a bit longer before swimming back to her.

One of the other whales comes up along the rear of the zodiac and our group squeals with excitement. It’s rare to be this close to these majestic marine mammals and it’s a truly magical experience. Watching them splash their flukes and breach, spyhop and explore the sea, it’s impossible not to be in awe of such smart, inquisitive, and playful creatures.

After the pod swims away, our captain tells us humpbacks have been spotted not far from Race Rocks and we go zipping along the water again. It’s an even bumpier ride this time, but well worth it.

In the distance, we watch as a massive humpback whale breaches, comes splashing down, then disappears beneath the surface. We anxiously wait for several minutes as the baleen whale dives down to the depths of the sea. And then, a fluke splashes the water and he’s back. It’s the perfect end to an amazing afternoon on the water.

“When can we do this again?” my mom asks, all smiles, as we go whizzing back to shore.

Tess on Twitter: @tessvanstraaten

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