June 19, 2010 | Tips from Travellers >
Ucluelet, Whale Watching
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His dorsal fin broke through the water into the open air; standing as high as a grown man. It looked sharp, like a jet black dagger against the grey sky behind it. I heard the air spitting out his blow-hole, his exhale and then his inhale. These are sounds I’ve heard before... on Discovery Channel and at the Free Willy themed slumber party I went to in the seventh grade. This was my first encounter with Orca whales in the wild.
I was thrilled to go on this boat tour before I even knew the pod of Orcas had made their way outside the Ucluelet Harbour on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. We were aboard the Fancy Free, a 38 foot Bayliner operated by Aquamarine Adventures, a local sport fishing charter and whale watching guide in Ucluelet, BC.
I anticipated a tour harbour and the chance to set crab traps. Born and raised in the Alberta prairies, a boat ride in the ocean was more than enough excitement for a Thursday evening. Our guide baited a few crab traps with fish heads and threw them over board. We would be collecting them again at the end of the tour.
Then the whale watching zodiac, also ran by Aquamarine Adventures, zipped past our yacht with their passengers waving and pointing ahead. The radio cracked, “There’s a pod of orcas straight ahead.”
Orca whales don’t visit these waters as often as the Gray or Humpback whales do. Seeing Orcas, or Killer Whales, is a rare and special event in Ucluelet.
The Fancy Free followed the zodiac and further ahead we cut the engines. Then we waited. I leaned over the edge of the boat with the other eight guests and scanned the horizon. The water was cold grey, drawing a wavy line between itself and the wet and rugged rocks that make the Broken Group Islands, a section of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve in Barkley Sound.
Then the sound. The spray on the water. The 6 foot dorsal fin. Then a smaller dorsal fin behind it, and an even smaller one behind that! “There’s a calf!” explained our guide. The whales swam along the island, taking turns coming out of the water, teasing us with their majesty. I could hear cameras going off all around me, but my eyes were glued to the sea not wanting to miss a second of these whales and their live performance.
A few minutes went by without seeing the Orcas, and then a few more. I heard engines start up and the zodiac went waving by us again. It was over.
I stood on the deck of the yacht with my hands buried in my pockets. The splotchy cloudy sky darkened and the damp air had driven everyone else inside the cabin. I was thinking about my whale friends. It was like I was sitting in the movie theatre long after the other patrons had filed out, watching the credits roll; brain still reeling from what I had just seen.
The boat slowed and the guide handed me a rope. “Pull.” He smiled. I pulled the slimy wet rope until I could feel and hear something run against the side of the boat. Our guide lifted the crab trap on to the deck and everyone gathered to watch at least a dozen crabs scurry and pinch their way around the cage.
I walked up the dock with a bag of crab and headed home. Crab for dinner, memories for dessert.