#1 Favourite Thing

24 07 2015

You may not have realized, but I didn’t mention what my favorite #1 thing that we experienced on San Juan Island was on my last post.  And if Alpacas made #2 on my list (and really, how cute were they – you can’t get much better than that!)…..

You also may not have realized that I never did go back to the topic of whale watching….

Now, before I get to the big reveal, let me set the scene.

During my research for our family trip to the San Juan’s, one thing was clear.  I wanted to see whales.  Ideally more than one.  But definitely Orca whales in the wild, while not on a whale watching tour.

Luckily for me, San Juan Island has Lime Kiln Point State Park, otherwise known as ‘Whale Watch Park‘.  It is a 36 acre day use park set on the west side of San Juan Island and is considered to be one of the best places in the world to view whales from shore.  So, this stop was what the entire trip was built around.

The San Juan Islands are home to 3 resident pods of Orca Whales.  J-Pod, K-Pod and L-Pod.  Individually, each pod has more than 20 members, and as a total more than 80 whales.  Great odds that we would be able to see these whales in the wild.  Especially since they are known to hang out together and intermingle.  The males visit other pods to mate, but they always go back to mama.  Orca whales exist in a matriarchal society.

On it’s own, the park is beautiful and a great place to stop for a picnic lunch.  Too bad we were too impatient, and also had our heart (and stomach’s) set on lunching at Madrona Bar & Grill at Roche Harbor.  So we had to settle for taking in the views while munching on granola bars.

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Just like on the ferry boat, we looked as hard as we could.  We scoured the horizon and I had my camera poised for action.

Nothing.

Then I started watching the other people around us doing the same thing.  Until I finally saw someone pointing.  I whipped my head around and I swear I saw a flash of black and white.  It was an Orca!  I swear….it was an Orca.

The family was a little skeptical, until I started doubting myself as well.

And then we saw a dorsal fin breach.  I was redeemed.

Until I zoomed in and compared what was on the camera with what was on the informational chart.  There’s no way that fin belongs to an Orca.  Instead, it appears that what I saw was a Minke Whale.  The second smallest of the baleen whales, and black/gray/purple in colour on the body and white underneath.  So I guess that’s why I thought I saw a flash of black and white.  Because I did.

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We watched for a while longer.  People started to get bored and wandered off to explore the lighthouse.  Finally, our stomachs started talking, no, demanding – that if this is all we were going to see than there were other things that we need to be moving onto.  Like food.  Like crab mac and cheese and clam chowder, sitting on the deck while watching harbor seals in the marina.  Ok, well maybe my stomach wasn’t demanding to watch harbor seals, but my stomach and my mind were in agreement.  Time to move on.

We made our way back to the parking lot.  Thinking about lunch, but already planning on when we could come back to really whale watch.  Maybe we double back and come back after lunch, or maybe we have to plan a whole other trip back another time.

THEN WAIT.  We ran into a kindhearted stranger who was rushing to her car to grab jackets for her and her husband.  WHALES!  There are reports that K Pod is coming around the point!  WHAT????

I ran.  Screw the crab mac and cheese (that incidentally, did end up being delicious).  I want to see whales.  So we went crashing back down the path, and I got a little excited and kind of went off roading and careened full steam into some bushes before I got redirected to the more civilized and correct path to walk down.

People were lined up on the rocky point by the Lighthouse.  Waiting.  Watching.

My camera was poised, my muscles tense.

Jonathan was manning the binoculars and yells out, ‘They’re coming!! They’re coming! There’s so many of them!’ 

We looked out to the water, and just barely you could see some white waters waves – a little bigger than white caps, coming around the point.  But it could just as easily have been ferry waves that were heading towards the shore.

But then the whale watching boats start to appear and here comes the whales!

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I was so focused on trying to take photos, I felt stressed and excited and nervous and exhilarated, all at the same time.  I heard laughing and cheering.  Ooohs and Aaahhs.  There they are.  Over there.  Now that one.  Look at that!

I was so zoomed in I had to look away and up to make sure that I wasn’t so focused on the macro that I was missing leaps and breaches.

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But these whales were on the move.  They came in fast and furious – porpoising in groups of 2, 3, 4 at a time.

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They came tearing past us for what seemed like forever, but probably was more like 5 minutes.  We saw this resident pod of whales, as we stood on the rocks, closer than we ever would have on a whale watching tour (unless they actually came up to the boat and swam under us like you see on the youtube videos).

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Finally, the last of the pod disappeared around the lighthouse, ready for their next audience at the other end of the park.  It was one of the most exciting moments of my life.  And it would be hard to compete with.

It took a while before I could stop watching for the whales, running back down the trail to see if I could catch up with them (never going to happen).  Throughout the rest of the trip, whenever there was a silent moment, one of us would say, ‘those whales’ and we would all relive the experience.  THE Best experience ever.

Which makes me think that I’ve ruined myself for future whale sightings.  I’m spoiled and unless I see a full breach and backflip, nothing is going to top this experience.

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7 responses

24 07 2015
A Wandering Memory

Great imagery… I was lucky enough to witness Orcas in New Zealand and it was an incredible experience… yours looks even more breathtaking – A wandering Memory

25 07 2015
tracilee

Thanks! It was absolutely amazing – I think anytime we can see wildlife in its natural habitat is incredible.

26 07 2015
A Wandering Memory

I completely agree.. We’ve been extremely lucky to be able to travel Borneo and Africa as love it so much …

24 07 2015
Seattle Park Lover

Great post! I could feel your excitement as if I were there with you. I still have yet to see an orca in the wild.

25 07 2015
tracilee

Thanks! I really tried to capture that moment in words – tough to do, but the photos help. You need to get over to San Juan Island! May – October is a great time to see orcas!

24 07 2015
Cathy

This was so wonderful, loved the pictures and how excited you were taking the pictures and making such great memories.

25 07 2015
tracilee

Thanks Cathy! Appreciate you reading and enjoying my stories.

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