Yesterday morning I spent a fair amount of time deliberating on what to do. I knew I was going to spend the day in/around Vancouver but I was trying to decide if I wanted to take a ferry to Vancouver Island (images) for the day or if I wanted to try and go whale watching. On the one hand I’ve always wanted to go to Vancouver Island, but I only had a day so I knew I would only be able to see a very tiny piece of it…most likely Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. On the other hand I have always wanted to see whales (I tried once unsuccessfully in Maine), but it was late Oct. and the season for seeing whales in this area was just about over so it was 50/50 that we might not see anything. (read on to see what I decided……) 🙂
In the end I decided to take a chance on seeing the whales. There are several whale watching companies in the Vancouver area but unfortunately they were all sold out yesterday. So I booked the trip for today and here we are.
I booked the trip with Steveston Seabreeze Adventures in Steveston, BC, a suburb south of Vancouver. I arrived at the Steveston wharf about an hour early. So I walked to a Starbucks across the street and did a Facebook post as I sat and had some coffee and walked over to the pier about 15 minutes before the boat was scheduled to leave. After a little while of standing on the pier with about 25 other people our guide arrived, loaded us on the boat and off we went.
Now, as I mentioned above, I had always wanted to see whales but never had. And the whales I specifically wanted to see the most were Humpbacks. I had read that while humpbacks do migrate through this area twice a year they (unfortunately) are not normally seen in this area at this time of year. The whales you are most likely to see in this area in Oct. are Ocras or killer whales. So needless to say I was very excited when I guide told the group that the whales they had seen for the past 3 days were Humpbacks….YES! 🙂
It was a gorgeous cool morning as we left the Steveston pier and headed out into the Straight of Georgia (the large piece of Pacific ocean between Vancouver Island and the mainland).
On the way out of the harbor the captain spotted a bald eagle and stopped so we could take a look….
Once we left the harbor we hit the open water and headed west across the straight toward Vancouver Island. The guide had told us early how the whale “spotting” process works. First, while no one can ever say for certain if there are whales in the Straight on a particular day there are “pods” (a group of whales is commonly referred to as a pod) that frequent the Straight most days…but no one knows where they may be from day to day. So, as I mentioned, there are several whale watching companies in and around the Vancouver area. Each morning, during the whale season (April – Oct.), each company loads their boats with passengers and each boat goes to a different area in the Straight. When someone spots whales they alert the other boats and they all come a runnin’.
As we made our way across the straight everyone was anxiously looking out at the horizon to see any signs of whales. Most of the whale companies give “guarantees” that you will see whales or they provide a voucher to come back on another day. Of course, that’s fine if you live in or frequent the area. For me, I knew the chances of me being back here anytime soon were very slim. So I was both anxious and nervous as I kept my eyes on the ocean.
We traveled at full speed for about 20 minutes or so. At this point we were probably 2/3 of the way across the straight and Vancouver Island was getting closer. I was standing on the upper deck beside the wheelhouse when I thought I heard someone say “over there”. I turned my head in their direction and focused my eyes on the surface hoping I would see something. I think I held my breath for 20 seconds or so as I gazed out in the distance. We were still probably three or four hundred yards away but there was no mistaking it. I could see the their backs coming up and then disappearing and then coming again. It was three whales and from here they looked like Humpbacks! YES!!!
We got closer but stopped about 75 yards away (by law the boats are not allowed to get to close). We watched them from this distance for just a few minutes and then they began to come toward us. They came closer and closer until they were right beside our boat! Everyone on the boat was so excited as they swam around, going under the boat and surfacing on the other side. The boat kept listing from side-to-side as we kept running back and forth to see them. It seemed surreal. I just couldn’t believe I was there.
It was kind of difficult to get pictures and videos because you never knew exactly where they were going to surface but I managed to get a few….
After ten minutes or so a couple of other boats came into the area and two the whales went over them. But the third one stayed at our boat. He (or she) was so close to us that when he blew the air out of his blowhole I could smell his breath (it smelled like rotten fish 🙂 ). And at least 3 times I had to take my glasses off and wipe the water off of them from the mist that he blew up. It was without a doubt one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced in my life! Here are a couple of my favorite videos (click the small square in the lower right side to go full screen)
* In this one he roles over as he comes up from under the boat. You can get a sense for their size…he was longer than the boat.
* This is one where I could smell his breath and got covered by the spray….it was AWESOME!!!
He swam around our boat for at least 45 minutes. When other boats would show up he would swim over to it and give the people on that one a “good show” and then he would come back to us. I was standing beside the captain and the guide for most of it and they were excited too! The captain had been doing it for 7 years and the guide for 5 and they both said, “this never happens”. They said they had seen whales come up close to the boat but they had seen one stay next to the boat for 45 minutes. The female guide was running back-and-forth taking pictures and videos like everyone else. You can clearly see that they were as excited about it as we were. I overheard the female guide tell the captain, “this is the best day of my life”….and she was serious. Yep, it was that good!
I took a few “burst” shots…. (from left to right)
In the last series he was doing something called “spyhopping“. This is what they do when they want to get a better view of what is happening above the surface.
It was so amazing standing on that boat beside this giant, graceful, gently, magnificent animal. It was both powerful and moving and I didn’t anticipate how it would impact me. I literally got teary eyed watching him as he came up beside our boat and looked around. I think it was the highlight of my entire trip. It was everything I had thought it would be and more and I cannot wait to see them again!
Eventually he swam away to rejoin his pod and we headed back to Steveston. It was a gorgeous day and I sat on the back of the boat in the warm afternoon sun and replayed everything in my mind so I could try and cement it into my memory as this is a day, and an experience, that I never want to forget.
When we arrived back at the wharf I made my way back to my car and started what should have been a 2:30 drive down to Seattle. Unfortunately however I hit horrendous traffic and it took me over 2 hours just to go the 24 miles to the US boarder. Nothing like being parked on an interstate in bumper-to-bumper traffic to bring you back down from total exhilaration. 🙁 Anyway. I finally made it to the US boarder and back into the US as the sun was setting…so welcome to Washington!
Until next time…..
““The earth has its music for those who will listen….with all the wonders that God has bequeathed us” – George Santayana
Click here to view all past and current – Videos (additional whale videos)