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I am pleased to announce that were not eaten by whales

By J.L. - Canada


Below is a trip report from a guest on our September 2 to 5, 2008 Orca Waters Base Camp tour.

Stephen and I just returned from our Johnstone Straight kayaking trip and I am pleased to announce that were not eaten by whales. This was my big concern - sitting in a kayak and imagining that I must look somewhat like a seal from a whale's perspective. We had a four day trip and at our pre-trip meeting we were asked why we chose the trip. The couple from the UK wanted to see whales. The german/australian couple wanted to see whales. The single british/welsch/south african/almost canadian guy said he came for the kayaking and to see whales. I wasn't so sure I wanted to see a whale and felt a bit outnumbered. Our guides included the owner of the company and an assistant about to be nursing student who lives in Nanaimo.

On the first day we saw black bears with cubs on the beach, eagles, seals, sea lions and all the interesting underwater marine life. To my relief, no whales. It rained that day and we came back to our base camp, dried off, and were happily sitting at the table sipping our hot drinks when we heard the whales blow. We all ran out and saw a number of orcas in the straight. The orcas stayed, the rain cleared up, and we brought our dinners down to the beach for sunset entertainment. As far as I was concerned our whale watching was complete. On to other things.

On day two, we paddled like mad in the morning behind some orcas in the hopes they would turn around. No luck, but we were rewarded with black & white porpoises who played for a fairly long time close to the kayaks. Watching them gracefully arc through the water was amazing. In the afternoon we kayaked out into the middle of the straight and sat. A big male orca surfaced 150 meters away on one side and two smaller orcas on the other. They stayed for quite a while and it was magical. Seeing whales from that close, watching them spray, watching them interact, was literally breathtaking. I felt safe in the group of kayaks with our guides who kept us from being swept away by the current/winds/tide/ etc. (All distances were verified by our guide, no embellishing on my part.)

The sea lions do require more desciption. By the first week of September, the large males are back from breeding. When I think of sea lions I picture them hanging out on rocks. I never imagined they would play in groups right beside the kayaks. I hadn't imagined seeing them posture and wrestle on the rocks. They look more like bears than seals. These are massive creatures, who in groups of 8 - 10 moved sideways through the water, charging at the kayaks and surfacing underneath us at the last minute. We watched them come right out of the air and saw one do a full back flip. They have 4 huge teeth and are happy to show them. When they breathe out after surfacing they at first sound like whales blowing. I can now tell the difference b/w a sea lion, an orca blowing, and a humpback blowing. At one point when we were focused on the sea lions a Minke whale came up behind us and circled. These are smaller dark grey whales who are very fast. He must have thought we were interesting because he stayed a while to watch us.

This, by the way, was my kind of camping. A water taxi took us to the base camp on the first day. The site was fantastic. Our tents were set up when we arrived, perched on platforms protected under trees, overlooking the ocean. There was a propane heated shower which we used on the second day. There was a handcrafted pit toilet, with a real toilet seat, set up privately away from the camp under a tarp with a view of Johnstone Straight. There was a camp kitchen with the best part being that we weren't allowed in it. The table for ten was set up on a platform under a dry two sided tarp. There were hot drinks available at lunch stops during the day and at all times back at the camp. We were served three gourmet meals a day, with snacks available on request while kayaking. The guides did everything. All we had to do was kayak, eat, talk, and sleep (on thick thermarests with normal pillows and for 10 full hours on 2 of the nights).

It rained the first and last days of our trip. The middle two long days were sunny. Over 80% of our paddling was done in ocean as clear and calm as glass. Like Emma Lake at 6am. The few times we did battle minor wind we were rewarded with whales.

The best whales came on the third day. We could see orcas from our site and paddled out in the calm straight to see them. There is this rule that you must stay 100m away from the whales. Luckily for us, the whales don't read the BC rulebooks. There were about 7 orcas in total that time and they came within 50 meters of our kayaks. There were two smaller orcas that surfaced right by the kayaks and 'talked' to each other. We saw them flipping up their tails and 'spy-hopping' (when they come up head first straight out of the water). They stayed for ages and we enjoyed the show. We were watching the orcas to our left and were grouped together with about three kayaks in line from front to back. There was a huge blow and to my right a humpback surfaced 25 meters away. Humpbacks are HUGE. Much larger than an orca. We had no idea the humpback was in the area and when he first came there was nothing between me and it. You can imagine how long it took me to move in beside our guide whose kayak had been directly in front of me. The humpback swam by and surfaced once more just behind us before continuing on his way down the straight. The mix of emotions is undescribable. Our whale seeking group was satisfied.

Stephen and I each did the whole trip in single kayaks. This was a fairly major accomplishment considering my previous limited kayaking experience. We had intended to share the doubles but the other couples were reluctant to give them up. I have arm muscles I've never seen before. Stephen loved it and may have turned into a west coast boy after all. Before starting out I didn't know what I would think about this trip. Everything about this trip was fantastic and being at home feels a bit mundane compared to sitting in a kayak in the middle of Johnstone Straight in the sun, right beside a blowing whale.

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