Every now and then my wife and I head out to Whytecliff Park in West Vancouver to watch for Harbour Porpoises. To us, these underrated little creatures are worth more than a side note. There is this air of mystery surrounding their secret lives that fascinates us. Despite their abundance in our waters, they can be hard to find, especially if, like us, all you have to watch from is the edge of a cliff. This time we came prepared. Everything was perfectly timed. We arrived just after the peak of high tide, there was virtually no wind and even the sun was shining – a rare enough combination for a cool November afternoon.
We were motivated and hopeful, determined to find them. At first glance the place seemed empty. Patiently, we kept staring at the almost flat surface of Howe Sound, looking straight ahead towards Bowen Island. There were seagulls and the occasional harbour seal, but not a single porpoise in sight. This lasted for hours. And then I almost dropped my camera at the distinct sound of a harbour porpoise exhaling. I knew they had to be very close and so I started taking pictures even before I really knew where the sound was coming from. And there they were, only a few meters away, right underneath us, and almost too close to see them whole from where we were standing.
We could identify two individuals, probably foraging close to the shore. We had never seen them this close, and they did not seem to be distracted by divers on the nearby beach or the boat and ferry traffic all around them. It was mesmerizing; their almost black cloak blending in with the water’s surface, masking their presence even at this close proximity; the sun reflecting on their perfectly smooth, dark grey skin. There was no jumping, no splashing, no spectacular hunting scene, and yet we were elated, excited at the opportunity of spending time in the presence of these beautiful creatures resting for a moment just in front of us. The few park visitors around us seemed oblivious. And then, as quickly as they appeared, they were gone, moving off towards the beach. The encounter only lasted a couple of minutes, and yet it made well worth the hours of waiting in the cold.