Aboard Eagle Wing Tours‘ catamaran, 4Ever Wild, I arrived on scene with the T123’s and T124A’s at approximately 5:45pm. Distant exhalations plumed in front of forested shoreline, and as we carefully approached the whales I picked out the distinctive fin of T123A, a sprouting male.
The group would surface four or five times, dive for close to ten minutes, then rise in an unpredictable location. Their somewhat elusive behaviour suggested that they were on the hunt for a vulnerable seal, sea lion, or porpoise. Since we were unable to accurately predict the group’s direction of travel, the most we could do when the whales submerged was shut off the engines and wait.
One one such dive, we had been waiting stationary for what seemed like an unusually long period of time when T123A’s fin punctured the surface just a few metres from the vessel. The tall, black mass of collagen swayed back and forth under the pressure of gravity that is added when a killer whale is above the surface.
The females and juveniles surfaced several hundred metres away on the opposite side of the boat—T123A had separated from his family so that he could take a closer look at us. It quickly became obvious that the females and their offspring were aimed in our direction, intending to reunite with the male. All whales dove, and again it was anyone’s guess as to where they would appear next. I wandered to the far side of the boat, while the other passengers remained on the side where the whales had last surfaced. Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed: still no sign of the group. I peered over the rail, mesmerized by the cross jellyfish undulating in the emerald hues, when a luminous oval of white flashed up from the depths. At the sight T123’s eyepatch bursting through the waves below me I was initially unable to move, but the misty sensation of orca breath settling on my cheeks was enough to shove me into action. I snapped a photo of the female passing the boat, her exhalation still lingering in the air and on my face. The two matrilines regrouped and continued their erratic diving pattern, maintaining a greater distance from our boat. We left them at 6:36pm.