Fantastic Orca Whale Encounter #2
This is the second in a series of my Top Ten Best Orca Encounters of All Time: Sea kayaking in the San Juan Islands of Washington State can also mean sea kayaking with orca whales! This July three day trip was no exception to that rule. We were moving up the coast of San Juan Island in prime whale territory. Suddenly a mile ahead I spied a dorsal fin(bull orcas have a six foot high black, triangular dorsal fin that is often very visible for some distance). The lone whale was acting erratically, as it would hang at the surface then disappear for long moments , then reappear, then disappear – all in the same area.
By the time we paddled near it’s last location, there was no sign of the ten-ton mammal. We decided to move on, as we had some miles to go that day. I, however, hung back from the group a bit to check out the situation. The day was warm and sunny, and the water was glassy calm. As I glanced back to my right, I saw a large, rainbow-colored king salmon no more than a paddle-length away from my stern swimming slowly to the surface and barely moving. This is not a common sight, and I immediately realized what was happening. The bull orca had been hunting this large fish(30″ long), and, as orca often do when they hunt, made sport of the chase. This fish was exhausted, and had come to the surface for much needed oxygen and rest. As the fish swam slowly away from me, I began to backpaddle to keep it near. Suddenly in the deep blue abyss below the salmon, I noticed a small white spot appear…..then grow, then grow some more! In a split second, I realized that this was the bull orca rushing upward toward the salmon and me(orca whales have white bellies, throats and patches behind their dorsal fins)! This whale surged upward at incredible speed, came up under the salmon and, with mouth gaping wide, snapped up that salmon in it’s jaws. It’s charge brought it’s entire body out of the water a few feet from my kayak, and I could see the king salmon’s body hanging out of both sides of the whale’s mouth. When the breaching whale landed, it’s splash hit me in the right side of my head like a power washer’s spray. The whale then sank slowly into the dark blue waters and disappeared from sight. I did not see it again.
As I rejoined my astonished group, I realized what had just happened. The whale had been hunting the salmon when we first spotted it up ahead. By the time we arrived in the area, the salmon was out of gas, the hunter was biding his time below, and, when I got too close to the fish, the orca below had decided that it was time to claim it’s hard-earned prey in dramatic fashion. We had all just witnessed the incredible and humbling display of power and grace of an orca whale in the wild! Bon appetit!