The haunting call of a distant foghorn roused us out of our tents yesterday. Stumbling, sleepy-eyed onto the beach we looked out over the water, hoping to see those familiar flukes and fins we’ve been so mesmerized by all season long…instead, we saw only a thick blanket of fog beyond the shoreline, swaddling the Johnstone Strait in a dream-like mist as far as we could see. When morning breaks like this, you can’t help but lean into the day, slowly…starting with breakfast and coffee around the campfire while waiting for the fog to lift.
The last couple of weeks have been pretty epic at Orca Camp. We’ve welcomed guests from across Canada and around the world to the shores of Warden Beach, our little patch of paradise.
Fog never lingers too long and by 10:00am we’re usually suited up and pushing off – where our paddles take us depends on where the whales are moving. Last week we headed north of Hanson Island where we spotted Resident Orcas, resting.
Watching whales resting at the surface may not sound very exciting, but when you think about all the behaviour involved – well, we think it’s fascinating. Because Orcas are voluntary breathers, they never truly sleep. Instead the pod gathers in a “sleep line,” dorsal fins lined up – half of their brain literally turned off, while the opposite eye stays open.
Moving in sync, the whales take a shallow dive for roughly two minutes and surface all together, inhaling as one when they break the surface of the water. One big breath, and down they go again, constantly in motion, yet resting at the same time. The researchers at OrcaLab tell us this resting line is not only restorative for the whales, but a significant social and cultural part of Orca behaviour. It’s a privilege to witness every time we see it.
One of our other favourite Orca moves involves watching these giants “spy hop” in the water. Just as its name implies, Orcas surface – nose and rostrum up – to take a scan of the action above the waterline. A slow and controlled movement, spy hopping allows the whales to see what’s nearby above the surface, and sometimes lets us get a long look right back at them.
Of all the moves we’ve seen in the last few outings, perhaps this one was the best: We were just hanging out, scanning the horizon for fins – the tell-tale sign of Orcas, when suddenly a guest spotted one swimming beneath our kayaks. Here’s what happened next:
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