She’ll often hear them before she sees them, but when Jacqueline Golsby spies the first Orcas returning to the Johnstone Strait each summer, she feels as though she’s welcoming home her old friends. For Golsby, who divides her time between guiding, parenting her teenage daughter and registered massage therapy, watching the whales “sound in” is always thrilling.
Indeed, one of her most cherished encounters with Orcas occurred during the first kayak trip of the summer as the resident A30 pod returned to the Strait from Blackney Pass.
“The A30s came in right under our kayaks as they entered the Strait. We could see the flash of their bodies as they passed below us at high speed. A30 (also known as Tsitika), then the matriarch of the pod breached into the air, as if to celebrate arriving in a much-loved place,”
Golsby beams as she remembers her friend, Tsitika, “I could always recognize her by her elegant dorsal fin…she was one of the older matriarchs in the Northern Residents and must have passed a lot of wisdom on to the younger whales in her care. In the summer of 2013 she was missing and presumed dead. She was born in 1947. I thought of her as a good friend.”
Where Serendipity, Experience & the Element of Surprise Intersect
Serendipity and more than 20 years experience leading kayaking trips often puts Golsby and her small group of kayakers in the right place at the right time, and it’s those rare, up-close-and-personal encounters that really stand out in her mind. Once, while watching a pod travel the shore near Robson Bight, Golsby, and the father-son team she was leading, got the surprise of their lives courtesy of one playful Orca.
“The male was out from the shore, like they often are and the female was close to shore. We were about one kilometre out on the water, when the whales disappeared. They went down for a long time and we thought they must have gone deep, heading to Robson Bight. It was very hot and mesmerizingly calm and quiet on the water that day, so when the male surfaced not more than two metres behind the father and son kayak and let out an explosive exhale, we were shocked and totally taken by surprise!”
It’s those intimate encounters with whales that make kayaking the Johnstone Strait so tantalizing and memorable.
“The Orca surfaced among us once again, so close we could see his eyes and the water cascading off his huge dorsal fin. It was an incredibly moving moment – the young boy was crying with excitement and his father was exclaiming ‘this is exactly what I wished for!’”
“He came up again in the middle of us and then kept on going, and we never knew…did he do that on purpose? Was he playing with us? Did he not know we were there?”
They may never know the answer to those questions, but without a doubt it was one powerful experience, not just for Golsby, but the group as well.
“Once people have seen the Orcas up close like that, they walk around on air, somehow feeling as if they’ve touched something that’s beyond normal life on earth.”
More Beautiful Moments
Such experiences are more the exception than the rule, but for Golsby, who views seeing whales as only one part of a much broader experience of paddling in these cold, northern waters, they are each distinct and create memories that are deep and enduring.
“Each day paddling in the Strait can include sightings of bald eagles, salmon jumping, ancient cedar walks, encounters with First Nations guides, weather and sea changes, and throughout it all is the anticipation of an encounter with a pod of Orcas, Humpback whales, maybe dolphins and porpoises. At the end of the day, it is so great to sit by the fire, tell stories and reflect on what we did as a the sun sets on that wild world out there.”
First drawn to BC’s coast by the promise of great adventures, ultimately, it’s just these beautiful moments with her old friends that inspire Golsby to return to the Johnston Strait year after year.
Being on the ocean is home for Jacqueline Golsby and she can never stray too far for too long. An avid paddler, Golsby has led kayak expeditions in Haida Gwaii, Belize, Chile, Argentina, Panama, Cuba, the Gulf Islands, Clayoquat Sound and Kyuquot Sound.