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Warm sun on my back, the water's calm, not a breeze as I paddle in a T-shirt in late March; amazing. I'm out in Fritz Cove, only a mile from the North Douglas launch, when the silence is suddenly broken by a powerful vapored exhale, so close my heart nearly leaps out of my chest. A look over my shoulder confirms my immediate realization that there is a whale extremely close to me. So close that I could reach out with my paddle and pretty well tap her on the skull.
Orcas in our midst
The sun is out, the water is amazingly clear as I watch this female orca slice down below the glassy surface, her white markings visible next to the side of my kayak, barely 10 feet down. I continue paddling, thinking, "Oh my God," not in a fearful tone, but in an absolutely ecstatic, adrenalin-pumped, awe-inspired sense. Wow, wow!
Her white markings begin to rise again to the surface at my side and pshooo! Down she goes. I watch her fade under my less-than-eighth-of-an-inch-thick plastic hull and appear to my right, equally close, rising up, white markings growing closer, pshooo! Yes! My heart nearly explodes, I'm so excited. She drops under my boat again to surface one more time on my left side, same closeness, pshooo! Then I lose sight of her. I hear one final exhale further back as I turn to see the dorsal fin of the male orca cutting the water not 50 yards away, moving in the opposite direction, and they're gone.
Wow! Now where does this leave me? I don't squirm in my seat with excitement, but sit completely still as it wells up uncontrollably within, my plastic kayak wrapped snug around my hips. Where do I go with this powerful encounter, this energy I feel from it? The "sea wolf," as the Tlingits thought of orcas, right at my side. A she-wolf of the sea rising so close, her powerful exhales still resonate deep inside my belly, eye to eye with an orca! She was absolutely checking me out; playful, curious, hungry? Sizing my up as a possible snack? Who can say? That isn't my fear, though for many it could be.
Orcas feed on salmon to sea lions to whales. They will hunt like a pack of wolves will hunt, to take down prey larger than themselves. This afforded them the respect of Native peoples. I've never met a person who wasn't in awe of seeing such orcas, no matter how near or far. What a blessing for us!
This only proves to us once again that we live in one of the richest environments on the globe. It's only 9 a.m., the day is just beginning as I round into Stephen's Passage en route to Hilda Point.