Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands

Whale Tales


If I were born an Orca, I’d see this island in a different and special way…from underwater.   Different and special, that is, from my human perspective.  This youngster, while nursing to one year of age, then fully weaning at age two, is swimming with either his mom or babysitter (all members of a pod help in child-rearing).  He (or she) will be taught by the pod to see with his eyes and his echolocation so he can feed himself,    The calf in this photo is between four and seven months old and weighs around 400 pounds.

Orcas (Orcinus orca), also known as Killer Whales, are actually the largest of the dolphin family, all of which are very intelligent.   Probably the “Killer” moniker comes from them occasionally playing with their food!   Some Orcas feed on seals, and have been known to throw their prey about in the air, much as a cat will play with a mouse

I once was the host on the west side of the island for a group of mainlanders, and one never knows if there will be Orcas swimming by while, but as we soaked in the marine air and sun-in-the-grass warmth, I noticed a few slow moving boats offshore headed towards us around the point to the south.   Having local knowledge that the boats were following the Orcas, and with a bit of theatrics, I ventured a tiny trick on my visiting guests by saying:  “Let me try summoning the whales:  Oonga, oonga, booga-booga-booga….Here whale-whale-whale!” and not ten seconds later the first Orca rounded the point.   There were a few dropped jaws, but the real treat was that, probably due to the strength of the south-setting current, the Orcas were swimming up-currant right along shore in the eddies, in other words just feet from where we were standing at the water’s edge.   I kid you not, it was my jaw that dropped next as right in front of me a mature female and a new calf came completely out of the water side by side dolphin-style and did a perfectly timed barrel-roll reentering the water together upside down.    I know, you don’t believe me…I wouldn’t either, except I was there and saw it not forty feet away from me.   I imagined the older Orca saying to the tot:  “Remember that trick we practiced yesterday?  Let’s try it now in front of those hume-mans watching us.   Perhaps we can get them to do that thing where they flap their flippers together and make noise.”

For the photo above, the Orcas were about an 1/8th mile offshore.   We had been picnicking at the Limekiln Point State Park on a beautiful summer afternoon, when, just after we had finished our lunch, we were blessed with a parade of one of the local pods.   J, K, and L pods are the resident Orca pods with other transient pods cruising through on occasion.


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