Winter Orcas


While I’m checking out a spruce tree that now leans over the trail thanks to the last windstorm, Aki darts down the trail and out of view. When she squeaks, I trot around the corner and see her groveling before a matched pair of Australian shepherds. The dogs’ owner apologizes but I assure him that my little poodle-mix is just inviting the shepherds to play. With that cleared up, he tells me about the orcas. “You should see the whales the minute you break through the trees,” he says, “and with that telephoto you might get good pictures of them.”

I hustle toward the beach, scan the water, but only find a small raft of ducks near the surf line. Further out, near the northern edge of Shaman Island I briefly spot a splash of white water like that caused when swells strike against a partially submerged rock. But there is no rock there so maybe it was a killer whale roiling in the water. Encouraged, I scan for the plumes formed when an orca exhales or the sail-like dorsal fin of a mature male. But wind-blown rain clouds my glasses. The wind would wipe away any ocra plumes as they formed.


It should be enough to know that I am close to a pod of killer whales, but I want to see them fin, maybe even spy hop.

They must be the wolf pack—the meat eaters that hunt down seals and sea lions—not the larger pod we see each summer chasing down king salmon. I’ve kayaked near the summer pod several times, never felt threatened, even when a mature female swam to within twenty feet and rolled on her side to eyeball me. But even on a calm, warm day, I wouldn’t launch my boat into waters where the wolf pack hunts other mammals.


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