Just over a year ago, you couldn’t have paid me to go whale watching. I would have complained to Dan that it sounded like a drag, a waste of precious money and time. I’d seen whales at SeaWorld as a kid (although, I’ll never go back because of the cruelty issues), and that was enough for me.
But as I shared last week, my time hiking at Yosemite—my first real experience with the majesty and grandness of nature—changed my perspective in a way I didn’t expect. Cities don’t thrill me like they used to; give me open water, bays, trees, waterfalls, and cliffs. And sure, even wildlife.
My friend Jess, whom we visited in Seattle, suggested that we book a whale-watching tour during our time there. Between my newish love of nature and the money Dan and I saved on the travel expenses, we didn’t hesitate for a second. We found an amazing Groupon for a 3.5-hour tour through Orcas Island Eclipse Charters, and it was worth every single penny (and even more). The husband and wife team who own the company clearly love their jobs and know so much about the wildlife of the area; their passion is contagious. The tour was small, maybe 30 people on the boat, and they made each person feel welcomed.
(I’m not being paid to say any of this, by the way. We just had such a positive experience that other people deserve to know about it!)
We set out early on a Saturday morning, bound for the ferry terminal at Anacortes about 2 hours north of Seattle. We took the ferry another hour out to Orcas Island, part of the San Juan Islands archipelago. The ferry ride itself was gorgeous, it and revved our anticipation of what was to come.
We stopped for lunch at a little deli and grocery, and then we boarded our boat and set off. It was a bright and sunny day, but rather chilly as we cruised along the water. The tour company provided lots of extra coats, hats, and gloves. They even binoculars for better viewing.
We cruised for about an hour before reaching the spot where we’d find whales, and there was no shortage of beauty to behold. Everywhere we looked, there were tiny islands with towering trees and brilliant emerald grasses, rocky cliffs and steep hills. Some of the islands were even inhabited—pretty amazing considering I have no idea where they get their groceries.
When we arrived at one of our destinations, we saw a few other boats gathered around. Our guides assured us that the boats never bother the whales, and the whales don’t mind the noise from the boats (also, the pollution is minimal in the open waters). Anytime a whale comes close to a boat, they shift into neutral to avoid hurting the animal.
We saw a wild humpback whale, fondly named Big Mama, and she was in quite a playful mood. She would come up for air, gracefully dive down into the water, giving us a view of her massive tail, and then surface again a few minutes later. She also did a few rolls and splashes much to our delight.
Seeing the enormity of a whale in real life, in the wild, was another mind-blowing experience for me. I can’t say I have a lovely little lesson to share with you, except that God is amazing, Creation is astounding, and life is incredible. Eloquent, right?
From there we cruised a little more, spotting a few eagles nests and some bald eagles. I didn’t expect to be too impressed, but I was wrong again. (Are you sensing a theme yet? I doubt, hem and haw, set low expectations, and then I’m usually wrong. I love it.)
Towards the end of the tour, we came across a pod of sea lions, one of whom was feasting on a 4-foot-long halibut. I wondered why the sea lion was being so violent about this whole feeding thing, but the sweet and patient guide pointed out that they don’t have hands or fingers, just flippers. They have to use their teeth and sheer force to tear off chunks of meat, then go pick up the fish and repeat the process. Sounds like a lot of work for some raw fish, but to each his own.
Sadly, we didn’t get to see any orca whales, but we knew it was early in the season for them. We’ll absolutely do a whale watching tour again in the future, on another visit to Seattle or maybe on an Alaskan cruise someday (dream trip!).