I had an irrational fear of Orcas (aka killer whales) until I saw them in the wild. I think the fear stemmed from seeing them at Sea World when I was younger - I didn't like walking near their tank when they would swim by. I felt that they could easily jump out and grab me, or worse yet I could somehow fall in. I dreaded being chosen as the "lucky" kid who got to give Shamu a kiss (thankfully that never happened - probably helped that I would insist sitting up as high as possible away from the tank!)
It became a joke that I was scared of them. I knew it was irrational. But I still jumped when I would see them even if it was just a photo (or billboard which we have in Orlando for Sea World!)
But I knew that whale watching is one of the "musts" when visiting the Pacific Northwest. I recommend it for others and those that go love it. But was I really going to do it? I had inquired about rates and availability before we left on our trip knowing that I had 3 weeks to decide if I would give it a go. My husband was on board (no pun intended) - that was one of the things he had always wanted to do and was excited that we'd be somewhere we could see the whales in the wild. But I still wasn't sure...
Well, we were in Victoria, BC on a beautiful sunny day. Our friends who live there encouraged us to go (even though they had never done it!) I summoned up all the courage I could and signed up for a 3-hour (gulp!) whale watching tour. There were sightings the day before of several pods and even Humpbacks! I made sure that we were on the biggest boat they offered which was about a 60-passenger double-decker boat. Not huge but not tiny so I was fine with that. It even had a bathroom and you could buy hot cocoa on board. So I could at least have a warm drink and not look out the windows.
The trip to where the whales had been spotted was beautiful. Extremely scenic with mountains and islands. I was enjoying taking photos of the views and enjoying the cool sea breeze. We were about 30 minutes into the tour. And then a fin was spotted. And another. And another.
We had found a pod! And O. M. G. It was AMAZING!! They were freely swimming in the open waters. Diving down for salmon (which makes up the majority of the diet of these Southern Resident Orcas (not seals which I had feared the night before when reading reviews that other people saw them "feeding". Don't believe everything you think you read on TripAdvisor!) The onboard naturalist guides could identify the whales by their markings and told us their names and how they were related. It was fascinating.
We then went on a search to find another pod which we did find. This one was a mom and her younger offspring. They were traveling closely together - synchronizing their dives down for salmon. They'd all disappear for a couple minutes and then pop up somewhere else. It was so fun looking out for their fins and spurts of water.
We also got to see a large group of Sea Lions just hanging about on a rocky island. They were much louder and easier to spot than the whales!
On the way back to Victoria we did make a circle to look for the Humpback Whales but alas we did not see them. We were there in early October right at the end of whale watching season so they may have already moved south. The good thing about going during the "off season" was there was not much more than a dozen people on board so there was plenty of space to spread out - either inside on the bottom deck which had large windows or up on the top deck that was open to the sky. I even moved around the boat to get better vantage points - something I did not expect that I would do!
I am sooooo glad that I went whale watching. I no longer have that fear feeling when I see them. Instead I have wonderful memories from a successful whale watching trip and also the excitement of doing it again! I think next time I would even try one of the smaller Zephyr boats (which are like inflatable rafts that go fast - they give you gear to wear to keep you warm). It was a definite highlight on our 5-week Pacific Northwest adventure.
I hope my story helps encourage you to face your fear on your next trip. Or at least give you something to consider until then :)
Places to whale watch: Victoria and Vancouver, BC; Seattle & San Juan Islands, Washington; Hawaii; New England; Costa Rica; Iceland; South Africa; Alaska ~ Depends on the season as most whales are migratory.
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