We were coming down from Saturday, which was an exhausting high. On Saturday before 7 a.m., we were on the top observation deck of the Victoria Clipper III outside Pier 69 in Seattle, and freezing. After a week of 85-90 degree days (what passes for sweltering in Seattle), the 50 degree weather was a shock. We were on our way to the San Juan Islands. One three hour trip over rough seas and a lot of vomit (not ours, thank goodness) later, we were pulling into Friday Harbor, the main harbor on San Juan Island.
The San Juan Islands litter the inland sea between Washington State and Canada like spilled jewels. The islands were discovered by the Spanish and contested by the Americans and the British for a long time. The rivalry over San Juan Island culminated in the infamous “Pig War” in which the only thing to die was a pig that was caught rooting up an American settler’s potatoes. Today the islands are a three hour boat ride from Seattle and a lovely place to go for a day trip.
We were actually jumping off from San Juan Island on our way to watch some whales. Orcas, to be precise. The inland sea between the San Juans and the Canadian mainland is home to some “resident pods” of the whales, and on Saturday we found them. It took us an hour and a half from Friday Harbor, into Canadian waters, but finally we found ourselves in the middle of what our captain calmly told us were three pods of orcas, numbering about 78 in all. The first glimpse we got was a fin in the distance, but then we started to see them, coming up out of the water, closer and closer. At one point we saw a pair surface and slip beneath the surface of the water heading straight under our boat. A mother and her calves swam about 300 yards from our bow, surfacing and diving in a group. We watched for what seemed like hours, and then it was time to turn around and return to port.
It’s hard to write about seeing whales without resorting to clichés. It was good of them to let us hang out with them. I only wish that they could get as much joy from seeing us as we did from seeing them.