June 1st 2004 :: Journal Newspapers Lynnwod Washington.

"I am hear to see Ruffles" she announced decisively, drawing herself up to her full three and a half feet. "I was here last year and he was my favorite; he jumped higher than the others and had nicer coloring" she added with the confidence of a seven-year-old about to judge a Mr. Universe contest for the second time.

I have always wanted to go Whalewatching. I have lived much of my life in the Pacific Northwest and have been privileged to see Orcas from ferries and various small boats. These chance encounters were just a tease. I wanted immersion. A planned, close-up experience with experts at the helm.

Whalewatching is something you do with kids or visitors from out of town. Along with nipping into ‘The Enchanted Village’ for a slurpee and a sideshow, it is not the sort of activity normally contemplated by a sixty something male out for a drive. The optics are far too Michael Jackson.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning in Anacortes and the marina was abuzz with boaters wheeling in the weekend beer and food supplies before casting off for the islands. The line-up outside ‘The Island Adventures’ kiosk contained a variety of enthusiastic folk of all ages. It increased by one – me!

" How do you know where to find them?" I ask Jeremy, the young captain entering his sixth year on the job. "We used to pay a bunch of Canadians who sat atop Mount Douglas on Vancouver Island with binoculars and cellphones, but now we all help each other." Doubtless a financial body blow to the small number of ornithologists who had cunningly turned their equipment to a more profitable use. "Last year I did 198 trips and was only skunked three times. Those passengers got refunds."

We’ve been out for an hour. It’s noon and our time is being filled with eagle sightings, seals, and a splendid view of Mount Baker all announced with great gusto and "Oh wows!" by Emily our bouncy young hostess. "I’m here to see God’s Orcas and he’s here to golf" said the lady from Tennessee, eyeing her husband with a modicum of disapproval.

A yell from the bridge and Emily goes into loud raptures that rattle the PA system. A rush to the port side. The sea ahead is frothing with life. Our boat heels alarmingly. We’ve found them!

" J" pod is local rather than transient so its whereabouts is more predictable. Oreo, Spock, Cappuccino and Mike have all been named and adopted by schoolkids after surviving that first crucial year which can claim forty percent of newborn calves.

" Has he grown?" I ask the young aficionado at my side as Ruffles jumps clear of the sea on our starboard bow. "I’m not sure. I think his dorsal fin is a bit bigger but did you see all that air? Wow, he’s still the best isn’t he!" she enthused with the proprietorship of a proud mother.

The teacher from New York rushes over to hug his wife for the umpteenth time. He retired last week and when he got home, his bags were packed and on the front porch! "Oh my god" he thought "after all these years" - she’d secretly planned a two-week mystery trip for the two of them! He’d always wanted to see Orcas.

For four hours, the 23 members of "J" pod tease us with their ‘black and white minstrel’ show. Cameras click, buzz and whir as yet another roll of film rewinds. "Over here, they’re heading for the stern" "No - off the port bow." Disposable, digital and video cameras all vie for that brochure shot. The truth will be revealed after processing in Ohio, Chicago or Sweden. Better buy a postcard just in case.

Time to head back. Strangers are now friends. Earlier reticence has evaporated. "Come and see us if you’re ever in Dallas. Give them your card Mike." The man from Tennessee will golf without guilt - God’s Orcas have delivered. Ruffles has retained top ranking for another year. The teacher’s wife from New York? Well, she’s on a roll and it’s only day one! What has she in mind for tomorrow? A mischievous grin!

Can you force these wonderful mammals to perform in the wild? I doubt it. Are they, like aging rockers, just addicted to adoring fans? I wonder as I clamber up the gangplank with a slightly furtive, but entirely satisfied smirk on my face.


LOCATION: Island Adventures is located at Cap Sante Marina, Anacortes on Whidbey Island.
WHAT TO BRING: There are free binoculars. Snacks, hot-dogs, postcards, film and souvenirs are available. It can be cold – even wet!
RATES DEPARTURE TIMES ETC: Check website or call for details.
CONTACT: Website http://www.island-adventures.com Email: info@island-adventures.com
Toll free phone 1-800-465 4604


Copyright © 2005 Andrew G.P. Renton All rights reserved.