The killer whale was just about the only animal we didn’t see in Alaska (well, at least among the ones we had a reasonable chance of seeing, polar bears don’t count), but I wasn’t too disappointed, because at our final cruise stop in Vancouver I had a trip scheduled with Wild Whales Vancouver for that express purpose.
The trips leave from picturesque Granville Island in Vancouver. The 11 am departure meant I could do it the same day we disembarked from the cruise (credit to Princess for a speedy and smooth disembarkation), which was fortunate because we had to head home the next day.
Soon after we departed Vancouver, our captain got on the intercom and told us that another boat in their whale-spotting network had found a pod of whales in one of their go-to locations, the British Columbia Gulf Islands (if there’s no luck in the Gulf Islands, the boats sometimes head even further south to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state, which is one of the reasons the trips can be up to seven hours long). It was a relief to know that we would almost certainly at least glimpse a killer whale, and I was able to sit back and enjoy the fairly lengthy ride from Vancouver to the Gulf Islands.
In addition to the nice scenery enroute, I thoroughly enjoyed the commentary from the naturalist. It was obvious she and our captain were both very passionate about killer whales (our captain shared that he had loved whales since he was four years old and always knew he would work with them in some capacity), and listening to them communicate this enthusiasm was a delight. I also appreciated how, while they were happy to discuss and inform guests about hot-button issues like killer whales in captivity and salmon farming, they weren’t preachy at all. It’s easy for eco-conscious tourism to come across as a bit holier than thou, but this wasn’t at all.
Soon after reaching the Gulf Islands we spotted our first whales!
Just seeing the fins was exciting enough, but pretty soon they were really surfacing.
Killer whales live in matriarchal pods, and the pod we followed had three generations: a grandmother, two adults and three babies. They are very playful and interactive and it was so fun watching them together.
Slapping the water with their tails is one of the ways they communicate with each other.
Although we didn’t see any whales breaching completely out of the water, we did see them jump in an arc (kind of like dolphins) a few times, which was such a thrill. This is my favorite photo from the day.
I loved that we were surrounded by islands, so we weren’t just looking at whales, we were looking at whales against pretty coastal backdrops.
After several fantastic hours following the whales around (from a safe distance) we headed home. We stopped for a couple of minutes to snap some photos of these harbor seals (otherwise known as killer whale food, although we didn’t see any eating). Don’t worry though, this isn’t one of those whale watching trips where they skimp on your whale watching to show you other “interesting” (read: easier to find) wildlife; the focus of the day was definitely on the whales, which is exactly what I wanted.
Despite the title of this post, I can’t judge people who love Sea World. Aquariums with killer whales were something I enjoyed until fairly recently too. But one of the great things about travel is the opportunity to become educated and have your perspective on certain issues change. I think most Americans have had some awareness since the movie Blackfish came out that life in captivity is bad for killer whales for many reasons, but there’s a big difference between knowing something in the abstract and actually seeing it with your own eyes. After observing these intelligent, curious, playful animals living happily in the wild, the thought of one of them confined to a small tank without any of his family members makes me absolutely sick to my stomach. If you want to see killer whales, I highly encourage you to get yourself to Vancouver and go out for the day with Wild Whales Vancouver, rather then heading to Sea World. For many people in the US, the cost to get to Vancouver isn’t really that much more than to get to Florida or California (you can fly into Seattle for cheaper fares), and any added cost is so worth it to see these animals the way they were meant to be seen.