Monday, September 07, 2009

there be whales here

the whale jinx is over.

for years, every time mrs. spaceneedl went looking for orcas, the orcas disappeared.

whale watching cruise: "we're so sorry the whales weren't around today--we can count on one hand the number of times that's happened this year."

sea kayaking in whale-infested waters: "if you camp at san juan county park for three days, you have about a 100% chance of seeing orcas go by. it's amazing that you missed them."

this scenario played itself out enough times over the years that the missus became convinced that:

1. she is a certified whale jinx or
2. orcas don't really exist at all

one of these may be true, but certainly not both. i'm pretty sure. given that i've seen orcas up close from a very small boat, i'd lean toward #1. that said, the experience was so surreal, it may well have existed entirely in the abstract.

naw, couldn't be. i think, therefore there are orcas.

we spent a couple nights on orcas island recently (see, they have their own island!), and signed on for another whale watching excursion, to scientifically test the jinx. and by 'scientific' i mean "completely random, no-sample-size, haphazard exercise in pure luck."

we set out in perfect conditions, sunny and clear, on a heading that the skipper said looked whaleful. thirty minutes later we were fogged in, barely making headway, navigating by radar and sounding a mournful fog horn.

mrs. spaceneedl smirked and sagely shook her head. "nice try," she said. "the fog is just a smokescreen. it doesn't hide the fact that there are no whales."

the fog was so thick that at times we couldn't see more than 30 feet in any direction. it simply closed in around us, dampening sound, making a 56-foot boat our entire universe. the radio crackled occasionally, with conflicting reports of orca sightings in contradictory locations around the san juan islands.

the jinx was fully deployed and operational. there was no way we'd find whales at the rate we were going.

instead, they found us.

we heard the first pair before we saw them. their surface-exhale cut through the fog from about 50 yards off the starboard bow. a moment later we saw them, swimming parallel to our course. after that, things got a little crazy.

we were way inside the legal 100-yard distance limit for whales, but it was entirely unintentional. our engines were shut down, and the orcas were going wherever they felt like. several times, they felt like going right in front of the boat. or under it. or right damn next to it. we could've jumped onto the back of one of the big males if we had been so inclined.

they were startlingly large and loud, and they were everywhere around us, all at once. it seemed like there must've been 50 of them, but there are only 25 whales in J pod.

they all must've made a run at us at one time or another over the next 20 minutes. the fog lent an aura of unreality to the proceedings, whales darting in and out and back into it. other whale watching vessels were there as well, doing exactly the same. fact is, it was crowded off the west coast of san juan island; whales, boats, people all sharing a too-close encounter.

the skipper correctly was uncomfortable so far inside the whales' personal space, and right about then he decided it was time to go. on the way back to orcas island, we actually passed a couple whales swimming the same direction. prolly they were enjoying our company so much, they didn't want us to go. or maybe they were hoping we'd throw some salmon (or a couple little dogs) overboard for their consideration.

the missus, finally, was fully satisfied that orcas do, in fact, exist outside of seaworld (if she were a smoker, i think she would've lit up).

so, after years of no-shows and near-misses (and maybe due to the little whale dance i did before boarding the boat)...the whale jinx is ended.

there be whales here.

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