When my daughter Fiona was three years old, we went on a paddle on the west side of the island of San Juan, where we camped. My brother's wife, Trish, stood in front of our long two-person kayak, which has a medium hatch with a child seat and a nicely low-key spray skirt. This is where Fiona was sitting when we came across the killer whales.
We really didn't expect to see orcas that afternoon. The sightings had been rare in the past few days, and then a pod of about twelve whales came through the park where we were camping that morning. Most of us had watched from the bank as they swam past and headed north. Despite the low expectations of the adults, Fiona still hoped we would see the whales. The night before, when she snuggled into her sleeping bag, I had read her a book by local children's author Paul Owen Lewis called Davy & # 39; s Dream, which was about a boy with a sailboat going under other friends with the local orcas. sing to them. When we got into the kayak, despite my warnings not to be disappointed, she was sure we would see her for ourselves that day.
The water was glassy and calm, the day was calm, and the currents, which can become very rivery in the San Juan Islands, were mild and light. About three quarters of a mile south of the camp we turned a corner from which the park was no longer visible, and almost at the same time we encountered the orcas. Actually, they were still a long way off, but we knew they were there because of the daily flotilla of whale watching boats that accompany the resident capsules from around 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Every day in summer formed at the southern end of our view near the Lime Kiln Point lighthouse. And then we heard them. And then we saw them: tall black fins that went more or less in our direction.
We were already near the rocky coast, and I tucked the big kayak in a little closer, although I knew it made little difference whether the whales opted to visit or just cruise by often. That Kooosh sound, wafting between us for half a mile, heralded their presence, as well as the fact that we were now on their territory and at their mercy. They went where they wanted, at whatever speed. They were big and responsible.
I hardly needed to point this out to Fiona; She heard the beating and saw the big fins at the same time as Trish and me. Nevertheless I spoke to her: “Here they come, honey! Do you see her? "
Oh yes, she saw them and started singing to them.
Her favorite movie at the time was the Disney music version of The Little Mermaid (yes, she loved and still loves everything oceanic), which at one point (during the main transformation scenes) has a soft three-tone melody, and that's what she did wanted to sing in front of the approaching orcas. She was also adamant.
"Ah ah ah. . . Ah ah ah. . . Ah ah ah. . . ”
The whales appeared to be in fast transit mode as they approached, but now they were slowing down and grinding like they were chasing the chinook salmon that are their staple food. It took them about ten minutes to get past us, but Fiona was singing this subject the whole time. And it was a tight pass.
A large male with one of these two meter high dorsal fins burst out of the water with a kooosh about twenty meters away from us and swam in a line perpendicular to the boat. We could hear the deep breaths that usually followed. And then he went down and swam away.
"You see, papa?" Fiona was crying. "It worked!"