SpruceRoots Magazine - June, 1998

by Bill Blount

Biologist, Mary Morris was up on the Islands for a week this May to conduct Biophysical Surveys during the low tides - I was part of the boat and driver team for the project. On the third day we had just completed a survey of intertidal zones on Maude Island and needed to do a couple more. Mary suggested Bush Island in Alliford Bay. The island is a rock that almost disappears at high tide, but as we motored up it now had about 30 feet showing and was coated in a drapery of red and green seaweed. We had just tied off the boat and discussed the survey plot when we saw a pod of Orca about 100 metres away and to the north of us.

There was one large male, a smaller male, three females, and one young one. We watched them for three or four minutes - very beautiful, but nothing special - I wonder how many people can say that with a straight face? The whales disappeared and we gathered up our gear from the boat and headed to the grassy area at the top. We were just starting another survey when we heard a strange noise, it sounded like the wind going through eagles feathers as it dives, only about 50 times louder. It must have looked strange to see us all looking around in circles trying to figure out what the noise was. I happened to see some spray over the crest of the island and ran to the top. I got there just as a large bull Orca was backing off the beach. I yelled to the others, "The whales are out of the water!" We had enough sense to get a camera out of the boat and take some photos. The beach was a steep incline of rock and cobble where the whale had come out of the water. The noise we heard was the bull driving itself up the beach to get to one of the dozen seals that were on shore. We didn't see if the bull had a seal but Mary thought she saw the young whale with a flipper in its mouth. We watched them play - that is the only way I can describe what they were doing - for about 20 minutes and eventually the whales moved offshore. As we were finishing our readings and getting ready to go, a cow and calf came over to investigate us. I had my feet in the water near the boat and they were moving about 10 metres away. Jim yelled, "They're coming to get you!" I turned around and it is a strange feeling to see a 2 metre black fin coming right at you. Suddenly the big bull came up under the calf and lifted her away from the shore and us. He then sat and looked at us. He was close enough that I could see his eyes and teeth. It looked like he gave us the once over, so I headed to higher ground. Finally, as we were perched on top of this small island, the pod circled us and then headed off towards the ferry landing at Alliford Bay.

It's really hard to put into perspective the entire 40 minutes, but from start to finish the encounter seemed like three or four minutes. It's one of those rare moments when time stands still and you don't even have to think of why you live here on these islands, you just know.

SpruceRoots Magazine - June, 1998