Kayaking with Giants

There is not a ripple to be seen. The only sound is the plop of a paddle as it dips into the water, the drip of sparkling droplets as it is lifted out and the gentle slap of the kayak as it glides through the smooth water. Spray jackets rustle as our arms slowly work moving the paddle at a steady rate. The deep blue ocean is so smooth it looks oily, swirling patterns created from innumerable shades of blue, black, green and purple. The deep green of the shoreline, an impenetrable wall of trees silently passes by. Wispy lichen hangs like tendrils from the branches, giving them an almost ghostly and eerie presence.

The beauty of Vancouver Island from a kayak

Across the still water a huge ‘whoosh’ breaks the silence, a whale surfacing to breathe. Louder, deeper somehow, longer than the Orca that call the straits and waterways off Vancouver Island home for the summer. This whale is bigger, much bigger. Scanning ahead, and around us, we hear a ‘whoosh’ again and this time see the ephemeral water droplets hanging in the air. We drift, watching, listening, and waiting. ‘Whoosh’ again, closer, this time and we see a dark, large body surface, arch its back and disappear. A humpback whale, one of the oceans giants, the size of a bus, circles our small, 6 foot long kayak. I feel no fear. This giant is searching for food, which for them is small shoaling fish, although I am glad to keep a respectable distance.

The whale surfaces again, and in the opposite direction another two whales surface almost simultaneously. There are now three working the area around us. The whale ahead breathes dips its body and gracefully lifts its wide, wing like tail out of the water, almost waving goodbye.

The majestic tail fluke of a humpback whale

But it is a brief goodbye. Birds circle, a sure sign of food being pushed to the surface of the water. We watch the commotion, listening to the raucous calls of the gulls. Suddenly the water erupts from beneath the birds as the humpback whale lunges upwards and out of the water, white water explodes everywhere. Mouth open wide the whale engulfs the entire ball of fish. For a moment it seems to pause, hanging in mid-motion, mouth open, it’s bristly plates of baleen hanging down from the huge top jaw. Beneath, the throat has ballooned allowing the whole shoal to be scooped up in one go. Slowly, sedately, the whale disappears beneath the waves, here it will push all the water out through those baleen plates where the fish will be trapped, like a filter, allowing the whale to wipe them clean with its huge tongue and swallow the food.

Humpback whale lunge feeding

Not even before the first whale had disappeared another surges up and out of the water, this time sideways, it’s long, white, knobbly pectoral fin (flipper) lifted up out of the water.

Everything briefly goes quiet before the each whale surfaces to breathe once more, lifts its tail and disappears to continue its search for food. We continue to sit, somewhat breathless from the whole encounter, listening and watching as time after time each of these whales continues to surface and feed…

another adventure with Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures….

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