Voyage of the Stella

The orca had risen quietly, disturbing the water hardly at all, but now it began to move, running parallel to the Stella and causing the water to roil as it fanned its great tail fluke. It inhaled with a whistling sound, then arched it’s great back and dived, turning on its side beneath the water and allowing me a glimpse or two of its glistening, black-and-white body as its broad tail emerged above the surface for an instant, only to disappear with a resounding slap that sent the water cascading into the air powerfully enough to douse me and the Stella’s bow. For perhaps three seconds I was able to follow the whale’s underwater progress, its outlines growing fainter as it continued to descend. My last glimpse of him was one sudden flash of white.

I was more awed than excited as I stood on deck and scanned the water outside the bay while hoping fervently that the orca would surface again. Some minutes went by, and then, as suddenly as before, the whale rose in the middle of the inlet, about 200 yards away and broadside to me; seconds later two more orcas rose ~ a cow and, I was almost sure, a yearling calf. The three animals swam up the inlet, the bull leading, but after going in a straight line for about 150 yards, they all dived again. By now I was almost frantic with anxiety to see more of them; I wanted to get the camera but was afraid to leave the deck in case they reappeared while I was gone. I needn’t have worried, for in less than a minute the pod rose again, having evidently reversed course, for now the whales were closer to the Stella, perhaps 600 yards away, all of them facing us. I ran to the hatch, climbed into the cabin, and grabbed two cameras, one fitted with a 200mm lens, the other with a standard lens.

When I got back to the forward deck the bull had cut the distance in half and was moving steadily toward the Stella. But he cow and calf stayed away, alternately diving briefly and rising again, moving about constantly but not daring to come any closer the bull was another matter, I took three pictures as he came toward me, tried for another, but at that point he dived, a shallow submersion during which I got a perfect view of his beautiful, torpedo-shaped body and, more especially, of the powerful tail as it paddled easily under the water. He was aimed directly at the Stella, and I confess to a few moments of apprehension while I wondered if he was going to charge He appeared to be at least as long as my boat and looked so solid and powerful that I fared he would broach a hole in the hull if he elected to hit us head-on.

A moment reminiscent of RD Lawrence’s encounters with an Orca during his “Voyage of the Stella.”
Content (c) 2014 West Coast Wildlife

What a thrill it was to watch that huge, lithe shape gliding so swiftly just under the surface! Every now and then the tip of the tall dorsal fin projected above the sea, making a hissing sound as it cleaved the water, then disappeared under it as the wale arched his body and sank a little deeper. Straight ahead he came, closer and closer, but just as it seemed inevitable he would ram us, he arched again, went deeper, and passed right under the Stella’s keel. I ran to the other side of the deck and got there just in time to see him resurface not more than a few feet away. I lifted the camera as he was turning seaward and almost lost my chance to photograph him when I found myself looking right down his blowhole, a pit about two inches wide that glistened with the sheen of patent leather. I recovered in time to fire the shutter and advance the film, but by now he had turned around the bow and was swimming away, his great dorsal fin bent over at the top, a flaccid organ that flopped from side to side as he moved.

He was halfway back to the cow and calf when he made a wide, sweeping circle that caused froth to appear on the disturbed water. Back he came again, and I was sure he was going to repeat his earlier maneuver. But no ~ he halted about forty or fifty feet from the starboard side, again placing himself broadside to the Stella, his glittering eye fixed on me, a jet orb that expressed lively interest, perhaps even curiosity.

“The Voyage of the Stella” (c) 1982 by R.D. Lawrence ISBN 0-7710-4809-2

Maps illustrator: Rafael D. Palacios

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