How To Lose 17 Tons In One Season: My Orca Spirit Adventure

Having lived in Victoria for 10 years, I sometimes forget how beautiful this city really is. It’s not that I take it for granted, it’s just that it’s easy to get caught up in a daily routine that leaves little time for exploring beyond my local hangouts. And now that I live out in Langford, I only go downtown once a month if I’m lucky, and only when I need something specific, like coconut gelato or a decent haircut.

I know I’m not the only person who suffers from Local Syndrome. If you mention the idea of whale watching to a non-tourist, their response is usually some variation of “Pthhhh. I see whales all the time on the ferry. All the time! Like 20 of them.” Then they kind of bat their hand in the air and ramble on about what a waste of time the ferry is.

So when Brittany and I were lucky enough to join one of Orca Spirit’s whale watching tours, I was excited to spend some time with people who have genuine whale enthusiasm—the kind of people who scream “WHALE!” whenever they see a splash, who ask questions (ridiculous or not) and who spend their whale downtime admiring the city and scenery, not checking their phones or talking about work.

Orca jumping

All of the other passengers were fresh off a cruise ship, but were incredibly excited to get back on a boat and in on some whale action. And when the crew mentioned we’d be seeing humpbacks, the excitement grew. I’ve only ever seen humpbacks once, and even then they were just a distant misty spray as I drove along the highway near Jordan River.

Our marine naturalist, Rachael, mentioned that humpbacks are most often seen from late August to October, during their epic annual migration to the warmer waters of Hawaii where they mate and give birth. What’s even more amazing than the distance they cover is the fact that they don’t eat during their journey! Warm water doesn’t produce as much plankton and krill as the north, so a 40 ton female can lose as much as 17 tons over the winter. Best. Diet. Ever. For a whale, anyway.

As we motored out of the harbour and headed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I caught snippets of excited conservation:

“…whale fangs…”
“No more tequila por favor…”

“I didn’t see the whale jump!”
“It’s okay, when we go back the cruise ship we’ll go to the pool and I’ll demonstrate for you.”

When a passenger found out Rachael is from Saskatchewan, he asked her if there are any whales there.

“Only my whale costume,” she replied.


Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if she actually has a whale costume. Rachael is hardcore about whales and she looks just as excited as the passengers to be out on the water.

And my personal favourite startling revelation (that I completely missed the context of, which makes it so amazing):

“You are bigger than your glasses!”

After a beautiful ride full of amazing people watching, the boat slowed down and we spotted a mother humpback and her calf gracefully swimming through the calm water. You always hear that humpbacks are huge whales, but you won’t really believe it until you see one up (relatively) close. To put it in perspective, the whale watching boat we were on was 60 feet long. The mother humpback was about 45 feet, with 15-foot pectoral fins and an 18-foot-wide tail. They would swim along the surface for a while, dive for a few minutes, then surface again. (Humpbacks can stay underwater for as long as 12 minutes, but people rarely have to wait that long to see them.) When one spectacular dive revealed a tail, people clapped and cheered.

Further on our journey, we even saw a young calf breach again and again and again! Its leaps were so joyous and innocent, and when Rachael told us the history of humpbacks in the area, it made it even more special. Prior to 1997, there weren’t any humpbacks in the area. They were almost hunted to extinction by the area’s whaling stations, and it took them almost 100 years to get the courage to return to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

On the way back to Victoria, we waved good-bye to the humpbacks and stopped over at picturesque Race Rocks for some quality seal and sea lion viewing (awr awr awr). The boat was quiet on the ride home, with each passenger exhilarated from the amazing afternoon on the water. I was exhilarated as well, but also refreshed. Spending time in a tourist’s shoes made me realize how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place, and also how much I don’t know about it. I need to be a tourist more often, or maybe just a better local.