Whale Watching: Something Different Builds Relationship

We had traveled north from San Juan Island in a boat that comfortably held the seven of us. We went at a good clip past numerous islands with rocky outcroppings, our guide pointing out landmarks here and there. We crossed into Canadian waters, into the Strait of Georgia and slowed as we drew near a gathering of other boats. We were whale watching, and our guide had heard via his radio that there was a sighting. A known pod of orcas was close by. It was an exciting adventure for us, one we won’t forget.

What does it have to do with building relationships, you might ask? A lot.

A few years earlier, youngest daughter met a man worth getting to know better, she reported. I think they must have been at that stage when a couple starts wondering whether their parents might like each other, and wouldn’t that be nice if they did. His parents had been watching the relationship develop between their son and our daughter and were evidently as curious about us as we were about them. They invited my husband and I to visit their home on San Juan Island in the Pacific northwest. I had been to Seattle before but I had not been north to Vancouver or Canada at all, and I had never been whale watching. On one of the days of our visit they arranged this great outing with a captain friend who knew how to give a great ride.

Our kids have family instincts. They naturally gravitate toward close, happy family units. It matters to them that, if at all possible, the people who are important to them, like each other and are capable of getting along and having fun together. This weekend was the perfect test.

We had a wonderful time, and in learning a little about Ryan’s parents, I was also learning things about Ryan. In learning more about Ryan, I was also learning things about my daughter Esther. My husband and I were building relationships with Esther, with Ryan and with his parents as we spent time together doing interesting things over that weekend.

I’ve also had a wonderful time meeting Julia’s in-law family. Getting to know and like them was interesting for many reasons, particularly because her mother-in-law and I are both named Shirley. We both played piano, we were both in a caretaking role for our mothers. We both had severe arthritis in the same thumb, had both been wearing a very distinct, not common brace for years and she was able to encourage me to get the surgical fix that she had just successfully gone through. I think there were other similarities that I can’t remember now. It was uncanny. It created a nice start to our relationship, which has continued.

Our relationships with both of these families was very important to us and our girls as they went through the stress of planning and holding weddings during the pandemic. Talk about bonding experiences… weddings will do that, and in such a memorable (and nice) way.

One way of staying close to my adult children has been getting to know the people in their lives. It started in play groups when they were very young. It continued through the school years when I wanted to know their friends, their teachers, who they played music with, who was in their youth group or on sports teams with them. And now, look where it ended up – watching whales in the Strait of Georgia. Two good words that both begin with W. Isn’t life interesting? Just saying…

Times and Travels: Orca Watching

The waters of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) are home to many kinds of sea mammals. Some of the most exciting ones to encounter are the pods of whales that roam around the islands of Puget Sound and the Canadian boundary waters. On our recent trip to San Juan Island we were hosted on a small excursion boat with a crew of one, Captain Jim. Many thanks to Ryan’s parents for setting up this unusual outing, and for ordering perfect weather for carrying it out.

Our excursion started the west side of San Juan Island, the small harbor of Mitchell Bay. The whale watching boats are independently owned and operated by men who know the islands and surrounding waters well. We were six in number and a pretty good fit for the captain’s boat. We set out from the harbor with no idea of where to look for whales – a problem which was solved by communicating with numerous other boats on the water. The closest pod of orcas that had been spotted was about an hour north, close to the Canadian border so off we went.

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I loved the tiny cabins at this resort. Have to go back and stay longer!

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Captain Jim getting us on his boat.

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Captain Jim’s boat is equipped with GPS, depth finders, binoculars, and a bathroom!

The sun was out, the temperature was moderate, the water was relatively quiet. All this was not the usual. We went north and west to the Strait of Georgia. You really need to look on the map sometime in order to know how crazy the international boundary is in that part of North America. It zigs and zags through the islands and is connected to some little known history of the Pig War. I had never heard of this war but most of the islanders can tell the story and it is rather colorful.  By the time we located the orcas we were in the Strait of Georgia within sight of Vancouver, in Canadian waters.

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Another whale watching boat and the ferry on the nearly glassy smooth Strait of Georgia

The Strait is a very large area and often has ocean size swells, but as I said, it was almost glassy still. We had Dramamine with us but didn’t need it at all. There were three or four other boats watching the pods with us as we followed them along. The orcas are not whales but are the largest mammals in the dolphin family. They travel in social groups, as large as 40 members, that get numbered and are recognizable by individual dorsal fin characteristics. They are often called killer whales because they are skilled hunters and feed on other marine mammals. They cooperate in the hunt, acting a bit like a pack of wolves.

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Exhale!

If I remember right, we were watching pod 34 and possibly pod 37, which were both resident pods. They stay close year round, whereas other pods travel through as transients.  A number of dorsal fins would appear as the orcas came up to breathe, and we would hear the rush of air as they exhaled. They would dive again and reappear farther ahead.  We kept hoping they would find something to feed on and actually breach completely out of the water, but that didn’t happen. Boats are restricted from getting closer than 200 yards from orcas and are not to block their path or be closer than 400 yards ahead of them but we still got good views. Captain Jim had binoculars for everyone which helped.

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We used binoculars.

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And evidently not just for the whales.

 

After an hour or so of watching, we headed back through the islands, often slowing to photograph the awesome views. Mt. Baker is the volcano visible in many of the photos. What a perfect day it was to be out on the water in the PNW!

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Esther and Ryan enjoying the sun and the water

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Gorgeous scenery like this the whole time.

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Majestic Mt. Baker in the distance