Summer was in full swing, at the height of the season and it had been a hard day at work. Just one of those days that you’d rather forget as soon as you leave the building. The sun felt warm on her face as she walked to her car, the sky so blue above her it seemed almost fake. She decided to take a detour and go down to her favorite little beach before heading home.
She kept her small kayak there and depending on the tide took it out quite often after a hard day’s work. Relieved at not seeing any other cars parked in the tiny lot, she put on her water shoes, grabbed her binoculars and made her way down the small path towards the rocky shore.
She heard the forceful exhale of a whale seconds before spotting all the whale watching boats hovering at a safe distance. A jolt of joy went through her body – the whales are here! A couple more big strides finally got her down to the water’s edge, she raised the binoculars to her eyes and immediately spotted several black fins dipping in and out of the water a short distance from the shore. It was several members out of a group of Orcas that reside in these waters during the summer, called the Southern Resident Killer Whales.
Excited she started to scramble over the rocks, wading through some shallow water to get to a rocky “island” that was only accessible during low tides. She clambered as far out as she could, standing on the edge of the rock farthest out into the small bay.
A group of six whales slowly made their way up north, passing by about 60 feet in front of her. She recognized the leader as Granny, the ancient matriarch of the Southern Residents. “J-Pod” she whispered under her breath and send a silent greeting to the proud old whale as she slowly swam by. All of a sudden the sound of a breath closer than all the rest, then another one. Three whales circled in the small bay, even closer than the previous group. They surfaced, took a breath and dove back down, their next surfacing spot just a wild guess.
All of a sudden – “whoosh”- a young male whale surfaces right in front of her in the big bull kelp bed, not 10 feet away. He lingers on the surface for a second or two, his eye connecting with hers! A powerful and profound connection forged in that instant, exposing every layer of her being, her darkest secrets coming undone to the magnificent, almost otherworldly mammal in front of her. The world stopped for a heartbeat, then the orca dove back under, the spell broken.
She stood there breathless, not sure if she was dreaming or if this was real. Never had she felt so powerless and at the same time so empowered in the presence of another being, a connection so complex, yet intangible. She knew that the whale had seen her, her deepest inside, her soul. And in exchange she saw something in the whale, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Something beyond her reach of understanding. She continued to watch in a daze, as the male made his way further away towards the north, followed by his little brother and his mom. Already doubting herself, she sat down and pondered. Had this really just happened or was it just her vivid imagination?
Long after the whales had gone by she made her way back across the rocks to the beach. A couple was sitting quietly on the bench on the top. The woman excitedly waved her over. “We saw it”, she exclaimed, “we saw your conversation with DoubleStuf!”
J-34, also known as DoubleStuf was found deceased in December 2016. He was only 19 years old and just on the cusp of becoming a mature adult whale. Preliminary necropsy results show that he died of blunt force trauma.
J-2, also known as Granny, was officially declared as missing/presumed dead at the beginning of January 2017. She was estimated to be 105 years old. She was the matriarch not only of J-Pod but all Southern Resident Killer Whales.