The Magic of the Orcas at San Juan Island

A Striking Site in the Sea

We pushed our kayaks out from the shore of Smallpox Bay and started paddling. The tide was low and that made the bay shallow; jellyfish were everywhere. A line of large boats was just outside the bay heading south. “That’s probably a good sign,” I turned to say to Chelsea.

As I turned back to Haro Strait I saw it; a large, black dorsal fin, at least as tall as me, rose out of the water. My breath stopped and my eyes went wide. There was a moment when time didn’t move, sounds went mute, and all my focus was on that fin.

There are moments that stick with you forever. This was one of those moments.

Sea Kayaking on San Juan Island

I turned back to Chelsea, she was silent, but I saw her face lit up with pure wonderment; seeing an orca in the wild was her bucket-list item, but being in the same water as a one was amazing.

I’m fairly positive it was Blackberry (J-27) I saw in the mouth of the bay, but I didn’t take a picture nor did I know what to look for to identify which orca it was at the time, so it’s just a guess. After learning it was most of J-pod that came by that day I looked through pictures of their dorsal fins and his dorsal fin seems to fit the scene I remember.

We continued out into the Strait, following the tail-end of whale-watching boats as the orcas continued south along the shore. We passed several groups of kayakers who were beaming with laughter and happiness.

“Did you see the orcas?” we asked them.

“They came right past us,” they would reply. One solo kayaker sitting in a kelp bed said two of them came within 20 feet. “It was magical!”

That’s the only way to describe our experience that day on the water: magical. These animals are so striking, so powerful, and such amazing creatures. There was more to come that night though.

A Sunset Parade

After we got back from kayaking that day we rode the high of seeing the orcas all the way to dinner — which was a wonderful bbq chicken!

Then we started cleaning up. I was doing dishes and Chelsea had gone down the clean up at the bathrooms when I started hearing people, off in the distance, shouting and cheering. “Seriously people?” was my first thought, I’m a little cynical.

I started to notice a pattern: splash-cheer-applause, splash-cheer-applause, repeated over and over. The noise was moving closer too.

I stood up and looked toward the day-use area of San Juan County Park. People were gathering down by the shore. Something was up, so I grabbed the camera and the binoculars and headed down to find Chelsea.

“The orcas are back! Chelsea get out here.” I shouted into the women’s bathroom. she came running out quickly.

This was what we got to enjoy that night as the sun set on San Juan Island:

Orca breach off San Juan

Two orcas off San Juan Island

Two Orcas at Sunset

Sunset at San Juan Island

Spy Hopping Orca

Orca with Canada in background

Orca spout with boat

Orca Spout San Juan Island

Orca spout at sunset

Orca dorsal fin at sunset

 

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