Safely ensconced in our room in the Fairmont Empress Hotel overlooking Victoria’s glorious inner harbour and we spot another whale watching Zodiac imploring us to take one final ride. The boat, resplendent in bright yellow, with forward facing seats and boasting the name ‘Prince of Whales’ on the side of the boat’s inflatable tubes, was just waiting for us and seemed to know that we were on the final leg of our Vancouver Island safari and only had one full day left and still had not seen any live Orcas! It was no contest, we had to gird our loins once more and challenge Poseidon to seek out those ‘Wolves of the Sea’ one last time. So without further ado, we hot-foot it to the company’s office situated underneath the Tourist Information Centre on the Harbour front to book our places. Luckily they have spaces on next morning’s trip at 09:00 sharp.
An early breakfast, it is always prudent to have something on-board ready in case the fish need feeding, and we head the short distance to the Prince of Whales office for the fitting of our fashionable red and black immersion suits, a briefing and that important trip to the toilet before we depart, as if we needed reminding that there are no such facilities on the boat. We march down the harbour, in some surprising order, to the berth where our chariot is moored and climb into our seats on a first-come first-seated arrangement. There are four sets of bench seats, each capable of seating 4 people with the Captain’s berth raised at the rear, there only being 12 passengers this morning there is plenty of room to spread out.
We head out of the harbour in the left hand channel at a sedate manner, due to the speed regulations, and are treated to the fascinating sensation of having taxi float planes taking off and landing in the adjacent channel to our right. As we reach the harbour mouth we see a hint of sea mist still clinging to coast and inlets, giving more than an air of mystery to the adventure. Once clear our Captain opens up the throttles and the Zodiac rears up and heads for the open sea, which is flat calm this morning as it usually is when there is fog about. We turn right and head west around the southern tip of the island to a small inlet where some Orca activity has been reported earlier in the day, our expectation levels rise.
After about 30 minutes speeding along with the occasional spray in our face, the motors are trimmed back and we glide into a small cove and through the mist we can make out a house and a yacht moored at the far end. As we get closer the mist clears and next to the yacht we notice some splashing and the engines are immediately cut and silence descends on the scene, we have located our ‘prey’. A small pod of 3 or 4 Orcas are breakfasting on some unfortunate harbour seals. First we see a black dorsal fin moving silently like a submarine conning tower through the water, then a splash as a seal is tossed in the air and then consumed.
As we watch more dorsal fins appear circling what must be a number of seals, it is then that someone spots that one of the fins is a lot smaller than the others and we are witnessing a mother teaching its young calf the ins and outs of seal hunting. While mesmerised by this sight, an Orca suddenly stands up in the water some 100 yards away, its shiny black body shimmering in the morning light. It has placed itself some 100 metres away between our boat and the mother and calf, behaving like a sentinel standing guard to keep an eye on any possible threatening intruders. After a few moments checking out the situation it sank slowly back below the surface. Moments later an Orca slowly undulates past us some 50 yards from the stern of our boat and heads out to sea, better safe than sorry must have been the rule of the day. Having had their fill of seal for now, the others followed suit and began to slide past us some 100-150 yards from our bow following the leader, leaving us to click away in awe and wonder of the spectacle. Mother and calf, then singletons slowly undulate out to the ocean to look for, we assume, lunch. We slowly follow them to the mouth of the inlet where they promptly pick up speed and disappear from view. Now avaricious for further spectacle the skipper throttles up and we charge off into the spume.
After 30 mins of high speed bouncing along the open ocean and we encounter a single humpback whale slowly undulating along oblivious to everything except where the next meal was. After the fifth or sixth dive our friend, obviously bored with our company, decides not to surface after a dive. We wait in hope, but with no sign we once again fire up the engines and begin our head for home.
20 mins later we come across an outcrop of rocks playing host to a group, surprisingly called a rookery, of Steller Sea lions: basking; barking and generally falling out. Young males grunting and roaring (as you can see most Saturday nights) plucking up courage to challenge the dominant bull for the right to mate and pass on their DNA, Mr Darwin’s theory in action in front of our eyes. We slowly pass the outcrops as close to the shore as our skipper dares getting a close-up look at these 1500lb petulant monsters, before starting our journey back to harbour.
We re-enter harbour past the Coast Guard station with its workshop doors resplendently painted with First Nation depictions of Orca and boldly exclaiming “Victoria welcome you”. Well if our previous excursions had not been all we had wished, this one certainly fulfilled all our hopes. I doubt if David Attenborough could have provided a better display. He may have better pictures, but the experience could not have been surpassed. Nature will oblige in its own good time.