I may be going back to working the skies in August, but things are far from “back to normal.” I have been looking back at some of my awesome past travel experiences, in part as a gratitude exercise—like Damn, I really took advantage of my travel benefits—and in part for something to look forward to—as in Can’t wait to be exploring and doing all this fun stuff again.
Today I’m reminiscing about…whales.
That’s right, whales. Those giants of the sea. The singin’, swimin’ creatures of the deep. Whales must have some type of magic power, or at the very least be a catalyst for dopamine production in humans. I’d challenge any adult human to see a whale in person and not feel a flood of child-like wonder. Even via internet image, the sight of a whale is enough to get the Free Willy theme song stuck in your head all day. But maybe I’m showing my millennial here.
For a little background info:
When I was in fourth grade, my class went on a whale watch field trip off the coast of Salem, Massachusetts. Being on the boat was fun, but we didn’t see any whales. Not a one. A year later, in fifth grade, my whole class went on a second whale watch with high hopes of better luck. But it was a stormy day and the most excitement we got was watching our classmates get seasick over the side of the boat.
I’ve been saying, pretty much ever since, that I needed to try my hand at another attempt. And while there is no shortage of options along the Massachusetts coastline, for some reason I never made it out to sea in search of those giants of the ocean.
Whale Watching in Victoria, BC.
While planning my trip to Victoria, British Columbia for the annual World Airline Road Race, or WARR, I discovered that wild Orcas live off the coast of the small peninsula city. I was all in. Having been touched by both Free Willy and Blackfish, there was NO WAY I was missing out on seeing Killer Whales in person. Plus, Orcas don’t live in my neighborhood, so it was essential that I meet some on my trip.
I don't have any pics from the whale watch, but this is my SQUAD, later that night at a hockey game.
Our race team booked a private speedboat for 20 with Eagle Wing Tours to go whale watching in Victoria. Due to mechanical issues with the boat we had to board a bigger vessel with some rando regular people. This group of flight attendants knows a thing or two about mechanicals, and equipment swaps, so we didn’t complain. There was plenty of space for everyone and it was an exceptionally good day at sea, but I’d still recommend booking a tour on a smaller vessel if you have the option. The whales were social the day we were out and got very close to our boat—breaking the law close. So, had we been on the smaller boat, sitting right on top of the water, the view and experience would have been EVEN cooler.
After a brief safety demonstration (to which my group of 24 flight attendants paid very close attention) we headed out of the harbor to search for Humpbacks.
*Fun fact: The Victoria harbor is actually an international airport. Sea planes and helicopters fly in and out and it’s one of the busiest in the world!
Out at Sea
They tell you to dress in warm clothes for your whale watch. In late September we had beautiful weather throughout our trip. The day of the whale watch it was 70 degrees, hot and sunny. In fact, it was so warm that a few in our group were un-layering to the point of immodesty during our sweaty walk to the docks. I was one of them, and if Victoria was a younger town, a bit less stuffy, I would have taken off more.
Still, no matter the temp on land, once out of the harbor and on the open water, it was cold. Cold, cold. Button up your jacket, wrap your scarf and still not be warm enough cold. Do yourself a favor if you’re whale watching in Victoria; bring one extra layer beyond what you think you’ll need. There was an enclosed area with seating on our boat that was warmer, but it’s no fun witnessing the scenic beauty of this ride or the majesty of visiting whales from behind plexiglass windows.
Bird's eye view of Victoria, BC.
We got to see the cute, but smelly seals that live off the coast of Victoria
Seeing Humpback whales was pretty rad. Our naturalists told us some things about what they eat, how they eat it, the bumps on their faces which have little electromagnetic hairs.
But let’s be real: the star of this show is the Killer Whale.
Orcas are not only the most beautiful whale (sorry, it’s a fact) but they’re also SO COOL to learn about! Some of the coolest things I learned about Orcas:
1. They have FIVE TIMES the emotional capacity as humans.
That’s a lot of high highs and very low lows! This is due to a part of their brain that controls the limbic system and is more highly developed than in other mammals, including humans. Our guide told us a story of a mother whale in the pod we were visiting who, after giving birth to, and then losing her calf, carried around the dead whale baby for seventeen days. Mourning. That’s serious feels.
2. They got it from their Mamas.
Orcas learn from their moms, not instinct. Killer whales do not have instincts that tell them what to eat. They have their moms. Because of this, Orcas in different pods eat different things. They speak different “languages” too! This is pretty cool in that they have differentiated tribes—like humans. But it also comes with a downside.
The pod we were visiting on our whale watch, J-pod, who live off the coast of Victoria, eat Chinook Salmon. Overfishing has caused a drastic decrease in their food supply, leading to starvation and a whole host of health problems that come along with it. There are other things in the water that the whales of J-pod could eat, hypothetically. They’ve got sharp teeth! They’re hunters! But because they’ve been taught from generation to generation about hunting, feeding, and what to eat, they literally just wouldn’t see another animal—a seal for example—as food. It would be like a hungry American child looking at a dog. Sure, we could eat it, but it would never register to us as food.
*The fact that their behavior is learned and not instinctual means that Orcas are both teachers and students. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s amazing!
I have exactly zero photos from the whale watch (probably due to the cold) but I did, thankfully, snag a few videos!
3. They are all about the family.
Male Killer whales stay by their mother’s side for basically their entire lives. (Serious mama’s boys.) If a mother Orca dies, her son is three times more likely to die in the following year, compared with their peers with living mothers. We were told a story on the whale watch about one particular whale in J-pod who was born with severe scoliosis, preventing him from hunting. This guy’s family has been bringing him food, feeding him for the entirety of his life. No whale left behind!
Can we aspire to be more like whales?
Seeing these awe-inspiring creatures in such close proximity is breathtaking and could turn even the iciest, most cynical heart into a full-fledged conservationist. (I certainly contemplated a career change—being a whale naturalist seems AMAZING.) The naturalists on our tour were so knowledgeable and more than once I had to hold back tears hearing stories of the tribulations the Orcas of J-pod and other whales are facing. Beyond just being incredible sources of knowledge, the team that took us out from Eagle Wing truly went above and beyond to make sure that our experience was memorable—even breaking a piece of their boat in the process of delivering us, dockside, to our dinner reservation. (Sorry guys!)
If you’re in British Columbia, you must commit yourself to one afternoon of whale watching in Victoria. These animals are truly majestic. And if you do, you’ll be in good hands with the Eagle Wing company. Tours resumed July 1 and they have updated COVID procedures like limiting the number of guests aboard and sanitizer stations. If you’re a Victoria resident you can save 30% when you book now, and any BC resident will save 20%.
For the Americans in the room, just wait your turn. But when you’re allowed back into Canada, I highly recommend this tour company for your Killer Whale-watching pleasure.
Have any fun whale facts you want to share with the class? Tips for whale-watching in other places? Or info regarding less-beautiful-but-still-super cool species of whales? Also, B.C. must-sees and touristing tips—I’m DYING to go back! Post in the comments below!
Thanks for stopping by & talking a walk down this travel memory lane with me. 😊
(And keep scrolling to see more pics of Victoria & our trip!)