Kayaking with Whales
It is early June and the air in the morning still holds a sharp chill. There is a cloudy mist that halos the illusive sun and cloaks everything in sight. The waves roll in over the ocean-rounded stones that edge the shore. It sounds as if the beach is breathing with every wave. The tide is coming in. We move quickly to drop the boats into the gentle waves and arrange ourselves into the sea kayaks.
Our fleet of boats point their bows towards a peninsula, Decision Point. Paddles crease the water as the blades slice the dark greens reflecting the grey clouds overhead. With the chill I find myself shivering. I take longer, deeper draws on the paddle and feel warmth start to radiate further into my body.
We’re close to an open water crossing. This is where ships and fishing boats enter the inlet, so as to unload their cargo in Whittier. As we are searching for an opening to ensure a safe travel across the passage it seems there is a growing darkness in the water to our left, about 80 yards away. It looks as if depth is being created instantaneously, as twilight takes over that section of the inlet.
Just as one of us starts to point to the darkened area, it leaves us without doubt, a humpback whale breaks the water line! An exhale of warm erupts as steam surrounds the spouting water. The whale then gives a slap to the surface with a singular fin. The smacking sound reaches us a split second later than the event due to the distance. We leave our imagination to the details of the whales markings. The dark of the whales back is evident to us though as it moves over the waters surface. We are Kayaking with Whales.
This fin slapping gesture makes waves that ripple out to us. Just as this occurs, the sun parts the clouds as if to put a spotlight on this migrating whale. It seem this whale is by itself but the slapping of the fin gives evidence that it may be trying to communicate to other whales in the area. We keep our eyes peeled.
We joke that the whale is waving to us as we sit content in the adrenaline that surges through us all. Small elements of fear wash away because of the entrancement of the gracefully slow movements of the massive animal. The first time seeing a whale fills you with that feeling of being a drop in a bucket, taking notice to how big and small everything is in that moment. The sense of connection through presence.
The large mammal crests again, this time letting out a huge plume of warm air that steams through the spouting water. The exhale reveals sounds of a giant taking a deep breath. Vocal tones of release erupt through the air. The whale continues on cresting and exhaling. The breathing lined with the sounds water spraying in synchronicity.
Our boats become little rubber ducks in my mind in comparison to the whale as the giant grows in distance from our group. Waves lap out of the usual rhythm against our boats as the swell from the whale slapping its fin earlier reach us in their dissipated state. We have now linked up our boats into a group, paddles crossed over each others boats, rocking together.
We are filled with excitement and a sense of belonging even in the face of something so much bigger than ourselves. The expected feelings of intimidation and fright are replaced with the authenticity of giant smiles, bursting with excitement and amazement at the grandiose experience.
We sit still for as long as we can, tracking the air bubbles and plumes of underwater exhales. Fingers cross for a breach from the Humpback. There is one last fin slap in the distance. The sharpened sound is made gentle as it echoes off the rocky shoreline. This is unknowingly our last goodbye.
We enjoy the mellow rocks of our kayaks in this organic moment of euphoria. Silence breaks as we start into describing the gratitude that fills us all in this hallmark moment. A product of Kayaking with Whales in the Prince William Sound.