Orcas are periodically seen in our Santa Barbara Channel, which is good news for folks who appreciate opportunities for viewing such magnificent animals. We have plenty of food for them, and good clean water, plus they migrate through from time to time.
This puts me in mind of a wonderful orca experience of mine. I was bringing a charter group back across the channel, after a successful day of fishing at Santa Cruz Island. Out ahead, I spotted a disturbance on the water.
As my boat drew near, I spotted two baby orcas and the big momma. The momma orca was babysitting, while the youngsters splashed, jumped and played, acting pretty much like kids of any species including our own.
Throttling down to a slow pace, and making a turn, I began a slow steady circle around the critters at a respectable distance. At first, momma orca swam the same circle, keeping herself near the youngsters but directly between them and the boat.
I maintained a steady speed and pattern, and after a short while the momma decided we were safe and sane.
She relaxed and rested, while allowing the kids to continue to play. We got to watch the spectacular show for about 15 glorious minutes, and everyone aboard was visibly moved by the magical interaction with natures finest. The youngsters were just the cutest and most adorable things, and were obviously having a ton of fun.
Momma orca finally decided the kids had played enough and it was time to get on with the lessons of life. She made a quick movement, and the kids immediately dove behind her.
Why don’t our kids mind us that well? Perhaps it is because we are generally not at the daily mercy of nature’s food chain, and we therefore have the luxury of being complacent and surviving it. These young orcas behaved perfectly. But then, they must, or nature teaches some harsh lessons.
I turned the boat and eased away before throttling up. Once up on the step and traveling at cruising speed, I took a deep breath. It was my first comfortable breath since the experience began. I relaxed my grip on the wheel, so my whitened knuckles could get some blood flowing through them again.
You see, while my passengers were watching in awe and enjoying the amazing show, I had one hand on the throttle, one hand tightly on the wheel, and both eyes glued to momma orca. I did not forget, for one single moment, that I was dealing with perhaps the most powerful predator on earth.
Even though I maintained a respectable distance, and she had made it clear she was okay with my tactics, she was fully capable of changing her mind and charging the boat faster than I could skedaddle. I am, above all, a cautious captain, and with an understanding of who’s who in the food chain.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.