… it seemed a hundred years had passed since I’d heard the first whale blow and every nerve ending in my body was sparkling. Soaked in adrenaline, buzzed on nicotine and cocooned in a humming halo of nervous energy, my monkey brain overloaded – ‘eeeep!’ – then shut down.
Fight, flight or freeze.
I froze: hands glued to the rail, body completely locked in place, scanning the deep night for any signs of movement. Anything at all. Nothing stirred. Nothing.
The world held its breath.
This was really happening!
The forgotten cigarette burned my fingers, shifting focus. Suddenly free, I flicked the butt into the Canal (sorry guys) turned and bolted into the cabin like a wild-eyed child on Christmas morning. Knocking frantically on the bathroom door…”Jen,Jen,Jen,Jen,Jen….the whales are back!….the whales are back!…”. Running back out onto the deck.
She followed me out a thousand years later, wrapped up in pyjamas and towel against the cold. We stood together close by the low deck rail, staring out into the night.
More whales sounded, much closer than before.
At least 4, scattered out across the entrance to our little cove no more than a few hundred meters away.
But weird behavior. What’s going on here? They weren’t just on the way through. Something was up.
We could clearly hear their vocalisations as the Orca spoke to each other: the ‘whapping’ of finslaps, high pitched warbling whistles and deep rumbling vibrations.
They seemed to be coordinating and changing their locations, out in the black water no more than 100 meters away.
“A little bit to the left, a little bit to the right…come closer…yeah that’s it” in Orca-talk.
It finally dawned on us what was happening.
‘My God, they’re hunting!’
It made sense. There were several harbor seals that lived in and around our little Calm Cove. At night they slept on the floating pontoons and under the docks that were scattered around the canal.
The whales hunted these seals, and years before had wiped out most of the local seal population in a destructive orgy of blood, guts and fur close to Robin Hood resort in Union. Herded them into shore and massacred them all. It is spoken of in awed whispers by the locals apparently.
The few seals left were the smart ones.
I moved over and put my arms around Jen, lost in the moment, forgetting. When the whales were whistling to each other, I whistled back, trying to emulate the sound.
“If you must hold me, at least be quiet”.
The pod had positioned themselves around the entrance to the tiny cove. It seemed they were forming a loose cordon – a net – with the aim of driving whatever prey out of their hiding places and close to shore.
Once in place, the 4 whales began to close up – sonic ghosts, the only sign of their presence now being finslap splashes and their haunting vocalisations as they maneuvered out in the black.
Then they stopped, falling silent again.
For a minute or so, all was quiet save for the soft lapping of the wavelets against the deck supports below.
We looked to each other. “Now what?”
Then, far out towards the middle of the canal…
There was a 5th whale.
It passed through the cordon of Orca and entered the cove. The only physical sign a subtle warping of the reflected streetlights – a swell and surge breaking the amber ripples of light as something massive but invisible passed silently beneath. It began to slowly sweep across the cove from one side to the other and then back.
A sudden dread enveloped me. Gone was the wonder, replaced by a primitive irrational fearfulness. I knew it was larger than the others by the sheer menace of the thing. It radiated danger.
Now it was coming closer to us and the deep waters edge. Unseen. Impossibly close. Once, twice, three times it moved across the cove, closer and closer with each pass.
Directly below us lay black, freezing water that at high tide we could bend down and touch at arms length. Just ahead, barely illuminated by the low voltage Christmas lights on the cabin, bobbed a series of buoys about 20 meters out – where the neighbor usually moors his jetskis and canoes.
Halfway to the closest buoy in the rusty pool of light, the black surface surged upwards.
Completely silent save for tiny tinkling splashes of water, the tip of a black curved fin broke the surface with barely a ripple – up and up and up it came. Massively tall. Improbably close. A gleaming obsidian blade followed in slow motion by the glistening head and curved back of this enormous predator.
I felt my heart tear as this wonder emerged from the invisible, rising silently in the semicircle of light before us.
“WHOooosh”… a shower of misty silver, tinkling tiny splashes.
It checked us out. I’m sure I felt its dismissive gaze pass over us – the boring little monkeys standing huddled and frozen up on the deck.
And then it was simply gone. Slipping quietly back under the surface with nothing to mark its passing but the oilslick swirl of the icy water.
It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life.
After the bull had swept the cove, the pod became chatty again, and one by one moved off around the point to the next cove along. It was obvious now that they were systematically working their way down though each cove searching for food.
We never saw the other Orca – only what I’m assuming was the big male.
As they moved around the point to the left, their slaps, blows, chirps and whistles became fainter and fainter until finally we couldn’t hear them any more.
After a few minutes, the world around us exhaled and came back to life.
A seal barked loudly just off to our right, scaring the crap out of us both and breaking the spell. We jumped and laughed – that was the luckiest seal in the world tonight.
It splashed into the water and got the Hell out of there as fast as it could swim, heading in the opposite direction to the pod.
So why am I sharing this…
Well for one thing, these stories would eventually be lost unless I write them down.
I spend a lot of time in this memory and I love the physical and emotional sensations it evokes. Even writing this today has the hairs on my neck standing up and I’m buzzing.
Secondly, one simple comment recalled now speaks volumes.
“If you must hold me, at least be quiet”.
Who says something like that?
That shitty recollection popped randomly into my head the other day as I was going through some pictures from last year.
This time it didn’t sting – it just made me a little sad.
Scientists and Romantics simply don’t play well together I guess.