Orca Twilight

The sound comes again, nearer and louder. A brief intake of breath followed by a sighing, snorting exhalation. Last time, I thought I heard something. This time Im certain. A killer whale, orca, is heading towards me.

I and a dozen fellow travellers have spent three days sea-kayaking the waters of the Johnstone Strait, returning in the evenings to our village of small domed tents huddled on the rocky shoreline of Vancouver Island where the forest meets the sea. Below the tents and above the tide line we beached our kayaks, bright spears of colour against the bleached bone-white logs that litter the coastal fringes of the Pacific North West. We have explored inlets where glistening claret coloured starfish clung to the rocks, peered down through clear water to anemones waving their tentacles way below us, been passed by schools of porpoise that leapt in smooth arcs from the rippling sea. But we havent got close to what wed travelled thousands of miles to see: orcas. Through binoculars, we watched black triangular fins appear and disappear as they approached the rubbing beaches, splashing in the shallows with puffs of vapour from their blowholes rising into the air. But that was the closest they had come.

Now, on our last evening, in the slow thickening twilight, we hear orcas heading towards us down the Strait. People drop their books, crawl out from their tents, halt conversations mid-sentence to stand in silent vigil at the waters edge. Another snorting breath. Straight ahead. A sharp black fin slices up, piercing the mist. Almost dark now. We inch closer to the water, so close it laps the toes of our shoes. Eyes itching from peering into the gloom, ears aching from straining to hear every breath, we wait. All our attention is riveted on the whales; the big male whose fin sliced a rent in the grey fabric of the dusk, a smaller one possibly female off to the right and another, smaller still, close in to the beach.

I flinch as a loud report, sudden and strident as a gunshot, echoes around the Strait; the male, unseen in the darkness, slaps his tail upon the water. Its as if hes given a signal to the rest of the pod to submerge and swim on out of range. I hear one more faint sighing breath and then no more. Nothing except the lapping of the water at my feet to show that the whales have passed. Unwilling to break the spell, I remain, standing in the silent darkness, a long time after the whales have gone.

L Evans

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