Vancouver, Monday

This was one of those days that you think might have been a bit chancy and expensive and which turns out to be the most amazing experience. We didn’t just see orcas, we watched two pods put on the most amazing arrays of behaviour for over an hour. This was a great day even in the eyes of the crew! The weather may have been grey, but the calm conditions gave us a chance to observe these creatures along BC’s rather wild coast.

We left from the fishing port of Steveston, which was unglamorous but interesting in the way real working towns are. Not even Eden retains this sense of men – well, mainly – going down to the sea in ships. Perhaps we have lost this on the Australian East Coast. Here, however, with the wealth of the South Georgia Straights in front of you and the sheer range of fish – wild salmon, huge crabs, a range of white fish – it’s no wonder there were hundreds of boats, from twenty feet to over 100.

Leaving Vancouver at 7.30 was a rude shock. Mr Personality drove the bus in total silence for 45 minutes – we identified him as Type I Canadian (the Type II is the friendly, engaging type that don’t work at the airport). Our fellow passengers were the usual mixture: a collection of ugly Americans sent from Homeland Security to cement US foreign relations, the loud Hispanics with the contents of a grocery aisle, real Spaniards maintaining European cultural superiority, and the demure English retirees enjoying a last holiday before the Tories steal their pensions! At least they listened to the onboard naturalist, like the nice Canadian couple in front of us – which is more than I can say for the rest.

The zodiac was rather more than you would think: it seated 30 and even had a loo. We garbed ourselves in the usual stylish wet-weather gear – the only photo I took on the phone – and headed out under the command of Captain John and Naturalist Joan.

I had memories of the Bay of Islands adventure in 2007, where the weather was so vile we saw nothing and had to turn back (mind you, that was a great adventure)! When we became engrossed in a young bald eagle drying itself on the seawall, I feared the worst – two hours out, one dorsal fin if we were lucky, and that’s your lot. I could not have been more wrong.

We found the pods spread out foraging for salmon in Boundary Bay, almost in US waters. These were resident whales – apparently the local seals know the difference between the residents and the seal-hunting transients – and the 16 or so whales each have been identified and tracked over 40 years by scientists. Long- lived and highly social, it was a privilege to be even 100 meters from them and to observe their pursuits.

That was not the whole show, however – I was busy with the camera, but knew that fins at that distance were boring. All of a sudden, they began to interact socially. The hydrophone began to pick up the whale talk – “that’s J pod song for sure”, said Joan – and the young males began to breach. There was some interesting inverted swimming behaviours and some tail slapping to gather the pod around the matriarchs. Then, after we had followed them south for about 40 minutes, they began to head north.

After all the gasping of the first part of the trip, we fell silent as the boat increased speed to keep up with them. We were doing about ten knots which was the average speed of the main group, but a times various orcas would put the hammer down and we were simply stunned by their power and speed. Once again, I need pictures to explain – some at least have turned out, but I would need days with the whales to catch images that remotely captured their size, power and adaptability.

One can only come away from such an encounter convinced thar whales and humans can co-exist – as can most most species – if humanity behaves with a degree of common sense and a regard for the future. The greatest threat is, ironically, farmed salmon, which threatens the wild stocks, potentially a sustainable fishery. I’ve got thirty years left: I’d like to believe that both the whales, the fish and the communities will still be around then and for our grandchildren.