I arrived at the Center for Whale Research as an Earthwatch volunteer, knowing very little about whales, and essentially nothing about orcas. It was serendipity that I was there at all, as the timing came together at the last minute. On the second day, my team was the one to go out if the whales were spotted, and we were on the water by 7 a.m., with Dave Elefrit at the helm of "High Spirits." It was sunny and the water was flat glass, with no other boats around. Dave seemed to look over the horizon and said "It's K-1 Taku and his mom, Lummi." We had learned that Taku had his dorsal fin notched by researchers to help prove that individual orcas could be identified. As the whales came closer and closer, we were getting pretty excited. Then Taku went under the boat, turned on his side, and looked directly at us! (Dave said he'd never seen him do this before!) At that moment, I (metaphorically) fell into his world and resolved to learn as much as I could, and to somehow help these amazing animals.
Fast forward to July 7, 1996 and I'm back in the San Juans, attending "Whale School" on Spieden Island. As I lay in my tent the first morning, about 5 a.m., listening to the breeze in the towering trees, and so happy to be back and hoping to see a lot of orcas, I heard someone yell "orcas in Spieden Channel!" We all rolled out of bed in our p.j.s and stood on the bluff. There, with the early morning sun sparkling on the water, was K1 Taku and three other orcas, including a calf! I knew for sure this was my "heart home" and somehow, my main focus was to be on these orcas.
Since then, I moved to Whidbey Island and become deeply involved in volunteering for the American Cetacean Society and Orca Network, and have been able to be a volunteer whale watch naturalist. So thanks, Taku, you helped me focus my life!
poem by Bonnie Gretz
As the early dawn light opens my eyes,
Slowly my mind becomes aware of fresh sea-scented air,
the call of the ravens, the whisper of the wind.
But suddenly a call!
"The whales are here, in Spieden Channel!"
I run into the meadow above the sea,
the sky softly gleaming blue, pink, gold
the water like glass, swirled with the tide, sparkled with sun.
But oh! There they are!
Those sleek glistening dorsal fins gliding west, surely on the scent of salmon
or maybe greeting the dawn with joy.
The family is there....a little one, staying close to mom, sisters and aunts...
And that awesome big dorsal of (oh maybe!)...
My Taku...rising so slowly up,
his blow hangs like crystal drops in the still morning air.
I watch with my heart
Knowing they've come to greet me,
To welcome me back..
Back to the home of my spirit...