Story and Photos by Brooke McKinley
After spending 15 years working on the Salish Sea as a whale watching naturalist, I have had the unique opportunity to spend time getting to know the individual killer whales that swim through our exceptional waters. There have been so many moments that have stuck out in my encounters with SRKWs throughout the years.
When asked to share some thoughts about a particular killer whale, my mind drifted to L119 (Joy). She was born in 2012 and I don’t remember too much about her first couple of years; it wasn’t until she started straying a bit from Mom that her inquisitive personality became more evident.
I had a particular encounter with her on July 20, 2016 that showcased her emerging personality. She came swimming toward the boat with a salmon tucked into the tip of her mouth. She proceeded to push the fish around for the next five minutes. It was fully intact, except for the couple of fatal teeth marks. It seemed to me that she was showing off her ability to catch her own salmon now. It was almost a sense of pride I could feel beaming from her as she showed off her catch. In the span of those five minutes, she had simply decided to swim by the boat (engines already off), content with her new fish trophy. It was such a cool experience.
Fast forward a couple of years (late summer of 2018) ...we were stopped south of Salmon Bank as members of L pod decided to shift offshore. She was the only one in our vicinity. Joy once again swam directly at the boat, just a couple of feet under the surface of the water, enabling everyone to see her full body in the crystal-clear blue waters. As she veered to pass off the stern, it appeared she was going to come up for a breath, but instead, she just looked at us for a couple more seconds before sinking back down (without taking a breath). Just close enough to the surface to check us out... Most of the time, I don’t consider killer whales to be too intrigued by us, they mostly just pass by, doing whatever they’re doing, and we just sit there enthralled by their mere presence. It is these special rare encounters that I can perceive they’re interest in us; it’s those moments that I hold nearest to my heart – to say that you were eye to eye with a killer whale — to have a killer whale actually see you, wow. Just wow. There aren’t even words to describe it.