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Welcome Home Superpod


Welcome Home Superpod. Story By Katie Watkins, Photo of Southern Resident Orcas by Susan Marie Andersson


We had just moved to Whidbey Island, mostly on a whim and dedication to long-time friendships. We found ourselves living in a house with my two best friends and their families, 12 of us all together, for five months until we all found “proper” housing. Being packed into a house was an adventure in and of itself, but we had also found an incredible spot, sitting on top of the hill above Libbey Beach, with an unobstructed view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I spent most of my non-working, non-momming hours on that porch, scanning the surface for whales. We had been following Tokitae’s story for the year before we moved over and I was bound and determined to live out all of my childhood dreams of living with orcas. We spent months watching and seeing nothing (well, save for a few sea lions that us inlanders promptly mistook for whales every time). We started following the Orca Network posts, but were really unfamiliar with most of the locations that were mentioned. Then, one day, we saw that they were heading south and were starting to be seen in the distance from Fort Casey. Hey, we knew that place! We were having a very lazy weekend day and most of us were still in pajamas, even though it was past noon. So, we sent out some scouts (the ones with the least kids to be contained) and waited eagerly by the phone. We got a call ten minutes later and I’ll never forget what came next, “We’ve got orcas.” The whole house went into chaos and frenzy, putting on the closest available shoes and coats and gathering the cats, aka children, into various cars. I couldn’t tell you who rode with whom. I like to think we took a headcount, but I can’t promise that. We caravanned down to Fort Casey and threw children out of car seats and onto the grass. Then, we ran up the hill like a stampede of hastily-dressed rhinos. At the time, we were all novices and owned maybe two pairs of very weaksauce binoculars between the lot of us. But, as soon as we got to the crest of the hill by the armory, we could tell that we weren’t going to need binoculars. What I had been imagining as my first sighting of orcas was quickly dispelled. THIS is how you know there’s orcas. It’s so obvious. The onyx black of their dorsals was so incredibly easy to spot and their movements as a family were coordinated and magnificent. They were everywhere you could see, from east to west and north to south. Too many to count. We were fighting over binoculars, screaming out shouts of joy, and, I can imagine, looking just like the orca newbies that we were. Pure joy.

We learned later that this was a Superpod, and then we learned what that meant—a large family gathering of our local southern resident orcas. All three pods were present that day. Granny (J2) at the helm. We had read about her incredible legacy. It was my first superpod, and it was also my last. That was the fall of 2014 and we never saw all three pods together like that again. I feel incredibly grateful that we had that moment, and that it was our first orca sighting ever. What a way to come into the world of the Salish Sea. But, I also get a deep sadness when looking back on that memory. We see them less and less, and we know that their future is incredibly fragile. All this makes this memory more delicate and something to treasure forever—the day our superpod met theirs.





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