A Swim With Orcas

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As we continue to study the issues confronting the survival of our local endangered resident orcas, I thought it would be good to take a break, and enter their world for a bit. The first video is not long, and is a pleasure to watch.

The comments that follow it relay the experiences of two hardy souls who dove with the orcas in Norway, and the last video, while a bit long, shows the orcas feeding on herring and gives a sense of what it is like to dive with the whales in those semi-arctic winter conditions.

Love at first sight: We dove into the water immediately. At first I saw nothing, but the squeaking and clicking noises grabbed my attention. There ­ out of the blue ­ came the biggest killer whale I had ever seen!
Sure, I know everything looks enlarged under water, but I am pretty sure this male was well over six meters. He was passing just eight meters below me when suddenly he looked up at me, took a U-turn and swam back towards me.
I followed his motions and as if in a ballet we moved in unison for a little while. This slow dance must have fascinated my new friend, for suddenly he turned and came swimming right at me, his head slightly skewed to the side with a wondering, intelligent look. Our eyes met. I was transfixed, time and place disappearing, unable to move. I was not aware of it, but in the boat they had heard my screaming through the snorkel. At the time the orca was just three meters away, and I remember thinking “Oh no, he will collide with me!” followed by a thrilling “Oh yes…!”
Just as suddenly he turned away and disappeared into the deep sea.

It is horrible. They are silent, vast, beautiful, perfect. The first one glides directly below, much, much closer than I’d ever imagined, close enough that if I weren’t pulling my elbows in, tucking my knees up, and generally trying to deny my own existence, I could actually reach down and touch a fin. Two, three more glide silently below, then another, but this time, instead of swimming past, the killer whale angles up, as if about to charge, tilts to one side and stops, a single, disembodied eye staring straight at my face, probably no more than six feet from my frozen being. I actually cannot look into its eye, and gaze meekly instead somewhere around its fin. And then it goes. I am not sorry.

So why put yourself through it? There’s no simple answer. Three more times we get back in with the killer whales, and each time there is that same slightly horrifying moment of truth. And yet, there’s also something intoxicating, delicious – it’s like teetering atop the world’s highest rollercoaster, surrendered, delirious, alive.

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