Orca whales are as an iconic a symbol of the Pacific Northwest as salmon, Mount Rainier and the Space Needle. Seeing them in the wild, however, is a rare treat indeed.
My golfing buddy, Scott MacDonald, who lives on the island’s south end, got an up close and personal look at some of these majestic creatures a few weeks back from his fishing boat, just off of Crystal Springs.
Like a lot of Orca fans, MacDonald keeps an eye on the Facebook pages and Internet sites that monitor the whereabouts of these so-called “killer whales,” so named by ancient mariners who observed how they killed and preyed on larger species of whales.
“I saw on Orca Network that morning (of Friday, September 3rd) that they were close by, over near Bremerton,” MacDonald recalls. “Then I went out (in his boat) and looked for them. They got between Illahee and Bainbridge Island, then headed (north) towards Rich Passage.”
Around 10 a.m., Scott maneuvered his 22-foot outboard to within 40 to 50 feet of a half dozen Orcas and turned on his video camera, zoomed in and began recording.
“They were different sizes and ages,” he says, “some juveniles and females, and at least one big bull…I was very lucky. I was in the right place at the right time.”
MacDonald said there were other boats nearby as well, including a U.S. Coast Guard vessel that was monitoring just how close pleasure boats were getting to these endangered species.
The so-called “southern resident” Orca pods often ply the waters of central and southern Puget Sound during the summer months, but MacDonald says this year has been exceptional.
“They come through a couple of times a year, but there’s been more this year,” he adds. “Maybe three to four times as many.”
While MacDonald admits to being an amateur biologist, he speculates that many of the Orcas out and about nowadays might be “transients” who are “mostly male” and are looking for good places to nosh on salmon and other waterborne species.
“I get a lot of my information from Orca Network. I use it a lot. They share information about where Orcas are on an almost daily basis.”
Of his brief, close encounter with these black and white marvels of the sea, MacDonald is still pinching himself: “It was a once-in-a-lifetime (experience) for me getting that close.”
Although state law requires that boaters stay 200 to 300 yards away from Orcas, chance encounters like Scott MacDonald’s do happen from time to time. It wasn’t Mr. MacDonald’s intention to come as close as he did. When it happened, he did what most people in that situation would do, he pulled out his phone and recorded it.