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  • Writer's pictureMadison Churchill

Storm Watching with Snow and the T123s

It was a typical Monday filled with the sort of things that wear the mind down. As the zoom meetings persisted I watched whale reports come in with multiple pods of Biggs Orcas (mammal eating orcas) and humpbacks swimming through the San Juan Channel (just a few hundred yards away as the raven flies from where I sat).

The work day slipped into a beautiful stormy night when Monika Shields sent in an update that the T123s just swam west into Spieden Channel...right towards our docked boat. This scenario was lining up to everything I have dreamed: Last drop of daylight, rolling storm clouds and apex predators.

Snow and I gathered the pups, our backpacks and cameras and hopped in Holdfast our tiny boat to try our luck. The ominous weather looked heavy upon us as we scanned the horizon for Stanley, the 20yr old male Biggs orca. I’m not sure of the exact dimensions of Stan the Man, but full grown male orcas are 25feet in length and weigh 12K lbs, so if we to spot the pod from afar he was the one whom we were to see first with his massive dorsal fin.

After a bit of scanning, his enormous 6ft fin appeared above the water line approximately 1,000 yards off the bow. We slowly moved towards the group as they all dove down. Silently we waited and powered down the motor looking towards the horizon thinking we were still a good 500 yards from where we thought they would come back up.....we were wrong. Not three feet from the boat T123, “Sidney“ the matriarch herself, surprised us with a big blow that made me jump backwards a foot. Picture a dinosaur creeping up behind you and yelling “BOO!!!” I am so grateful my camera was strapped to me because it very well could have fallen into the drink. After I regained my footing, Snow said, “They are going to swim under the boat! Look down!” I quickly looked over the inflatable tube and inches below the surface was Stanley looking back up at us slowly slipping beneath our toes. It was a mix of adrenaline and butterflies seeing this King Predator gazing up at us at such incredibly close proximity. We remained shut down as the whole pod swam around our boat, sometimes swimming back at us like Stanley pictured here.

At one point they even caught a harbor porpoise for a late dinner (Snow has a picture of them tossing it at one point😬). After the sky turned to ink, the T123s headed north and we bobbed under the rain filled clouds that decided they were not going to be patient for one instant longer. The water fell from the skies as we docked the boat silently pondering the life altering experience that had just occurred.

We went to sleep that night with Orcas swimming through our dreams...literally. When I woke, I really wasn't sure which part was reality...meeting them on the surface or freediving with them all night. It is inherently human to want to experience this again, but I can honestly say...I’m good. I am so honored the T123s wanted to hang with us for that magical twilight hour and I hope they know we will do whatever it takes to make sure their population stays as healthy as it is today.


Cy Scammell

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