Assorted Orca Memories…
by Beni Spieler, Tofino
I've been told that they say that Italian is the most musical of all the known languages. Bouncing around, producing operas, practicing the art of seduction, and Flying Spaghetti Monster knows what else.
I think that's all rather silly of "them" to say that. Italian the most musical language on the planet? Really? I think Tofino has some locals that are much more musical when they speak.
Yes, my fine village dwelling folk, I am referring to whales.
From the tiniest little porpoise to the largest air breathing mammal, they are all quite musical. In fact, their spoken language itself is generally referred to as whale song.
So there, take that, Italian spoken word. The deep oceanic has had this musical language thing down since before you were even shouting your first... ehm... uhh... okay I can't recall any Italian operas to stick in that little ramble. Which is pretty sad considering I know some opera singers, and they're always going on about what they're singing... I can remember everything they said but the names... oh well. The show must go on.
I can only imagine what it must look like to actually see a pod of whales moving about together underwater. Not those tiny glimpses we catch of them when we go out on the water to watch them, or as I like to see it; tourists following a seasonal migration path and the whales coming back to watch them, but to actually go underwater and just hang out for a bit.
The closest I've ever gotten to a whale, is sadly in the Vancouver Aquarium. I remember it like it was yesterday, if I had been four years old, wearing the same pair of overalls all the time, and sporting a bit of a mullet... ah I remember it so clearly.
Going down the stairs to where the orcas were, hobbling along as fast as I could with those tiny little legs of mine, reaching the homestretch that was the dark hallway with a ramp that lead into the underwater viewing area. There they were, the Orcas.
I went countless times to see them as a child, and every time I went it made my breath stop... then rush out as I squealed and screeched my way up to the glass and pressed my face against it. I always thought they looked so amazing.
Many of my more memorable childhood moments took place there.
One time I was sitting crossed legged watching the whale tank, when one of the whales went by and this giant... silverish looking thing kind of floated out of it.
I turned to my dad and asked what it was.
He looked at me, and without a moments hesitation...
"It's shit. The killer whale took a shit."
My favourite orca there had a bent dorsal fin. It curved almost completely around, making a ring on its back.
I'd watch him all the time. He was the laziest one though, he rarely bothered to do anything for the shows. Just swam about, doing his own thing.
That's what I used to think as a child, lazy.
I remember going back when I was older and looking into the glass. As usual, I watched him. This time he swam right up to where I was, and turned so his eye was looking right at me. From far away you can't really see their eyes, but up close...
He looked so sad. Like nothing mattered anymore. Maybe he remembered the ocean better than the other whales.
He was dead the next time I went.
Before living in Tofino, I had only seen Orcas in the wild twice, and both times many years ago.
Once on the ferry from the mainland. There was a pod swimming along the ship. I dropped some nachos in the water for them.
The second time was on the island somewhere, and I saw a four or five of them playing in the distance.
Leaping out of the calm water and sending water splashing all over the place. Belly flopping into the water, poking their heads and spinning around to see what the crazy landlubbers are up to.
Or as they like to think, those weirdos who come back every year to watch them enjoy themselves.
Beni lives far from the ocean now, but sometimes his thoughts still live in Tofino.
Tofino writer Beni Spieler reflects on his memories of killer whales, from the Vancouver Aquarium and the BC Ferry rides to his time in Tofino.