By Sydney McCabe
When you are as much of a whale nerd as myself, Ken Balcomb is the equivalent of a superhero. Mr. Balcomb has the impressive ability to identify and name all of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (also known as Orcas) in the Salish Sea. He has also dedicated his life to the protection and well-being of these beautiful creatures. With all the projects, surveys, films and research he has done, he has become the person I look up to, being a marine biologist in training myself. Brett Soberg notified me of the opportunity to do a tour with Mr. Balcomb and I immediately accepted. This was the opportunity of a lifetime.
The tour was scheduled for the morning of June 28, 2014. Twelve passengers plus our captain, Brett, and our guide, Ken, set out to get a firsthand experience of these creatures that had so enraptured us. Mr. Balcomb introduced himself to each individual on the vessel, when it came my turn I could hardly speak. It was such an honor to meet my personal hero and role model. Our journey lasted five hours, and everyone was in agreement that the tour was a dream come true. Ken’s knowledge and insight had us hanging off every word he spoke.
After departing, our captain headed straight for the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve and made a stop where one of the first Killer Whales was captured (in 1961). It was extremely interesting to hear Ken’s thoughts and words on the kidnapping of Orca Whales, especially after seeing him in the documentary Blackfish. We were able to spend some time with some Humpback whales and Transient Orca Whales. Ken told us stories about his research with humpback whales and showed us where he does research in Sooke. We experienced a beautiful pass by the Transients where they were only two feet away from us. Engines were off of course.
When we got word of the resident Killer Whales in the vicinity, Brett took us over to Discovery Island to see J and L pod. As soon as we saw the first blows from their spouts, the excitement and energy from everyone on the boat skyrocketed. We were all acting like little kids in a candy store. A group of whale nerds surrounded by 60+ Killer Whales with a specialist on board.
Our conversations were focused on the topic of captive Killer Whales and the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. Ken talked about the Chinook salmon and how conservation and sustainability in this species is critical. It was interesting hearing about the different things that affect the whales and our oceans.
Time flew by during our time with the Orcas and Ken. Before we knew it, we were heading back to the dock. Ken closed the tour by showing us his Orca Survey, ID’s of the Resident Killer Whale population and a new book coming out called War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz. I was lucky enough to receive Ken’s copy of this book. Eagle Wing handed out company hats to the guests and we said our goodbyes to Ken.
By Sydney McCabe