The ship has entered Canadian waters overnight and I am thrilled to learn that we will be docking at Victoria, B.C. for the day. The capital of British Columbia, this gorgeous old city is also known as the city of gardens. I visit, first of all, two of the city’s most celebrated landmarks, the British Columbia Parliament Buildings and the Fairmont Empress hotel.
Breathless, but we made it! After signing a waiver, we were directed to our boat, the BC Tika, where we were provided survival suits to wear, to keep ourselves warm once out on the chilly ocean and also just in case we got too excited on spotting a whale and fell into the water ;) Our captain-and-guide gave us a safety briefing, and told us he would use a clock position to let us know which direction to look in when he had something of interest to point out. So if he said 12 o’clock, it would mean he was pointing at something ahead of us, 3 o’clock would mean looking on our right, 7 o’clock, behind us on our left and so on. Once all the passengers were suited up, we took off with much anticipation.We started at a relaxed pace, passing through charming views of Victoria harbour and our captain pointed out important buildings, lighthouses, etc. as we made our way out of the Victoria waters. We learnt that the bright yellow boats with the Canadian flag on them were water taxis that ferried people across the water, much like yellow taxi cabs in many cities. Once we were outside Victoria ‘city limits’, our captain warned that we would now pick up speed. And we certainly did. And how! Our hearts began to race and this was when it dawned upon us that we were in for a real adventure!We kept moving and moving, keeping our eyes peeled, eagerly awaiting that one sighting that would put us on the board. Most tour boat companies share cordial relations and communicate with each other via radio, so if one boat happens to spot a whale, they let other boats in the area know so everyone can enjoy the sighting. That afternoon, however, none of the boats seemed to be having any luck. Almost an hour out on the ocean and we had not even spotted a seagull, let alone a whale!Just when our hopes were fading, our captain braked and yelled, “2 o’clock, Minke! 2 o’clock!” and all heads instantly turned to the 2-hour marking on the imaginary clock. There was a splash and much to my disbelief, I had just seen my first ever WHALE! A minke whale had surfaced briefly, giving us a glimpse of its dorsal fin and tail, before disappearing. The sighting, although fascinating, was a bit disappointing as it was much too quick, and I had neither been able to get a photo nor a proper perspective of the size of the whale. I learnt however how unpredictable wildlife sightings could be, and so to just be positive and keep looking, never know when another whale would surface!My positive thoughts helped. We came across a humpback whale within minutes! This was the one that made me realize how massive whales actually are in comparison to humans or any other living beings! We were told she was a female. She surfaced a few times, flipping her tail every now and then, leaving behind ‘footprints’. We followed her for some time by tracing the series of her footprints, but eventually lost her. Then all of a sudden we saw small fish jumping over the surface of the water in a frenzy. They looked like they were trying to escape from a predator! Out of nowhere, the whale breached mere feet from our boat! Tail slap! Wow! In Canada, regulations require that boats keep at least 100 metres away from any species of whale, to reduce the chance of disturbing the whale and also for the safety of the humans. If a whale approaches a boat on its own, however, there is nothing you can do but to enjoy the moment and hope that it doesn’t land on your boat! The whale swam under our boat and my heart skipped a beat, wondering if she would breach again and perhaps capsize the boat! Luckily nothing of that sort happened and she resurfaced in front of us, slapped her gorgeous fluke one last time as if to say “Here’s your last photo op!”, and swam away.