From the age 12 to 16, all that was on my mind were whales. It sounds strange that all a fresh new teenager could be thinking about was whales instead of the usual boy band or attractive actor, and while I did think about those things, my priority was still always whales. Every weekend I’d find a new whale documentary on Netflix to watch, which became had after about a year because there are only so many whale documentaries Netflix can put out before becoming the Discovery Channel. Every time I went shopping there was always a secret hope in the back of my mind that I would find the Orca socks I had always dreamed of owning. I begged and begged my parents for a vacation on the West Coast so I could have even just an opportunity to see whales, which was unimaginable in Miami. My suggestions were always shot down, until one day my parents decided that a vacation to Olympic National Park, Washington was the trip for us.
We spent weeks planning our trip, where we would stay, and what we would do, with my only concern being where whale watching would fit into our tightly packed schedule. We spent days researching the best whale watching companies in Washington, until we finally found the Port Angeles Whale Watching Co. a made our reservations.
Weeks of anticipation passed until it was finally July 13. The day I had been waiting most of my adolescent life for had finally arrived. After a quick stop for coffee, which I was sure was going to make us late, we finally pulled up at the harbor and piled onto the dock. We got the typical “Oh you’ll have a great time” spiel as we walked up to the boat, with the only thing giving me hope that we’d actually see a whale being the small harbor seal we saw floating around the docks. I figured if there was one animal out today, there had to be more right?
As soon as we climbed up to the top deck of the sizeable boat, where we thought we would have the vest view, my mom, dad, brother and I sat down facing the vast expanse of Pacific Ocean in front of us. While I’d like to say I was cool, calm, and collected, I would have probably been more accurately described as freezing, nervous, and only the smallest bit frazzled. Who could blame me though? It felt like my whole life had been leading up to this trip and I was finally going to be able to know if the passion I felt for the whales on my screen was the same as for the whales right in front of my eyes. I had always thought I’d be some kind of marine biologist studying whales and marine mammals when I grew up, but this trip was going to be my first big experience with it and who knew if I’d feel the same enthusiasm when it came to be time to step off the boat? What if I’d been subconsciously hyping them up in head, and when it came to the real deal I’d be left feeling disheartened?
While the two story boat pulled away from the dock and out into the bay, we were met with hundreds of seals lounging on the beach, and a bald eagle sitting on some drift wood waiting for the perfect moment to take off and hopefully land one on some tourists head. Thankfully that tourist wasn’t me, and we continued off into the bay. As soon as we reached a depth deep enough for whales to frequent, our captain came over the PA system and told us to keep an eye out for any spouts of water, and then he said what I’d been waiting to hear. In a tone mirroring the excitement I felt inside, our captain told us we’d be following a pod of Orcas on the west coast of Victoria, Canada. My excitement only flourished, until he said it’d take us 2 hours to get there. My nerves started to grow as I assumed we’d never make it in time to see the Orcas before they moved on to somewhere else. My mom tried to assure me we’d make it in time, but I still had my doubts.
After two hours of freezing cold wind nipping at our faces, and the occasional passenger yelling “Hey I think I see one!” which always turned out to be an oddly shapen piece of wood or debris, I started losing hope. The company guaranteed we would see whales but how could they promise something that was so much in the hands of Mother Nature? I thought my dreams of seeing whales, specifically Orcas, in the wild were going to keep being just that, dreams, until finally the boat started slowing down. What was once a loud chugging noise became a low hum as our engines slowed and other boats came into view. My hopes that had just been buried away were finally reemerging as I reasoned that the other boats had to be watching something.
The boat eventually reached its destination and the engine stopped all together. During this time I had pushed my way through the tourists and their children to get to the left side of the boat where the captain said I’d have the best view. The boat became silent once the captain said he’d seen an orca surfacing to our left. With wide eyes everyone stared into the distance, me using my binoculars, and after what felt like ages, I could just catch a glimpse of an orca fin as it skimmed the top of the water. In that moment I knew that that was what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life. The amazement I felt just seeing the top of the dorsal fin was enough to tell me I had never felt this way before. There were two younger boys standing next to me having spitting contests to see who could spit farther into the water and as each Orca in the pod started to surface and playfully slap the top if the water I couldn’t comprehend how the boys could be drawn to anything else. The way the Orcas moved through the water, surfacing every few seconds was encapsulating. It felt like I was in a trance as I tuned out everything going on around me and only focused on the sounds of the air from their blowhole and the soft slapping noise that was made each time a fin or tail touched the water. It took everything in me not to jump off the boat to get a closer look. In that moment a spark was lit inside me and I felt a passion I had not felt before. I decided then and there that I would do anything I had to do to spend my life interacting with and studying these animals. I was making it my goal to experience that same joy every single day.