A Day with the Whales: An Interview with an Outdoor Odysseys Guide

This afternoon I sat down with second-year guide Will Bingaman to talk with him about a trip he led earlier this week. Like most of our one-day trips at Outdoor Odysseys, the trip launched from San Juan County Park on the west side of the island, went south to Deadman’s Bay where the group stopped for lunch, and back north to the county park. Will met his four guests at the Friday Harbor ferry terminal on the morning of the trip. Two were from Australia, two from Chicago, and all had been sea kayaking before, though never in the San Juan Islands.

On the drive to the park, Will and his guests spotted a line of whale-watching vessels not far from shore. Eager to see whales, they got out of the van to take a look, but much to their dismay, the only things in the water were boats. “I thought [the whales] had probably already left,” Will told me, guessing they had continued south.

Once on the water, the group kayaked south along the coast. When they rounded the corner, they saw a bunch of whale-watching boats in Haro Strait between San Juan and Vancouver Island, but, again, no Orcas. They continued carefully along the shore and soon decided to raft together in the kelp. “I just had this weird feeling that the boats were [that far away] because they had to be—not because they wanted to,” Will told me.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, a group of five orcas—four females and one male—surfaced together between Will’s pod of kayaks and the line of whale-watching boats, a smooth line of five fins visible above the water’s surface. They disappeared for a minute and then surfaced again, continuing to porpoise up and down in the same slow manner until they disappeared from sight. From the way they were swimming, Will guessed they might have been sleeping or in rest mode.

The group kayaked on, sufficiently energized at that point, and made it to Deadman’s Bay at Lime Kiln State Park in time to witness another incredible whale sighting. Will had just begun to prepare lunch when a group of whales—all female this time—swam within thirty feet of shore and began tail-slapping the water in front of Lime Kiln Point, putting on quite a performance for the spectators gathered there on the rocks. “It was the second-craziest whale sighting of my life,” Will said. (The craziest was on a trip he led with Outdoor Odysseys last summer.)

Will’s favorite part of the trip? Getting on the water early enough that morning to be the only group of kayaks out there when the first group of whales went by. “It was so quiet”, he told me, “you could hear them breathing.”