Zodiac Style

July 22, 2014

Those keen on their creature comforts might prefer to take their Victoria or Vancouver whale watching outing aboard our larger boat, the Ocean Magic 2, with her covered decks, private bathrooms, and pantry service. Real thrill seekers, however, belong on one of our rigid hull inflatables, or RIBs.

Often referred to as Zodiacs (the brand name of one of the original and most popular designs) RIBs originated as rudimentary rescue boats in Wales back in the 1960s, but have since evolved into the fast, versatile vessels used today by search and rescue teams, the military, recreational clubs, police, scientific researchers, and as lifeboats themselves. We use them to find wildlife, and we find lots. This week’s highlight was an unusually large congregation of transient orca.

Though showers on Sunday afternoon had deterred many from joining us on the water, ten plucky passengers were whisked more than 30 miles north over smooth, rain-speckled ocean, to the shelter of Satellite Channel, which cuts between the southern end of Saltspring Island and Vancouver Island.

As we approached the scene, excitement grew as several blasts could be seen in the far distance. Then several more were spotted within a half a mile, and the boat slowed. We were trolling along, keeping our eyes ahead, looking for more of the tell-tale breaths when suddenly, a huge, solitary male popped up about a hundred metres off our starboard side, cutting a shiny figure of black and white against the backdrop of Saltspring’s dense green woodlands.

We kept the big bull company for a while, travelling alongside, listening to the powerful exhalations, and getting great views of his huge dorsal fin and ‘saddle patch’ (the whitish-grey marking behind the dorsal fin that is unique to each animal) before pulling ahead to see what the rest of the group were up to.

They were in tight, travelling formations, coming up together every two or three minutes to push marvellous, synchronised sprays of white mist nearly ten feet into the air.

Transient killer whales are one of two ecotypes of orca that we’re lucky enough to witness in our waters on a very regular basis. The others—the residents—like only to eat fish, but these transients eat mammals, and these guys were likely looking to bring bad fortune to some poor porpoise or unsuspecting harbour seal.

It’s quite exceptional to see so many transients in the same area at the same time. We’d enjoyed a great show, and cruised back in satisfied silence, a little tired perhaps, from so much fresh, sea air. 60 nautical miles is a long way to go, but this had been exactly the sort of trip our RIBs were made to do.

Join us sometime, Zodiac style.