Killer Whales and a perfect day at sea.

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photo by Dayton Pickering

I’m outstretched on the top deck, with a cool drink in hand and a smile across my salty face. I hear soft chatter below as the hunters compare their prizes– sheepshead, perch, scallops– and the last of the divers peel off their gear.

The water is glassy smooth as the boat’s engine works up a rumble and we start to head away from the island. I close my eyes as the rolling of the boat and the warm sun on my back lulls my tired body to sleep. Yes, today was a perfect day for a Channel Islands boat dive.

Moments later the squeak of the intercom jolts me awake as the captain announces “Orca sighting off the front bow!” The boat springs to life; I hear screams and the pounding of feet sprinting up the ladder from the bunks. We are all crowded at the bow, squinting into the sun and searching the blue waters for any sign of a fin.

We hold our breath. The engine is off. The boat is still. Even the water seems to pause in anticipation.

Suddenly an outstretched finger and a shout points to a tall, graceful fin gliding across the water. And then another! Three of them! A small family of killer whales, just a few stretches away from our mesmerized eyes, shooting spouts of water and singing to each other.

They tease us; swimming closer, then disappearing for a few minutes, only to pop up next to the bow, flashing their grey markings and slippery black skin.

I hear the captain explain the rarity of this sighting; every two, three years maybe.

My mouth hangs open in fascination; seeing orcas, these magnificent dolphin-like, powerful creatures, approaching the boat with such curiosity, staring me down with their dark, black eyes, and then disappearing into the deep waters again.

Forty-five minutes later, and all too soon, the family gives us one last show of their dorsal fins, and head back out to hunt in the channel.  The engine roars back to life. The waves slap the sides of the boat. Divers retire back to the deck. Conversations resume.

I stand at the bow a few minutes longer, resting my hand on the anchor line as I watch Santa Barbara Harbor grow closer. The wind fusses with my hair. The sun beats down on my face. I close my eyes and smile. Yes, a truly perfect day at sea.

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