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Dropping in on orcas at their summer home.

Outside Antarctica, the best place in the world to see killer whales is Johnstone Strait, between northeast Vancouver Island and the Canadian mainland. In summer, when salmon are most plentiful in these waters, some 160 animals in 17 pods (groups) arrive to feed.

The best time to see the whales is midJuly through mid-August. Because the area is so remote, you can't drive to it; you can get there only by water. Charter boats sail from the Port McNeill area, a day's drive from Seattle.

Typically, Canadian charters cost around $40 per person (US.) for a 5- to 7-hour trip in a 28- to 60-foot powerboat or sailing vessel, lunch included. Kayak trips of six to eight days run about $100 per day, with boats and meals included. Whale sightings can't be guaranteed, but the odds are heavily in your favor, since charters and fishermen constantly track whales' movements all over the area.

Most whale-watching boats-even the kayaks-have hydrophones on board that let you listen in as whales communicate. What can you expect to see?

Canadian law (and good sense) prohibits harassment of whales: you can't approach closer than 100 meters. But whales often approach boats on their own.

On a typical excursion, you'lllikely have outstanding photo opportunities. Bring a telephoto lens and film of ISO (ASA) 100 or higher: slower film may not allow the faster shutter speeds required by a long lens, cloudy weather, and boat motion.

You'll probably see only one pod of 5 to 15 animals at a time. Super-pods-50 to 100 animals-occur, but rarely.

Most killer whales eat only fish, but smaller transient pods eat marine mammals, hence the name "killer."

Lining up a trip

To reserve space on a one-day charter, write to Independent Charter Boat Referrals, Ltd., Box 1239, Port McNeill, B.C. VON 2RO, or call (604) 956-3739.

For kayaking, write or call Ecosummer Expeditions, 1516 Duranleau St., Vancouver V6H 3S4; 669-7741. Or try Northern Lights Expeditions, 5220 N.E. 180th St., Seattle 98155; (206) 362-4506. For lodging information, write or call the Regional District of Mt. Waddington, Box 729, Port McNeill VON 2R0; (604) 956-3301.
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Title Annotation:observation of killer whales at Johnstone Strait, British Columbia
Date:May 1, 1989
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