Saturday, 23 June 2012 09:17

Roy Henry Vickers and Transient Orca

Written by Janie

Last week we had an amazing visit at Cetacea Lab by a man we have admired for years - Roy Henry Vickers. Not only is he one of the most inspirational artists of our time, his deep spirituality and connection to the earth had a deep impact on us all. During this visit he held us captive with the calmness of his voice and stories. Then he shared the gift of song as he sang from the balcony of the lab. We looked towards the sea, some with eyes closed, as the vibration of his voice touched something unique and special in each of us. In the days that followed a few of the interns traveled with Hermann on a whale survey. To follow is the experience of that day and the magic that Roy left with us all.


Written by Rachel Speer


The day started with two but beautiful humpback whale encounters on our path northbound to Hartley Bay. We took a bit of a break in the peaceful village of Hartley Bay so Hermann could runs some errands and check the mail. Soon we were back on the boat heading back south down the other side of Gil Island. We had not seen a whale in quite some time so Hermann began to sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and so it became the humpback whale song. I happen to have the song on my phone and so played it while singing along on the bow of the Elemiah, searching for whales. It only took twenty minutes and we encountered two more humpback whales who came together to lunge feed followed by two more; a great continuation of the day.

A little while later we spotted a huge fin whale that came into view. At the same time we heard some scratchy talk about orcas on the radio. A quick ID shot of the fin whale and we were off!

We headed in the direction of the suspected orca sighting but no one seemed to know where they went or even if they were 100% sure they were orca. We were bobbing in the boat not really going anywhere when Sole mentioned that we now needed an orca song.

Just five days earlier, the British Columbian artist and inspirational figure, Roy Henry Vickers, came to visit Cetacea Lab. While Roy was there he gave us a great gift. We all gathered on the deck of Cetacea Lab and he sang us a travelling song from the house of Walkus . This song’s key message when translated into English is, “We will go all over the world pulling together. We were born to do this, it is true.”We will go all over the world singing together. We were born to do this, it is true. All of us who experienced the song were deeply moved and filled with such emotion it brought tears to our eyes.

I instantly knew that I had to play Roy’s travelling song. The last time Roy had been in the area he experienced a magnificent event; a super pod of over 75 orcas. So it was not surprising that just one minute after I started to play the song the wheels started turning, and other boats put together information that led us to where the orcas had gone. We identified them as a transient group of three females and two juveniles, although one of the females was travelling far off from the others. These orcas take several breaths before diving under for about 15 minutes. The time they are visible can be short and they can pop up anywhere after a long dive. That’s just what they did. We were scanning the horizon when the smaller juvenile popped up ten feet off the back of the boat followed by the others nearby. We continued along with them for about a half hour south as they went back under for lengthly periods of time when Hermann said, “One more up and we’ll head back around.” Interestingly enough the next time they came up they were making circles and heading north again so we turned around with them and slowly kept on. Then when they got a bit ahead of us the juvenile breached twice in the distance and then they disappeared again under the water.

We continued to slowly head north waiting for the next sighting when they showed up right around the boat, all three all at once circling within 20 feet checking us out. I couldn’t believe they had taken such an interest in our presence. Even Hermann was in awe having never had transient orcas come that close and hang around like this before. A second later the juvenile came up ten feet away heading straight in our direction. All three of us couldn’t believe it when he kept coming and swam right to the boat coming up again maybe two feet from the motor before diving under the boat. We all ran to the other side and caught sight of his white markings as he swam under the water before coming up so close to the boat Sole and I could have reached out and touched him; we were frozen in amazement. This was very unique behavior to begin with, but more expected of a juvenile due to their playful nature and curiosity so we were really shocked when one of the full grown, adult females came to check us out a few feet from the motor. She was swimming under water and you could see the width of her whole body as she passed by. You can’t really imagine the immensity of these creatures until you are right up next to them like this; it was just incredible.

We were drifting south in the current and away from the orca who kept milling around and then disappeared under for a while again. We turned the boat back on and headed back up to where we last saw them and waited idling in the about the same spot. They showed up a few minutes later and Hermann shut the engine off. At the very moment Hermann turned the key the juvenile made a B-line for the boat. He took a breath maybe thirty feet from the boat and went under. We were scanning the water to see where he would turn up when all of a sudden maybe ten feet under the water we spotted him swimming belly up right underneath the boat. I nearly tipped over the side of the boat trying to keep him in view completely mesmerized. You could see all of the white markings on his belly and the huge expanse of his pectoral fins gliding through the water. Again we ran to the other side of the boat where he came up and took a few more breaths nearby before heading out to meet back up with the rest of the pod who were continuing south. It was like he was giving us a farewell before leaving us.

We thanked the orca for this incredible experience as they picked up speed and headed off. Even now as I sit here writing about that experience I am filled with emotion and an image that will be seared into my mind forever. We watched them go for a while before turning into the sunset and heading back north to Cetacea Lab. The ride home was pretty quiet as we all relished in the emotion and empowering experiences of the day. Every now and again Sole and I would glance at each other from across the boat and just laugh in mutual understanding, knowing that we had just had the experience of a lifetime. I will forever remember this day and treasure every moment.

Last modified on Saturday, 23 June 2012 09:31


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  • Comment Link Roy Henry Vickers Wednesday, 27 June 2012 14:22 posted by Roy Henry Vickers

    The call to produce work that will support your work just keeps coming. I'd like to put together a book consisting of every whale creation I've done over the past 40 years.

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  • Comment Link Roy Henry Vickers Monday, 25 June 2012 11:40 posted by Roy Henry Vickers

    I've been working on a creation I will call transient since I arrived home from a beautiful trip to King Pacific Lodge and Whale Point. My experience with Janie and Herman as well as Sole and the rest of the gang at the Cetacealab has left me with a deep respect for all whales. I do believe they hold the key to lock the doors to all super tankers carrying dirty oil. They also hold the key to open the hearts of all who will take the time to listen and et to know them. I'm left with a reference for the whales and a longing to return to Whale Point.

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