By Heather MacIntyre, special to the Journal
I don’t believe in coincidence. A week ago, I met the most amazing little girl named Emily who came all the way from Michigan to see our famous resident orcas. Our captain, Mike, and Emily, and I shared in what turned out to be one of the most equally heartwarming and heart-wrenching experiences of my life.
Emily has cystic fibrosis, and at just 13 years old, life has been an uphill battle for her. Emily’s lifelong wish was to observe orcas in the wild. With as much time as the resident orcas have been spending away from San Juan Island this summer (due to the lack of food source), I was definitely feeling the pressure. What if the orcas weren’t around the Salish Sea while she was here?
As it turned out, the resident orcas did come back early that morning, and Emily and I got to witness some of the most amazing behavior from orcas I have ever seen.
Not only were there orcas in the area, but all 82 whales in the local population were in attendance, a phenomenon referred to as a “superpod”.
We had orcas everywhere; our major problem was trying not to miss anything while looking in the opposite direction. The orcas were communicating and vocalizing more than I’ve ever heard before, as if to say, “Hi Emily, we’re here for you.” We had groups of orcas coming out of the water — spyhopping in large groups, breaching in synchronicity, and all coming up to the boat to satisfy their curiosity and/or to show support for Emily.
Like I said, I don’t believe in coincidence. The positive energy and vibes that Capt. Mike and I were feeling from the whales could only be stemming from one thing: Emily’s presence on the boat.
The orcas, it seemed, knew exactly what they were doing when they surrounded our boat, and why Emily was there. These orcas have a completely different level of consciousness than humans; one that’s more understanding, compassionate, and knowing. Emily got to witness behavior from orcas that I have only read about happening in rare, unique cases.
Someday soon, Emily is going to be lying in a hospital bed fighting for her life once more. She will cling to the memory of the orcas though her darkest of hours, and I feel immensely blessed to have been a part of that. I will be forever grateful to these huge black and white mammals, who seem like family, for giving her an experience that she will never forget.
— Editor’s note: Heather MacIntyre is a naturalist with Friday Harbor’s San Juan Safaris