Close Encounters with the Orcas – First-Hand Experience of Miao Wang

Yann yelled on the radio “I need everyone up right now and ready”. A short pause later, “We have orcas”. That kicked off a 22-hour day at sea, with these beautiful sea creatures.

Spotting fins and slow dives and air streams, again and again, we dove in and along. This was the same drill over and over till I got bruises on my heel. Here are my most memorable moments from today.

Diving Among the Orcas

Our 1st jump into the water was amidst a pod of 6-7 orcas gliding gently in all directions, going nowhere. One of them had a piece of a carcass in her mouth and sort of showed it to us, then slowly danced away with the rest of the pod, not rushed at all. As I saw them move in perfect synchronization in all directions in my camera frame, it felt as if time stood still and that I was shooting a nature documentary I did not belong to and yet ever so present. And I was the one making it, witnessing it all.

On the 2nd jump, the lone orca stopped at us and turned vertical, with all of us – all 13 snorkelers – around and above him. Marco free dove down to photograph him and I decided to follow suit. This was 20 seconds into the dive and the orca was still vertical! Just overviewing the situation, showing her belly like a real boss.

As I dove down, he was upright still looking at us, me. He, standing and looking at me and I doing the same, acknowledging each other’s existence in this world. He turned just slightly to check me out and then swiftly turned and swam away. When I surfaced, that 1 minute of the encounter remained in my head, replaying like a dream. For that whole minute, an orca was sharing his gracefulness in our presence, giving us permission to see him and be seen by him. The later jumps were incredible too. In one of them, I was swimming in the same direction as the orcas and seeing them pass by like epic traffic. They looked at me as a potential threat as they huddled around their pup, 3 female adults, and 1 baby orca in the middle. Understanding the power of family in the wild makes me think about my own family and the cycle of life. How my parents once put me under their wings to navigate the course of life together – a journey of a lifetime, of the ONLY lifetime.

Incredible Diving with Exotic Sea Creatures

During our 11-hour day, we also saw from above the water, the orcas hunting dolphins – thousands if not tens of thousands of dolphins jumping/swimming away in a perfect row like the great migration of Africa, but at sea. We saw the orcas dragging a bloody dolphin carcass afterward, blowing bubbles, and sticking their heads out to check all 4 boats surrounding them, one stayed to distract us and the rest swam away.

On the way back, a pod of 3-4 orcas glided alongside our rhib for a LONG time in the shallow water on both sides, glistening in stark contrasts of blacks and whites under the bright sun, every half a minute out for a breath –– what a privilege. Sheer marvels of nature –– none we could ever dream of on our own, all of which humbled me about how little we know about this vast and beautiful world.

Taking Back Wonderful Memories of a Lifetime

A few of us stayed on the rhib till sunset, till the crew was exhausted not with the orcas but with us (thank you all so much for it), because we know this might be the first and last time we swim with orcas and have such wonderful encounters of a lifetime.

I am a big fan of American philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris and his mindfulness app Waking Up. One of my fav episodes is titled “The Last Time”. It talks about the many experiences we take for granted in life now, pleasure or suffering, that deserve to be honored and cherished because it might be our last chance/time, we just do not know. We always talk about living the day as if it is our last without truly understanding the meaning of it. And today, we savored every orca hello and every orca goodbye.

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