Damon Stapinsky is the owner of a wildlife tour organization called “Wildcoast”. Different to some other wildlife and whale watching tours he believes it is best to observe the killer whales from a kayak. The engine of zodiac boats and other vessels would disturb the animals in their daily routine and could possibly cause a meal to be interrupted. Damon has spent a lot of time on the water and has had numerous encounters with orcas while paddling through Johnstone Strait.
"Wildcoast” has a luxury base camp for its guests on the shore of Johnstone Strait right next to the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve. The reserve is a no go for any wildlife tour operator and is a popular place for the orcas to come and rub their bodies against the small rocks on the bottom of the channel. The reason for them to do so seems to be unknown. However, some scientists say the animals do this to scrub dead skin of their bodies while others believe it is a “social thing”. Strangely only the killer whales in British Columbia and Alaska show this behavior. During the rubbing the whales get very close to the beach and this is why the beach of the reserve is off limits.
From the “Wildcoast” camp its visitors can observe the orcas from its beach at close range. The orcas pass the camp regularly to enter the reserve and will often pass the camp so close that you can clearly see the animal's eyes. The unique location of the camp gives orca lovers an opportunity to be as close as possible to a wild killer whale. Also on the kayak paddles they could encounter them even closer.
Damon is a whale enthusiast and loves to share stories with his guests. His experience with the animals in the wild as well as the stories about the first encounter of guests with these animals in the wild gives him plenty to talk about. There is one story however that he will tell with such passion that his eyes will sparkle as he tells it. During a paddle on Johnstone Strait with a group of guests Damon lost his sunglasses in a shallow part of the channel. While giving these tours the guides will often go to the less deeper parts to show the guests as much of the underwater world as possible. Starfish, jellyfish and other creatures will be carefully picked up and be shown to the often amazed and amused guests.
The guides are respectful to nature and the wildlife in Johnstone Strait and will do their best not to disturb it while teaching about it. Paddling in shallow water also has the advantage of seeing the plants on the bottom and the schools of herring passing underneath your kayak and for many guests this is a “first time”.
While reaching for a starfish at the bottom of the channel to show to one of his guests Damon flipped his whole kayak upside down. As a professional he was able to make a complete roll, head down, and flip his kayak back up while grabbing the starfish. He did however forget he was wearing his sunglasses on top of his head and when he got back up they already fell down to the bottom close to where just a moment earlier a starfish was enjoying his oceanic life. Damon could see his sunglasses lying on the bottom of the Strait but when he flipped his kayak over once again to grab them he found that by doing so his vision got to blurry to see them while underwater. He then figured he could come back later when the tide was low and be able to get them then. The guides and their guests continued the tour before heading back to camp for dinner and a peaceful evening in the most beautiful surrounding one can think of.
The next morning Damon got up early and found all the guests and the rest of the guides were still fast asleep. He decided he could sneak out quickly to retrieve his glasses and be back before anyone would notice he was gone. He grabbed one of his kayaks and quietly let it slide into the water. Then he jumped in and peddled away to the spot where a day before he lost his sunglasses. Johnstone Strait was covered in mist and while getting closer to the location where he did his roll to grab the starfish he realized the tide was not as low as he wanted. There he was on the spot, mist all around him and he could only see about 30 feet to each side of him. Then he heard something that was very familiar to him. The blows of orcas...
While trying to figure out from which direction the sounds came he realized he could not figure it out as the blows seem to come from all around. He wasn't mistaking that much. In front of him he could now see the black dorsal fins of A30 pod. Some females and a calf were slowly moving thru the water as if they were not even aware of his presence there.
When killer whales sleep, like dolphins, they will continue to move though in a slow pace. They could be asleep, they could just be waking up or they could just not care about the human that was close behind them.
Before he could even think about all this, Damon saw a huge dorsal fin appear right next to him and right after a second one on the other side of his kayak. Having spent so much time among these animals he could easily identify them as being Blackney (A38) & Pointer (A39), two bulls of the A30 pod had snuck up on him and were now staring at him from both sides of his kayak. These two males could flip him over and kill him if they wanted and even though the residents have never done so, getting to close to a calf is always dangerous when the orcas don't want you anywhere near. Damon knew there was nothing he could do but to put down his paddle and let the current take him where it wanted while these two huge animals made sure he wasn't getting to close to the rest of their pod.
It was like they were telling him “HEY, we see you, we are keeping an eye on you, don't do anything stupid or...”. Damon knew these animals like no one else and of course knew not to push his luck but to rather sit back and enjoy this experience others may never experience. When the rest of the pod had created a bigger gap between themselves and that human in the plastic floating thing, the two bulls pulled away from the kayak and slowly followed the rest. Damon could now paddle back to camp. Without his sunglasses but with an experience he would never forget.