25 years ago, Terry Prichard and Nancy Mertz created Sea Kayak Adventures with the dream to design inspiring, nature-rich adventures that rejuvenate your body and spirit. Their passion for sea kayaking and whales led them to British Columbia’s Johnstone Strait, the realm of the orca, and a legacy was born.
We asked SKA founders Terry Prichard and Nancy Mertz to share their favorite orca stories and why the wild reaches of British Columbia was their favorite place to set up camp and witness these incredible creatures.
Kayaking with orcas is magical…
It is a magical, exhilarating and inspiring experience to witness a pod of orcas swim pass while you are sitting in a kayak on the water. After over 30 years of kayaking with orcas, I still feel like each close encounter with orcas is magical and awe-inspiring.
Northern Vancouver is THE place to see orcas without fail…
I scouted out trips in BC because I knew that Northern Vancouver Island was (and still is) the best place in the world to see orcas in the wild. Also, I wanted to paddle in a place surrounded by wilderness where one can see wildlife.
My favorite wildlife encounter is watching a pod of orcas rubbing themselves on the rocks in front of our base camp at Little Kaikash—my favorite SKA basecamp. One can stand on the rocks next to camp and watch the orcas pass by within several meters.
Northern resident orcas are like no other orca…
These unique Northern resident orcas are specifically designed to just eat salmon and fish, not mammals, and they're very group-oriented and vocal. Other species of orcas called transients pass through occasionally, but they eat mammals and are not vocal. There are just so many nuances and natural history here in the Johnstone Strait ecosystem that we love sharing with our guests.
Johnstone Strait offers up-close encounters…
There were many fantastic orca encounters with groups there but my favorite was one where a pod of orcas came by our floating group of kayaks, and a female peeled off and went right under the double kayak Terry and I were in and she literally rolled to her side and looked up at us as she zipped by under us.
Seeing whales is holding your breath…
You just hold your breath when these mammoth graceful creatures come near you or under you in your kayak. You feel so tiny compared to them. You feel you're a guest in their environment ....they might come take a little look at you and then they're on about their business.
Johnstone Straight is like nowhere else on earth…
Orca pods are much more intact here, and there are far fewer people and stresses on that population than elsewhere like the San Juan Islands. And because of the geography of the area, being as we thought of it a "forested fjord-like canyon,” salmon runs and the orca pods that feasted on them were concentrated in the narrow area that was calm enough for sea kayakers.
SKA tours are healing…
My favorite memory took place the very first September 11th after THE September 11th, 2001. We had some New York City residents who were on that trip trying to get as far away as possible from the September 11th bombing site. They brought candles out on September 11th, 2002, which just happened to be a super calm clear windlass night. The group each took turns setting a candle on a piece of cedar bark slowly putting them in the water and the current slowly drifted them down the shore and then out into the water all continuing to burn for a long time. Just as we were all pain during the flickering little candles floating away when the northern lights and light came out and future beautiful chartreuse streaks. We all talked there for hours on the beach and it was really a bonding moment. Wow. Sobering.
Our British Columbia tours are for you…
It was our incredible joy to see the wonder, peace and excitement on so many people's faces over the many years. We loved our life.
-Terry Prichard & Nancy Mertz
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