It was going to be epic. The salmon were plentiful in the stream, the brown bears hungry from hibernation, photographers lined up with telephoto lenses, all at a beautiful hidden gem called Pack Creek, where only 24 people are allowed per day. Our trip leader has been talking up how great the bear viewing is at Pack Creek. “It’s the highlight of the trip!” Photographing bears is an important part of our Bears and Whales boating adventure. We are all primed and ready to go.

We arrived right at 9:00am, the first moment we are allowed. It was just a ½ mile walk to the viewing area, all of us anxious to photograph these brown beauties. Turning the corner we got a view of Pack Creek, a beautiful setting, but no bears. We all set up and readied ourselves for a great experience. A few moments passed, again no bears. Not to worry we all said. More time passed with no bears. No worries said by our fearless leader, they’ll be here. An hour more passed with nary a bear. Doubt was settling in. Then the rains came accompanied by 35 mile per hour winds. It was epic all right, an epic failure.

Dejected we headed back to the boat to try an outlast the poor weather. Captain Ben came down and said he heard there were some Orcas 30 minutes out. We were bearless in the morning with no hope of returning to Pack Creek in the afternoon, we all said, let’s go.

Who Needs Bears Anyway?

Not more than a few moments later there was a sighting. I don’t know how many Orcas there were, perhaps ten, perhaps twenty, all frolicking in the Seymour Canal. This canal is no ordinary canal, it’s the biggest canal I have ever seen. For the next 90 minutes we followed alongside these Orca. Or were they following alongside of us? There were nine of us photographers often screaming out with joy as we watched a breech or a tail flap, or maybe it’s a belly flop.

An orca family outing. Notice the baby, yellow colored, swimming in the middle upside down.

“Let’s Do the Twist.” This is the first breech I captured. This orca was contorted in a way I cannot.

Photographing these creatures was no easy feat. A breeching Orca can appear anywhere without any warning. I kept my camera in hand with my eye looking through the eyepiece, scanning the water surface. I’d scan to the left and then to the right. Nothing. Then, suddenly, a big breech. I quickly moved my camera, focusing as I go. Within a second I’m trained on the correct location. But there was a problem. There was no Orca, just a big splash. They rise and fall within a second. Luck needs be with you to capture a photo of a breeching Orca.

Whales do a tail flip just before they do a deep dive – searching for food.

“Orca Rainbow.” Another tail flip with a great water spray.

The conditions didn’t help. The boat was rocking stem to stern, port to starboard, never level. The wind was whipping at a brisk 35 miles per hour. The rain was coming down in sheets. My lens was mostly wet requiring constant wiping. I was wet and cold to the core. My hands shook so much that the camera’s automatic vibration reduction was nearly useless. With the horrible weather and these uncooperative subjects, it’s a near miracle that I got any useful images at all. 

“The Ballerina.” This breech was close to the boat. The wave of the flipper was a great touch.

This breech was so close I could feel the spray. A wide angle lens would have helped capture the entire breech but I like how it turned out anyway.

After our ninety-minute photo extravaganza, I had taken over 800 images, many of which showed just a “splash” where the orca had been.

At the end of our visit with this pod of Orcas we all said, “bears, what bears? who cares?”