Close Encounter

Two scrubby wedges mirror in perfect symmetry across the motionless surface of the water. Where the slope meets the sea, the rocky shore slices a crease between the Rorschach smudges. It is a calm day on the loch, the ocean stilled under a rare indolent warmth. The rhythmic synchronized plop and gurgle as we pull the twin kayak through the water is accompanied by the keening of a white-tailed eagle on a thermal high above us. An ever-widening chevron of ripples spreads gracefully off our stern.

Over our shoulders we hear a great whoosh. A fine spray of seawater on our faces announces the breach of whale. It is an orca. Her oily eye slides past, the roundness of it matched only by the paralysed ‘O’s of our mouths. Her glossy dark skin stretches to the tip of her dorsal fin, rising in a majestic arc before her silent descent into the depths. Water folds like hands over her immense bulk.

In this narrow channel between the islands, we look at each other, hardly believing what we have seen.

As the swirling eddies quiet, two calves slice open the sea each side of the turbulence left by their mother’s disappearing tail fin. Paddles stilled, we lean on the cockpit coamings and stare. The trio surface together again a few metres ahead, and I am galvanized.

I dip my paddle and haul the water towards me, biceps straining. But my partner begins to back-paddle away from the orcas. In comic confusion the boat seesaws on the water, until my arms give in, overpowered, and his strength edges us away from the disappearing mammals.

Are you crazy? He yells.

Did I not recall holding my own infants in my arms all those years ago?

Had I not remembered the basic maternal rule?

Never get between a mother and her offspring. There may be dire consequences.

Cameras forgotten in dry bags, we bob on their wake, and I gaze longingly after our fleeting visitors.