I’m starting to take this personally.
Living in Tacoma, I am blessed with tons of opportunities to wheel by the water. Titlow Park, Point Defiance and Ruston provide wonderfully paved paths that make these areas accessible for me in my wheelchair. I often walk my dog along these paths, enjoying time outside, the birds and beautiful views of Commencement Bay and the Tacoma Narrows.
But I’m also doing something else, something no one would suspect by looking at me.
I’m stalking orcas.
Orcas are gorgeous and sleek and strong and mesmerizing. They are also avoiding me. Why? What did I ever do to them? Was it something I said? Do they somehow know about my trips to Marine World when I was a kid? I only read “Moby Dick” in school because I had to, I swear!
I have always desperately wanted to see an orca in the wild. I used to doodle pictures of them in the margins of my school notebooks. I dreamed of being a marine biologist and studying them in the ocean. Then I realized that I get horribly seasick and decided that I didn’t want to have a career that literally made me sick.
Much later in life I realized that most jobs make me kind of sweaty and nauseous, but by then it was far too late.
Now, more than 30 years later, I haven’t had even a hint of a close encounter. But this year . . . this year things could be different. Orcas have been everywhere in the South Sound this winter. It seems like they are frequenting the waters near Tacoma every week. Fisherman, birdwatchers and beach goers are forever posting their “Look this orca landed in my lap and I totally rocked Instagram with my video!” videos.
Surely this is my chance. Just the law of averages dictates that orcas and I would run into each other eventually. I’m down by the water, they are in the water – so what’s the problem?
I kept hearing about and seeing those videos of orca the next day on the news and on social media, which did nothing but frustrate me. What’s worse is that these sightings were practically in my driveway – Gig Harbor, Commencement Bay, in the Narrows, Nisqually Reach. I was so close and yet so far.
It was clear that just hanging out by the water wasn’t working and that I needed to step up my game. So I signed up to get orca sighting emails so that I could get updates on the pods of whales.
Yes, there are orca sighting emails. Yes, I also get bird sighting emails. Yes, I am a big nature nerd.
Anyway, I figured that these orca emails would give me the answer to where I needed to be to sight the elusive orca and finally live my childhood dream. I’d get an email, it would tell me where to go and BAM! dream fulfilled.
In reality, these emails don’t tell me where to rendezvous with my future friends, the orcas. They just let me know how close I was to seeing them in much greater detail. I get to learn that I was exactly where other people rejoiced as they watched and photographed and filmed these remarkable creatures; I was just there hours before or after that.
A few weeks ago I missed them not once, but twice, as I had driven around Henderson Bay on my way to and from the Key Peninsula on the day orcas frolicked in the bay. They are clearly taunting me.
Now I watch orca videos and wonder if anyone else can see the thought bubbles just over their heads that say, “Shhhhhhhhh. Don’t tell Paula that we’re here!”
Oh, yeah. You bet I’m taking this personally.
Paula Larson is a freelance writer, retired wildlife biologist and resolute orca stalker. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Her email is email@example.com.