'Encounter' by Louise Mangos


The dark blue-green forested slope mirrored a perfect symmetry across the motionless surface, making it difficult to tell which side was up. Where the trees met the shore, the rocky beach sliced a golden crease between the darkness, a Rorschach smudge. We were unusually becalmed in this remote stretch of fjord on the Brooks’ Peninsula. The only sound a synchronized plop and gurgle of the paddles as they pulled our twin kayak forward. An ever-widening chevron of ripples spread gracefully off our stern.
Over our shoulder to portside, we heard a great whooshing. A fine misty spray of seawater against our faces announced the breaching of an orca. Her oily eye slid past, the roundness of it matched only by the paralysed ‘O’s of our own mouths. Her glossy blue-black skin stretched to the tip of her dorsal fin, moving in a majestic arc as she began her silent descent back to the submarine depths. The water folded like hands over her immense bulk.
As the eddies and swirls quieted on the slick surface, the orca’s tail fin still hovering, two calves breached simultaneously at her side. Our paddles now stilled, we leaned on the cockpit coamings. We gazed incredulously at this giant lady of the sea with her two young babes who could have surfaced a mere ten metres to her right, capsizing our tippy boat, rendering us floundering and helpless.
The trio disappeared like ghosts in the fading light, and we stared at each other wondering if we had truly witnessed them. They surfaced again a few metres ahead, the calves still too young to be holding their breaths for the long swim into the deep.
Their second appearance galvanised me. I dipped my paddle and hauled in the water, pulling myself towards the orca family. But my partner back-paddled, to distance us from them, to back away from danger. In a moment of comic confusion the kayak seesawed on the water, until the strength of my partner’s shoulders edged us away from the swiftly disappearing mammals.
What had possessed me? It was madness to try and chase a mother with her two young offspring. Nature had provided maternal instincts so ingrained, there was no telling the result of a confrontation in these circumstances.
Cameras horribly forgotten in our dry bags, we bobbed on the wake, and bid farewell to our brief visitors.

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