Whale Breath by Peter Allan

In my previous role as a kayak guide for 15 years, I was fortunate to experience chance encounters with whales on the outer coast of Vancouver Island and also in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. To be floating in a small watercraft designed many thousands of years ago to hunt sea mammals from, and spotting the plume of a whale blow is a special kind of exhilaration. To share the experience with fellow humans is like going to church.

There is a deep and profound communion that takes place in these moments and they change us in someway. When we saw whales as a group of kayakers the protocol was to stop paddling, as my first experience showed me that these enormous and sensitive creatures are aware of you long before you see them. Whales can be curious or indifferent-they would often come to us for a closer look.

A puff of smoke on the horizon may be the first sign and the plume shape and size can help identify the species of whale. Sometimes a powerful explosion of whale breath close behind you or multiple blows come first. Blue whales like to show their tails before a deep dive, gray whales reveal their gnarly, barnacle covered backs, a fin whale shows metres and metres of its back like watching a freight train at a crossing and then their distinct dorsal.

However, it is always their breath that grips you. It is the enormity of the whale exhalation that overwhelms as you hold the six litres of precious air in your puny lungs.

In the first few months of the new millennium, Lynda and I did a solo kayak trip to Danzante Island in the Baja. Lynda was writing in her journal outside our tent when I announced that I would go to fish triggerfish for dinner. We paddled out of Honeymoon Bay to the south end of the island and within minutes were joined by two of the largest creatures on the planet. One was ice blue almost translucent like an ice cube and the other was a pale brown.

We subsequently learned that blue whales can be shades of brown, breathe in five thousand litres of air into lungs that are small in proportion to their vastness, and have an exhalation that reaches speeds of over 600 kilometres per hour. The two whales would sound for about 10 minutes at a time, leaving us drifting in the silence of the Vermilion sea awaiting the next simultaneous blows.

In the blackest black of Baja midnight, from the enveloping cocoon of our tent on the beach we could hear the whales blowing at night. It was in this utter stillness that I heard the inhalation of the whales’ breath for the first time. Across the water the cavernous shuddering sound was completely otherworldly, a sustained rumbling wheeze vibrating the space between us before the explosive blow. So dark that my open eyes could not see, the elongated acoustic calamity of whale breath is a sound that was imprinted upon me. It was as if I was hearing the very lungs of the earth beneath me.

This past weekend, with our son Jackson, Lynda and I were again floating with whales. We spotted them in front of our home on Fulford Harbour. It was a pod of eight or so transient Orca whales hunting harbour seals, an extremely rare occurrence. We took to our kayaks and absorbed an experience we always remember and cherish.

As we drifted in our kayaks I listened to the whales breathing in and out. I felt my own chest rise and fall. Inhale. Exhale.

About the Author:  Peter Allan is a father, husband (to Lynda Monk, Director, IAJW.org), artist and entrepreneur.  He is also a kayaker, an amazing cook, an off and on journal writer, and a friend to many. He loves living next to the ocean on Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada.


4 Awe Inspiring Journaling Prompts for YOU

1.  What is an awe inspiring life experience that you have had?

2. What types of experiences give you that feeling of AWE? How does that feel in your mind, your body?

3. If you could experience one thing that makes you feel totally alive and connected to that feeling of awe, what would you like it to be?  Write about it in as much detail as possible.

4. AWE – create an alphapoem with this word. For example, here’s mine…


Your turn, feel welcome/encouraged to share your AWE alphapoem in the comments below!