Travel and Leisure — September 8, 2014 at 5:00 am

Paddling with Whales in San Juan

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Located smack dab between Seattle and Vancouver is a peninsula that jets out amongst the San Juan Islands. Anacortes Kayak Tours (AKT) has prime real estate with a boat loading dock permitting smooth access to a paddling experience that will humble and blow your mind!

The staff at AKT were incredibly friendly and helpful, and the kayaks were well maintained. My wife and I slid into the cockpit of our double kayak and were on our way. The guide gathered his four kayakers and lead us out of the marina into the San Juan Islands. As we exited the marina we saw a small harbor dolphin flirting with the expansive channel that ran along the marina. The five of us charged the channel heading directly towards one of the islands that we would circumnavigate in our five hour excursion.

Once we were paddling alongside the island, our guide spotted a bald eagle near a light house, and taught us about the kelp in the water. He said the kelp grows for hundreds of feet, so finding the roots is a rare feat—and he proved it’s edibility by taking a chunk out of it and swallowing.

Further along in our paddle we observed river otters, numerous brilliantly colored fish, pelicans, and another harbor dolphin. During this experience I was able to to communicate with AKT founders Erik and Megan Schorr about some of their most extraordinary encounters:

“We’ve seen Orca whales surfing in the bow wave of nuclear submarines, a seal battling it out with a huge octopus, and deer swimming across channels that were three miles wide. While those were amazing things to witness, probably the most phenomenal experience was on a night paddle with bioluminescence in the water. When the Orca whales swam past, the glow in the dark bioluminescent algae lit up the water making the 11-ton whales look like enormous green ghosts gliding under the surface of the water. As if that wasn’t magical enough, a few of them breached creating an explosion of light when they crashed back into the sea. It was a completely surreal!”

I asked Megan if a whale has ever touched a kayak in their many years in the water. Her response, “That would be an extremely rare event. However, years ago Erik watched a large male (J-18 “Everett,” a specific Orca that recently died) put his nose against a kayak and push it a few feet sideways. That would be a little too close of an encounter for my taste!”

The Schorrs are avid paddlers that set out to share their love of the water and nature with others in a safe and responsible way. They opened AKT eleven years ago after many years working as kayak and naturalist guides. Speaking with them, it was clear they know their stuff, have utmost respect for nature and it’s wonders, and are extremely passionate about what they do. I can’t wait to get back into the water with them.

Watch a two minute video of our experience here: http://bit.ly/anacortesorcas

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