Joining an orca watching tour in Victoria harbour on the southern tip of Vancouver Island is much easier than up island but the experience may be far less rewarding. With luck you may see a few orcas but chances are you'll only encounter seals and sea lions or a few small pods of porpoises or the occasional minke or Gray whale. With a company like Seacoast Expeditions from May 15 to September 15 it is possible to participate in a Guaranteed Killer Whale Sighting program. For an extra $5 participants who are available for more than one day are alerted when contact with orcas has been made. They must then scramble down to the dock to meet their tour boat and are then whisked off to sea. Chances are you'll then see a transient or two but not large feeding pods as on the north island tours.

If seeing orcas is your main objective, go north. If however you look on the tours out of Victoria as just an adventure and seeing orcas as a bonus then these tours are great value for the money [See below.] You'll be screaming over the ocean on small, open but very sea-worthy seven metre zodiacs with just 11 other passengers. In two or three hours you'll see excellent examples of west coast scenery, spot seals, sea lions and proud bald eagles. Dolphins and porpoises are likely to be encountered, minke and Gray whales are a possibility and orcas, well, they're a bonus.

The End


Dentalia

Dentalia Shells

These thin, tubular mollusks formed the currency of commerce throughout the Pacific Northwest as long as 3000 years ago. Pre-European civilization is often considered a barter economy, with, for instance, coastal tribes swapping oolichan grease directly for prized Oregon obsidian. Commodity traders, however, could rely on this wampum to close a transaction when interest in the goods was decidedly one-sided. Called hykwa in Chinook jargon, dentalia shells possessed all the necessary attributes of money, being portable, recognizable and durable but rare and desirable enough to foster trade. Being available in a variety of sizes, the tusk-like shells were even divisible into small change. Professional traders are known to have tattooed measuring lines on their forearms as a handy calculator of individual shell values. Only a handful of groups, including the Nuu-chah-nulth in the vicinity of Tofino, possessed dentalia in quantities sufficient enough to make them wealthy. Harvesting the deep water mollusks was no easy undertaking however. From a dugout canoe a long, broom-like apparatus was thrust straight down into the muddy sea bottom then retrieved. With any luck a shell or two would be trapped amongst the stiff twigs at the end of the handle. Dentalia were also ostentatiously displayed as symbols of wealth and power in the form of body adornments. Perhaps most recognizable are the breast plates invariably worn by cheesy Hollywood Indians.

Illustration by Manami Kimura