There are some moments, some encounters in life we experience that become a permanent part of our psyche and soul. For me, meeting and spending time with members of J-Pod for the first time several years ago was one of those encounters. From the first moment they came into sight, the first time I watched them breach, porpoise and play, the very first time everything and everyone around went silent so that we could just listen to the orcas breathe, I was hooked. My love and passion for the wild orca has only grown from that day. For me, my best days are on the water with them, watching them as they go about their day, seeing the strong bond and connection they have to one another, and more than anything feeling their vibrant and powerful energy and spirit as they move through the sea.
The most memorable member of J-Pod for me, as for so many others, was J1 also known as Ruffles, so named for his distinctive, wavy dorsal fin that made him so easily recognizable to even the most inexperienced whale watcher. Ruffles was the patriarch of J-Pod, an estimated 59 years old the last time I saw him. He was also a mamma’s boy, rarely seen very far away from his mother J2, also known as Granny who is turning an estimated 100 years old this year. His spirit was as large and free as the wild blue waters of the Salish Sea where he lived and thrived in all his long years.
Ruffles is missing from J-Pod at the moment, and as time passes, the chances of him making it back diminish more and more. He was last seen November 21, 2010 near Victoria, BC, Canada and has not been spotted since. The most optimistic among us hope Ruffles is merely out on one of his walk-abouts that he’s been known to take every now and then and that he’ll pop back up when we least expect to see him. The optimist in me wants to believe this, however the realist in me says he may not make it back this time. At 60 years of age, Ruffles has beaten the odds and lived almost twice as long as the average male orca is expected to live in the wild, so he’s had a full, long life. It’s just hard to imagine seeing J-Pod again and not having him popping up on Granny’s shadow like he’s been doing for the past 59 years of his life. It’s nature’s way, I know, that all souls pass. It’s a path that all of us are on, and ultimately one that we all must take alone, still I can’t help feeling a little sad that he’s most likely gone for good this time.
I’m holding strong to the memory of my last day spent with Ruffles and indeed what appeared to be all members of J, K and L Pods. It was a sunny September day, orcas were breaching and socializing and yes, hooking up as they do when the three pods get together. I can still hear the concussion sound of Ruffles on his back slapping his tail down on the water, the sound reverberating across the sea. He was there, ever faithfully by Granny’s side with his sons and daughters, brothers and sisters all around him, it was pure magic. I remember thinking then, this is the perfect ending to this summer. I was blessed, last summer, to spend a number of days hanging out with Ruffles and J-Pod. In some cases it was just a few members of his family, once or twice it was with other Pods, but he was always there for the main event. When I think of Ruffles, I’ll see that clear blue day in September, baby orcas breaching right and left, and that magnificient, distinctively wavy dorsal fin breaking slowly out of the water, the sound of him breathing, the slap of his tail as he dove under water, that final look as we said good-bye and headed back home. It felt like good-bye then, only a good-bye for the summer; I know now that it was our final good-bye. The parting seemed to come so quickly in the end like many passing moments do. I grieve, as do so many others that loved Ruffles, that he is gone, but I celebrate his life and I’m grateful that I was able to spend as much time as I did with him over the past few years.
Rest in peace my dear friend. May your legacy live on through your many sons and daughters as well as in the hearts and memories of all of us who were blessed to see and spend time with you as you lived free in the Salish Sea.