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Orcas Make An Encore - If Only For A Day

Returning from Seattle on the 4:20 p.m. ferry Tuesday, Manette’s Ed Melendez needed his frayed nerves calmed after watching the Seattle Mariners lose a baseball play-off game at Safeco Field.

Soon enough, the ferry’s first mate announced a pod of orcas was near the ferry as it transited Rich Passage.

On debarking, Melendez raced home, strapped his 17-foot Sela kayak too his car, and drove to the park at the base of Trenton Avenue.

Within minutes he was chasing after what appeared to be 15 orcas and not worrying about the Mariners’ 5-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians.

“I’ve been waiting for five years,” said Melendez, an engineer for Lockheed at Subase Bangor. “I got close enough to hear them.”

Melendez did not get to see the orcas who appeared in Dyes Inlet near Silverdale in 1997.

On Tuesday, when the orcas headed out Rich Passage toward Bainbridge Island and back to sea, Melendez strapped his kayak back on his car.

At one time, about 30 people gathered at Bachmann Park to watch the “killer whales,” which were blowing air while swimming an estimated 1,000 feet out in the channel.

Excited residents gathered with video recorders and cameras.

“You can hear the sound they make,” said Glenn Gehring of Manette. “I was real impressed. I was living in Seattle the last time the whales were in Bremerton.”

Port Orchard resident Flavia Ross had quickly driven around Sinclair Inlet to get a better view of the orcas from Bremerton. She was at Bachmann Park with three of her adult daughters, one son-in-law, and two grandchildren.

“We didn’t get to see them last time,” she said. “This was fun. Worth the drive.”

As Melendez was about to leave the scene, he saw a whale research boat reappear.

“I figured if he (a researcher) was back, the whales were too,” Melendez said.

He relaunched his kayak and was soon having the experience of a lifetime paddling among the orcas.

“It was just awesome,” said Melendez. “I could hear their sounds 800 feet away. It’s like a loud exhaling, a strong breathing sound.”

Melendez knows his experience was special because few other boats were on the water.

“That was the best part of it,” he said. “I was mostly alone. I swear I could see their eyeballs. The only regret I have is that I didn’t have a chance to share it with a friend.”

Melendez said he thought the orca’s appearance in 1997 near Silverdale became an extravaganza.

“There were so many people, they were beating the water trying to get the whales to come up,” he said. “You could almost walk from boat to boat.”

But on Tuesday, it was mostly Melendez and the orcas.

“It was so peaceful. There was no fear. On my part or theirs. It was very calming,” he said.

By Wednesday at 3 p.m., the L-Pod was back near a more normal location for them off Lime Kiln Point on the west side of San Juan Island (see side story).

Melendez has one other regret — he didn’t get photos of his experience.

“I was trying to get everything set with my kayak,” he said. “My camera was not on my mind.”

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