Last weekend was Labour day weekend, marking the end of the summer holiday season and the last long weekend before the hard labour really begins. I’ll be cutting back my hotel hours and spending many of my days supply-teaching in the local schools. With the extra day off this weekend my brother and his girlfriend decided to do as the Mainland West-Coast locals do and hop on a ferry across to the island for some family time, although I’m convinced it was mainly because of the proposition of a marine wildlife tour.
Last time they visited, his girlfriend, a massive whale and seal enthusiast saw absolutely nothing! Not even a stray deer or a bald eagle, not our resident sea otter and certainly not any whales or seals. In fact the whale-watching seasonal tours didn’t start up until the day after their departure. It has become a bit of a running joke that in the BC wilds she scares away the wildlife. She has even been so unlucky to have been the only one on a boat full of people to have not laid her eyes on swimming seals. This time we had a plan so I booked us into the last remaining spots aboard the Lukwa for the Sunday morning Stubb’s Island Whale Watching cruise at nearby Telegraph Cove.
Almost every day prior to Sunday had been stormy weather and almost every North Island town except Telegraph Cove was forecast for rain on Sunday. At 06h30 we awoke bright and early with the sunrise to make our way down Highway 19 to Telegraph Cove. It was a foggy grey morning and the first half an hour on the boat felt quite eerie as we voyaged through the mist. I reminded myself that any day on a boat is a good day so not to be too disappointed if we didn’t see what we came to see. Thankfully the Heavens were looking favourably upon us and did not open their flood gates until after we were back on Terra Firma.
Before we climbed aboard we were warmly welcomed by Captain Wayne who clearly loves his job out on the ocean. He personally shook everybody’s hand as he called us forward by name and gave us some safety tips along the lines of “Adults for goodness sake don’t jump on the seats to get a better view, you might fall in!” or “Don’t go running up and down the stairs in excitement because you’ve seen a whale; it’s slippery when wet!” Biologist and head naturalist, Alison also gave us some information about what we might expect to see in the sea, before we set sail.
Within minutes Captain Wayne made an announcement that there was a clan of orca’s up ahead, even better (for us anyway) they were being harassed by some very playful Pacific dolphins! He put in the hydrophone and treated us to the surreal underwater sounds of the orca family communicating and cute dolphins squealing with delight. The dolphins were porpoising with speed as they are one of the world’s most acrobatic dolphin species and soon the orcas moved on too, spy-hopping just past our boat. Up in the distance were a couple of Humpbacks who are usually fairly solitary but were within easy viewing distance of one another. We watched as they surfaced for air and then all at once the whole ship gasped in awe as one of them breached in front of us with an enormous splash!
In the meantime we had been getting reports from other boats of the wherabouts of the other orca clans and Dall’s porpoises and decided to move along. Next stop was the seals who were all out sunbathing on a large rock, followed a little way further by the Sea-lions roaring (yes they actually sound like lions – I had always wondered how they got their name) accompanied by an overwhelming smell of fish! Despite the already abundant displays of ocean fauna we were also treated to many different bird species, including bald eagles, various types of gulls and diving birds – common guillemots which can reach depths of over 100 metres! Alison was more than happy to share her extensive knowledge about the wildlife to answer our questions and gave a short presentation about the state of marine life in the region.
Even without the animals, the scenery was absolutely breath-taking. The mountains as a backdrop to watching the whales was like something out of a Hollywood film. It was everything I would expect from Pacific Canada and more. As we headed back to shore I found myself thinking “Any day out on a boat is a good day, but this was far better than that.”
Stubb’s Island Whale Watching Tours through the protected waters of Johnstone Strait and Blackfish Archipelago can be booked from June- late September.