This Blog was written by Kara Henderlight - an Intern and part of the Whale Point Dream Team 2015!!
When applying for the position at Whale Point I had to write a personal essay or statement as to why I wanted to come do research. I focused on a previous blog post I read about being "whaled". At first "to be whaled" was in my mind just being around them because I had never got to experience that, but as my time went on I learned the true meaning of being whaled. It happened several times while I was in the Great Bear Rainforest. I don't say that lightly or take it for granted. I think people get whaled when the whales decide its time and I got lucky.
My first time was when I was on my way to The Wall out camp. Hermann and I found a fairly large pod of orcas and we're taking some photo IDs. We had shut the boat off and were just watching when all of a sudden 3 orcas simultaneously, as if planned, surfaced and then dove not 50 feet from the boat. They were so close to one another and in perfect formation, it is only explainable that it was intentional. They only did that one pass by, but it shook the boat and my emotions enough to leave a lasting impression.
That went down as my first whaling experience, but it was more like a warm up, a little taste of what it is really like. The next time was with Hermann and a fellow intern Erica. We heard calls on the hydrophone and headed out to Squally Channel to see if we could spot the whales. When we spotted them they were being very playful and exuberant, amongst themselves and even a fin whale. We gazed in awe at these amazing creatures. We then went up a little further to see if there were more ahead of them. While we searched we saw the first group coming up behind us again. We turned the boat off and took it all in. We could hear them communicating through the hull of the boat and echolocating on us. It was incredible. The larger group had broken into two smaller groups at this point. The first group went bye with a little tail slapping and porpoising. Very active with some juveniles in there. The second group was simultaneously seen breaching and tail lobbing further in the distance. This group was composed of a mother and calf and one other whale. I had a feeling, just an inkling, something exciting was going to happen, and boy was I right. As the second group closed in they headed right for the boat. As we sat there, engines off, the mother brought the calf right behind us, dove and turned to their sides to check us out. Their impressive size and beauty was made evident given the amazing visibility of the water that day. We ran to the front and saw them pass right under us on their sides looking directly up at us. They were so aware of what we were and what they were doing it is no doubt they are highly complex and intelligent creatures. This experience brought tears to my eyes, and left me so gracious.
My third time being whaled was coincidentally enough on my journey to Hartley Bay at the end of my experience. Hermann, myself, Kim-ly and Anna were in the Sophia when I spotted 3 humpback blows ahead, I was excited to see a few more whales before leaving. We slowed down and prepared to get ID shots when 2 other whales were spotted closer to us, so we headed towards them first. We turned off the engine and they headed straight for us. I mean there was no doubt they were coming to check us out. They began spy hopping, and tonal blowing, rolling on their backs to show their bellies and pecs. They were diving under us and around us. It was amazing. One of the whales was easily identified as Teeth. A resident humpback to the area. They were so close at times I could've easily reached my hand over and touched a dorsal, rest assured I did not. The 3 we had initially seen was composed of a mother and calf and another whale. They sped past us, clearly un interested as to what all the commotion was about. Our two whales left for a brief moment only to come back, with another whale!!!! We then began getting whaled by 3 humpbacks. Again they were diving and rolling and turning on their sides to look at us, we were covered in whale snot/spit by the end of It. This experience lasted for an eternity it seemed. They were so incredibly self aware that at one point all three had their rostrums up on one side of the boat with their entire bodies underneath and then as if there was an unspoken signal, or probably spoken in "whale", they pumped their bodies and dove simultaneously leaving us rocking in the boat and utterly speechless.
I think speechless is a good word to sum up the experience I had over the course of my time at Whale Point. From being whaled to meeting incredible life long friends to cutting my thumb with a handsaw that will quite literally leave a permanent memory. I cannot express enough gratitude to Janie and Hermann for bringing me here and letting me be a small, very small, part of a much bigger picture. Another important aspect to this experience were the people of the Hartley Bay community, and all Gitga'at people for allowing this research to be done to save the amazing Great Bear Rainforest and its denizens.
I am sad to leave the sound of the whale blows as I fell asleep in my tent, but I have comfort knowing there are people like Janie and Hermann that will ensure they are there for when I come back next year, and years to come.
I am sad to leave A46, my "man", but I have comfort knowing he was seen with plenty of other families and that he is not always alone.
I am sad to leave the company of fellow cetacean lovers, but find comfort in knowing I can nerd out with them anytime I want or need to, they are always there eager and willing to talk whales.
I go back to Wisconsin with this amazing experience within me. I cannot wait to share it with my loved ones, and encourage people to follow their dreams. I have never lived near the ocean, or whales for that matter, but I didn't let that stop me. I got whaled, and I loved every minute of it.