It has been weeks since I left Cetacea Lab and returned to Vancouver. After two months of waking up to whales and wildlife, it is strange now listening to construction and downtown traffic. My time spent on Gil Island was utterly amazing, and I have endless appreciation to Janie and Hermann for making that time so special and full of unforgettable whale experiences. There is one day, however, that stands out the most in my memory, and for this day, I have two Gitga’at Guardians, Bunker and Nicole, to thank.
After a slow morning at the Wall outcamp, the other intern, Sam, and I explored the nearby coastlines and tidal pools and read in a hammock under the observation deck. In the afternoon, however, everything changed and we were overwhelmed with whale activity. The Wall is situated so that there is about 20m of rocks in front of the deck that lead down to the water. There is a hydrophone secured in the water so that any and all whale calls are heard through a portable speaker.
Around 3pm we started hearing orca calls, which honestly sound similar to aliens attempting to communicate, and we spotted them offshore to the west of us, heading our direction. Sam and I were starting to get excited, as all orca encounters to us are simply magical. Shortly after the first pod passed by the deck, we got a call on the radio informing us that two other orca pods were heading our way. We could hardly contain our excitement, despite not wanting to get our hopes up in case the incoming orca decided to change direction or behaviour. Fortunately, we spotted one of the pods about to pass by us, all the while hearing increasing vocalizations on the hydrophone. Just after that pod passed by to join the first, currently feeding and milling quite far in the distance, a third pod passed just a couple of meters from the rocks in front of the lab. It was astonishing to hear all three clans vocalizing at once, calling to one another and eventually all congregating. Once the third pod passed us, Sam and I relaxed, overwhelmed by the amount of whales we had just witnessed and trying to process the experience.This was about the time when Bunker and Nicole radioed us to ask if we wanted to join them on their boat to take ID photos of the orca. Enthusiastically (sounding a little over-eager and borderline desperate), we agreed, and in no time were on our way to the group of over 30 individual orcas. To be honest, when we reached the whales and were surrounded by large males with 6ft dorsal fins and females with the smallest of calves, I was in complete shock. These have been my favorite marine species for years, and I was finally able to observe 100 meters. To my surprise, Bunker and Nicole were just as in awe as I was. After researching whales for two years, they still experience each whale encounter as if it was the first time, with pure amazement and an undying love for these creatures.
I will never forget that day, surrounded by 30+ orca and in the midst of frantically capturing ID shots, remembering to take a breath and realize that I will quite possibly never experience something this incredible (in regards to whales) ever again. It was a day that makes every decision and all the hard work up to that point worth it. All I can do now, back at home in Vancouver, is remember how passionate I felt in the moment of all the whale activity, and hope that one day I will return to Cetacea Lab to visit these incredible whales once again.