Saturday, 11 August 2012 07:20

Blood Red Tide and Whales

Written by Janie

I awoke at 5:00am hoping to get an early start with the day’s whale survey. At first glance I was instantly worried, the fog was so thick I could not even see the other side of Taylor Bight. We decided to just get ready and hope for the best. By the time the boat was packed the visibility had not improved one bit; we would just have to travel extremely slow. Just as we headed out I was looked away for just a moment to get my thermos of coffee out of the bag (I had not yet had my morning java, a necessary ritual). Well that was all it took. I thought I could follow the compass in my heart to find our way but was I ever wrong. I was watching the shore and thinking something is really wrong here. When the lab suddenly came into view I was stunned!

I was suppose to be traveling west and had accidently gone east!! That is how thick the fog was. I knew that for the rest of the trip I would be relying on the boat compass and any sign of the sun for direction; my gut was fired. We traveled for about 20 minutes then shut the boat off. There was no way we would be able to find whales in this thick, moist fog, instead we would rely on the exact same sense whales depend on – sound. So there we sat, the boat floating silently in the mist on a glassy calm sea. Not a single word between the 3 of us was spoken. The intense focus for us all was the same, listening for the sound of a blow. Within 5 minutes there it was, so faint we could just make out the direction. I turned on the boat and inched forward as the fog wrapped itself around us. We traveled slow for 5 minutes then stopped again, listening to hear if we were any closer. Within moments we could hear not one but 2 blows; we were on the right path. We repeated this method over and over, each time that much closer to the sound of blows. I personally love this method of trying to find whales. To depend only on the sound that surrounds us, unable to see, immersed so deep into the moment you involuntarily become completely unaware of any internal chatter, only the stillness - and then a blow.

The closer we traveled towards the whales the more the fog was burning off from the morning sun; this was going to be a hot day. The mist gradually parted way and finally we could see and there they were, 2 resting giants slowly traveling, side by side, in this soupy calm sea. We approached with caution as not to disturb them. It was then that we noticed they were traveling through a massive bloom of red tide. The motion from the whales gave the eerie perspective that that ocean was bleeding which naturally brought all of my thoughts to that of this absurd proposal of oil tankers bringing death to these waters.

After a few more minutes each whale took in a huge breath, this is always a signal they are about to dive and the opportunity to see the underside of each fluke was hopefully just moments away. The larger of the 2 whales fluked first and we were not surprised to see this was a female who last year had brought her first calf to these waters. I was so curious to see who her companion would be. Slowly the next whale arched its back, then one by one each vertebrae would bend forcing the tail up towards the sky. I was thrilled to recognize this whale immediately as another resident known as Specs.

By now the fog had completely lifted, revealing a perfectly sunny day with waters so calm the surrounding emerald green rainforest was able to reflect her to beauty to the sea. Time was getting away from us and we had to make our way quickly to Hartley Bay. Both Julie and James would be leaving today, 2 interns that had filled our days with laughter and inspiration. I knew it was going to be sad to say good bye to both. We would share one last whale encounter before arriving in the village. James had spotted a distant blow along the Gil Island shore. While traveling towards the location we saw a blow I thought I spotted a log floating on the surface. This was no normal log though, as it suddenly came to life with a soft exhale. Yes, this was a sleeping humpback whale. We shut down and sat in awe as this beautiful creature of the sea laid beside us, resting, breathing every couple of minutes, oblivious to the world above water. It is when whales are in this vulnerable position I worry about them most in regards to being struck by a marine vessel. Even as I had traveled towards this sleeping whale it had not budged. I wonder if these creatures live so many days without the emotion of fear, even after decades of hunting they still trust us. Oh to be a whale and forgive so readily. We could learn so many lessons from these intelligent and passive beings of the sea.

One hour later we are at the dock in Hartley Bay, hugging and saying good-bye. At the same time 2 new interns are arriving. As the ferry pulls away one last wave as Julie and James begin another journey back to their lives to other parts of the world. We pull away from the dock, another day, another experience to be shared here, where the sea ripples her beauty alongside the Great Bear Rainforest.



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1 Comment

  • Comment Link julie Saturday, 11 August 2012 09:29 posted by julie

    what a memorable morning and send-off that was! i will never forget it and will carry my month-long adventure with you and cetacea lab throughout the year. what an honor it has been to be in the presence of such amazing beings, the humpback and fin whales and the orcas!

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