Tuesday, 16 July 2013 20:01

A Warm Whalecome Back

Written by Janie


A Warm Whalecome Back

Written By Katie Qualls

It was my first morning back on Gil Island, the beginning of my third summer season here. I awoke to the sound of wavelets lapping on the rocks and a thrush singing in the salal bushes behind my tent, and smiled. Though it was very early, sunlight already lit up the east-facing wall of my tent. I unzipped it and stepped into a familiar and beautiful world. It was a warm, sunny morning. The morning light glinted off the small waves in the bight, a breeze gently swayed the hemlock branch that droops above my tent, a raven sailed overhead. I admired the place quietly, then quickly set about preparing for the trip Hermann, Sophie, James, and I would be taking to the Wall Islets that morning. Our mission was to visit the rocky point where the new out camp will be built this summer and clear a trail to it from a nearby beach so we could carry supplies there. Once we had organized all the food and gear we would need for the day, we loaded up the boat and clambered aboard.


A few minutes after leaving the Lab, several large blows were spotted – fin whales! The backlit blows hung in the air, glowing in the morning sunlight with the dark green conifer-covered contours of Princess Royal Island in the background. As the blows faded, huge grey bodies rose from the water, bowed, and disappeared again into the sea. Yes, whales are big. But their size never ceases to amaze me, no matter how many I've seen. These were gigantic fin whales. Giants among giants of the sea.

Just after we snapped some good ID photos of the fin whales, more blows were spotted. These were smaller, lower, rounded blows. They were the blows of three humpback whales. Hermann steered the research boat closer to the place we had seen the whales go under. Four pairs of eyes searched the water in anticipation. With the dull roar of rushing water gigantic open mouths rose from the sea, splashing foamy water in all directions. Gasps were heard from everyone on the boat – the whales had surfaced much closer to us than we had expected! Very close to the boat indeed.

We could see each barnacle on their jaws, watch their throat pleats expand as they filled their mouths with water and confused fish, see water drip from their dark baleen before the hungry mouths quickly closed and sank back under the surface. As the tips of the whales' mouths disappeared underwater a pectoral fin emerged, arched gracefully over the water with the bumpy, black and white mottled leading edge facing towards us. Some sort of brown sea creature or seaweed hung from two of the bumps. Fascinated, I squinted at the frilly brown stuff but soon the last bits of whale disappeared below the surface of the sea. I like that whales carry around their own small ecosystems.The foamy water settled, then was disturbed again as one of the whales came up for a breath even closer to the boat. Its blowhole sprayed a fine mist of water into the air which the wind blew towards us. We smelled the stinky whale breath and I felt some of the water flecks from the blow land on my cheeks and nose. I giggled, thinking of whale snot, but didn't attempt to wipe it away. Water streamed off the whale's back in wavy sheets as more of its body emerged from the ocean. The whale closed its blowhole and dipped its head back underwater as its short dorsal fin appeared for a moment. Then another blow slightly further away caught our attention – another whale had surfaced. Then the third whale exhaled near the bow of the boat. We swung our heads around wildly, not sure where to look as the whales surfaced in the water around us.

I refocused on the first whale we had seen. It took another breath then arched its body in preparation to dive. Its dorsal slid into the water, followed by the remainder of its back and then the base of its flukes. The trailing edge of the flukes lifted off the water, turning up to show us a dark underside. I heard the soft clicks of the camera as the fluke slipped underwater and knew that someone had captured a perfect ID photo. The other two whales dove also. For a moment we glanced at one another, grinning in our awe and excitement, voicing our admirations and pointing to the places the whales had been. The whales fed again and again, progressively further from the boat. Once we were a good distance away from them we put away the camera in its safe home – a giant yellow Pelican case - and continued our journey to the Wall Islets. “The whales say 'Welcome back, Katie!'” Hermann said with a smile from behind the wheel of the boat. It was the perfect start to the summer – a warm, sunny morning filled with whales.



Last modified on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 20:11


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