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Wonders of Whale watching

By Editor

I've seen Orca whales in Georgia Strait not far from Vancouver, but that's rare. One of the best places to see whales is the west coast of Vancouver Island, usually from Bamfield, Ucluelet Tofino or further north. To see Orcas though I suggest going north of Campbell River to Johnstone Strait on the east side of the Island.

That's where a friend and I travelled up the Island highway to go to take photos and videos. We actually took the old highway, which runs along the ocean, but the new highway is a lot quicker, if you don't have time for sight-seeing. The east coast is quite beautiful, with lots of things to see, foods to sample, and B&B's to spend a night.


We stopped at Sayward, which is at the beginning of Johnstone Strait, and an ideal place to go and see whales. However, the day was just beginning to fade and there were no vacancies, so we continued on to Port McNeill. As soon as we got there we rented a boat and headed out without wasting any time. I prefer to kayak or canoe, but we were on assignment, and you can get good photos from a 24 foot boat a lot quicker than you can in a canoe or kayak, and time was of the essence. It was just before the evening sun started turning a dramatic shade of orange when we saw them.


First there was a slight ripple on the surface of the calm waters, then a dark object like the head of a seal popped up, then another, until finally on both sides of our small boat a pod of Orca whales started to bob up and down keeping pace with our rather slow speed.


Who was watching whom?


Both Craig and I had out our cameras. The tour guide we had hired steered the boat straight ahead into the west and the setting sun. As I snapped away and Craig videod, the whales became more visible. There were two young ones, perhaps only a couple of years old, and probably six or seven older ones. They were magnificent, and the thought that people used to kill these wonderful creatures occurred to me.



How could they be so tame, or friendly? So forgiving that they would allow us to be as close to them as we were? We could have probably touched at least one of them. Perhaps being predators themselves - they eat mainly fish, but some pods eat marine animals such as seal - there is the sort of unspoken alliance between them and us. We won't eat your species if you leave ours alone. But more likely whales are a playful species, as we once were, and enjoy these encounters.


There's some life force connection. While the First Nations hunted them, they also respected the Orcas and their spirits, which we can see in the art of their totem poles, and read about in their legends. Besides, the Natives had a use for every part of the whale, and for food, unlike the European and Asian industrial whalers who often just used the whale oil.

These thoughts trailed off as the sun turned into a vivid collage, as it seemed to touch the ocean's horizon, and the sky and clouds took on a palette of reds and oranges, the whales moved off. We could still see the occasional fin as they slowly faded into the distance. But not out of our consciousness. It was one of those great life experiences, and I encourage others to go there and see for themselves.

Unfortunately, with the salmon runs depleting, the whales are not as plentiful as they were when Craig and I saw them - it is not hunting that is the problem, but again it's humans causing it.

In early 2009 a lawsuit by Ecojustice forced the Canadian federal government to provide legal protection for BC's killer whale populations' habitat. One of the problems is diminished salmon runs, which may be caused by the numerous fish farms in the Johnstone Strait area. The farmed salmon attract sea lice which in turn kill off wild salmon.

The Conservative federal government has appealed that ruling, meaning that the protection of Orca whales and other marine animals is still in limbo.

Wild animals need our protection, and that means they need rights to live and hunt with a habitat that is uncorrupted by humans. It's essential to preserve wilderness areas for these wonderful creatures and for our ancestors.

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