Whales put on a show at twilight

Whale of a tale

This is part two of a our-part mini-series called Adventures with Wildlife. You can read part one, about a seal attack in Broughton Archipelago Marine Provincial Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island here. Also, a followup to the seal attack, written about in last week's column, is at the bottom of this week's column.

The encounter with an itchy humpback whale is connected to the seal attack on Canada Day (in last week’s column).

The next day, when visiting nearby Village Island, the group met Brad, an experienced guide from North Island Kayak in Telegraph Cove and told him about the seal attack.

Brad not only provided directions to the only remaining totem pole on Village Island (which appeared to be a moss-covered downed tree until you got close) but he recommended the group switch our destination that day from Mound Island to Flower Island so we could see the humpback whales in Blackfish Sound.

After all, B.C. Parks promised "excellent kayaking and wildlife viewing opportunities" at Broughton. And gobc.ca said: "For time immemorial, a group of killer whales (now a designated threatened species) have taken summer residence in these waters, gorging themselves on the salmon runs that make their way through the strait to numerous rivers on the south coast. Just to the southwest of this marine park is the Robson Byte Ecological Preserve with its famous whale rubbing beaches (access is only through special permit for scientific research)."

Within a half-hour of our arrival at Flower Island, the distinctive plume of air mixed with saltwater heralded the sight of our first humpback. The Sheriff quickly erected his tent and climbed up to a rocky outlook where he saw 10 whales, near and far, during the next half-hour. They can grow to 15 metres in length and weigh 40 tonnes so watching them fishing is quite impressive, especially when their massive tail comes out of the water or their entire bodies. Members of the group gasped, often.

As the light faded, the Sheriff headed to his tent and climbed into his sleeping bag. Not 10 minutes later, he heard the now-familiar rush of exhaust air and splashing so close it sounded like the whale was right outside his tent. When it continued for the next 10 minutes, the Sheriff thought: "If I'm going to get out of bed, put my clothes back on and risk more mosquito bites, you'd better stick around."

By that time, the tide was out so the Sheriff could walk down the stone beach another 10 metres and past a large rock that was underwater at high tide when we arrived. The whale was 100 metres down the channel, possibly rubbing on rocks, as it came up, then descended in the same spot numerous times.

After 15 to 20 minutes as darkness approached, the Sheriff concluded it was indeed worth getting out of bed for this unique experience. But it wasn't over. The best was yet to come.

The Sheriff was just about to turn away when there was a large plume eight metres in front of him, just off a small kelp bed, accompanied by a large dark humpback as the whale glided by. It was both a scary and exhilarating experience which the Sheriff could share the next morning with the others who didn't experience the twilight show.

B.C. Parks advises paddlers and others to stay 100 metres away from whales and not disturb them, so this was closer than we would have been when on the water.


And now, the followup to our Canada Day seal attack and another attack against four kayakers the following summer.

When the Sheriff received a news release from B.C. Marine Trails about the second attack, he emailed a copy of his earlier column to Paul Grey, BCMT president, repeating the suggestion for warning signs.

"I think a sign would have to be at the launch site(s). Unlikely people would see signs on the water. North Island Kayak should be able to put up a notice. Easy to print something off. I believe this falls in Broughton Archipelago Marine Provincial Park so it would be BC Parks you contact. I will drop Craig Meding, BC Parks West Coast liaison, a note about this or call him and see what can be done," responded Grey.

The Sheriff copied that BCMT email to Bruce McMorran at Paddlers Inn, which picked the group up at Telegraph Cove and dropped it off at Echo Bay Provincial Park (just around the corner from his inn) so it could paddle back to Telegraph Cove over the next five days. "Thanks for your email and info. I have been telling all the paddlers I come across," McMorran responded.

A copy of the BCMT email also went to North Island Kayak.

"Thanks for your message. I am aware of an incident with a seal in the general vicinity of the information being shared on Facebook. Regards, Steve Emery, North Island Kayak."

It also went to long-time newspaper journalist John Kimantas of Nanaimo, editor and owner of Coast & Kayak Magazine (formerly Wavelength), and author of the Wild Coast series and the B.C. Coastal Recreation and Kayaking and Small Boats Atlas.

"I'm aware of it. I'm not sure what a sign might accomplish—where would you put it and what could it accomplish? 'Beware of everything' would be most appropriate!" he wrote back.

Finally (through Grey), word from B.C. Parks' Craig Meding: "A situation report has been prepared in response to the seal attack and the director notified. DFO (Fisheries and Oceans Canada aka federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans) and the Conservation Officer Service were also notified. A notice will be posted on our website regarding the attack."

And he did post: "Attention visitors important notice! July 18, 2018: Warning: Aggressive harbour seal in the Canoe Islets area. B.C. Parks has received a report of a harbour seal attacking a group of four sea kayakers in the vicinity of Canoe Islets. Though harbour seal attacks do occur, this is not seen as typical behaviour, but does happen from time to time. All visitors to Broughton Archipelago area should be mindful of this event. Larger group sizes may be advantageous. Department of Fisheries and Oceans recommends you move away slowly at the first sign of disturbance or agitation. If the animal starts to stare, fidget or dive into the water, you are too close. For emergencies involving marine animals, please contact DFO 1-800-465-4336."


This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

'Sealed' with a nasty kiss

Adventures with wildlife

(This is the first in a four-part series of related columns)

A protective seal. An itchy whale. A famished grizzly. Competitive eagles. It's a mini-series on the Sheriff's Adventures with wildlife.

After reading the Making Tracks columns during the next four weeks, some may conclude that these were more like misadventures. However, the Sheriff has always believed (since he was a youngster) that adventures begin by going out your back door. He didn't go looking for adventure but it always seemed to happen in the outdoors, and it only got better when the Sheriff met Constant Companion Carmen.

The first adventure with wildlife was during a multi-day kayaking trip to the Broughton Archipelago which is northeast of Telegraph Cove, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. When five Kelowna women and a Summerland buddy asked the Sheriff to act as their leader in exploring Broughton Archipelago Marine Provincial Park, he joked: "We won't have to go looking for critters, they're going to come to us."

That silly promise came back to haunt the Sheriff on Canada Day as the group was going through a narrow channel between two small islands in the Canoe Islets.

Drifting through the channel, the Sheriff brought up the rear so he could keep an eye on everyone when a large seal head popped out of the water, followed by a smaller seal head. After the "Oh, aren't they cute?" comments, paddling buddy Holly held her right hand over the right side of her kayak and said with a laugh: "I want the seal to come up right here."

Within a few seconds, she was staring down into big brown eyes. Then, the momma seal disappeared underwater again.

"Be careful what you wish for," the Sheriff advised her, as everyone laughed about the close encounter. "We are looking for whales, after all."

Less than a minute later, with a loud bang, the seal smashed into the right side of the Sheriff's kayak just behind his cockpit. As he turned toward the sound, he saw the thick body of the seal halfway out of the water and felt its jaws clamp onto the jacket he wore that cool day. Fortunately, the Sheriff was wearing a PFD under the jacket so there was extra padding.

"I was just attacked by that seal," he told everyone. When several expressed disbelief, the Sheriff turned and showed them the rip in the back of his jacket, a jagged hole which was, no doubt, the result of considerable force.

"Time to get going, quickly," he advised everyone. Without hesitation, they all paddled out of the channel, but paused a short distance away and saw the same two seal heads pop out of the water. They wasted no time continuing their quick departure.

Later, several paddlers noted the Sheriff has the widest and most stable of the seven kayaks. If the seal had attacked anyone else, their kayak might have capsized, leaving the paddler at the mercy of an aggressive and experienced swimmer.

During many years of paddling on the B.C. coast, that was the first time anyone in our group experienced, or heard of, such an attack. Other paddlers they met along the way were shocked and surprised as well.

However, the next day when visiting Village Island, they met Brad, an experienced guide from North Island Kayak in Telegraph Cove. After relating hearing about frightening seal experience, he said a similar encounter happened to his buddy, Joel, in the same area the previous summer. Joel was paddling through the same narrow channel in a kayak with his spare paddle tied, as usual, to the deck behind him. Without warning, a seal jumped onto his rear deck and "was thrashing about" on top of the paddle, perhaps trying to get at him.

An experienced paddler, Joel immediately braced his kayak (using his paddle flat in the water to keep him upright) so he wouldn't end up face-to-face with the seal in the seal's watery territory.

A little jiggle and the seal slid off. Joel immediately paddled out of the channel—rather quickly one can imagine. The paddle with bite marks was then displayed in the North Island Kayak shop as a warning.

The group laughed at the story, somewhat nervously, suggesting B.C. Parks erect signs at the channel entrances warning of an aggressive seal, much like its bear warning signs at trailheads. They speculated it was a mother protecting her offspring or guarding her turf.

The Sheriff also thought his wooden Greenland paddle may have resurrected a seal memory that Greenlanders in kayaks hunt seals. It was yet another reminder all these creatures are wild animals and we venture into their homes. Caution is always advised. Later, as a joke, a seal flack jacket was assembled by the other kayakers using Mason jar lids and duct tape.

Fast forward a year when a kayaking buddy in Nanaimo who heard about the attack sent a copy of a news release.

“B.C. Marine Trails received a serious report yesterday (not directly from party that was attacked). On July 9, a harbour seal attacked a group of four experienced kayakers in the Canoe Islets area of the Broughton Archipelago. The group was paddling through a narrow channel in the Canoe Islets when the seal jumped on the deck of one of their kayaks. The individual knocked the seal off the boat, and then it circled around from behind and jumped out of the water biting one paddler on their side just below the arm, puncturing the dry suit and capsizing the individual.

"Two members of the group came to rescue their friend. One was bitten on the arm by the seal, the bite puncturing their skin. Another member suddenly noticed the seal lunging up toward the face of another paddler but was able to yell in time so that the individual it was coming towards could hit the seal with their paddle. It finally left them alone."

There have been two other reports of attacks in this exact same area, in 2013 and 2014, said the news release.

"The circumstances that led to the attack are unclear; there was no evidence of pups in the area. Those recreating or paddling in this area should remain cautious. Never approach marine wildlife and report any incidents to the appropriate regulatory body," said the BCMT, which works on behalf of the public - from reporting incidents, monitoring recreation and reserve sites to participating with government, stakeholders and First Nations.

Next week: What the Sheriff did in response to the second attack.


This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

When the Sheriff met Constant Companion Carmen

First date memories

Anyone who knows the Sheriff knows there is always a story, and when Journalism Sheriff was working full-time, somehow he could always pick someone out of a crowd at a public event who had something crucial to say about the news story he was working on.

As a long-time equestrian, the expression “having a horseshoe up his a**" comes to mind. For those unfamiliar with this crude and vulgar, yet funny, expression, it means someone who has extremely good luck, fortune or favour because a horseshoe is thought to be a symbol of good luck.

That is evident when the Sheriff tells one of his favourite, non-news stories about Constant Companion Carmen. (She says she hates this story but always laughs). It's a longer story but it has a happy ending with the bonus of a Secret Okanagan Spot for the SOS series.

For those who didn't read previous columns in the SOS series, they are available here.

In the 1990s, the Sheriff covered a Kelowna city council meeting where anti-vice councillors decided to charge escort services $5,000 for an annual business licence. He subsequently received a phone call from Suzanne of New Acquaintances, who was upset her matchmaking company for professionals was being lumped in.

After the story was published, the Sheriff was curious and decided to check out her business.

After a dozen so-so “dates,” he was in the New Acquaintances' office flipping through the listings when he heard a wonderful laugh in the next room. Peeking through the doorway, he saw Constant Companion Carmen.

"Why don't you fill out an Invitation to meet?" asked Suzanne. The Sheriff did but CCC turned him down because she was already dating someone and she wasn't about to date two men at once. Laudable. However, a week or two later, Suzanne called, saying: "Carmen's available! Carmen's available!"

So brunch meeting for was arranged. At the restaurant, CCC flounced into her seat and gushed: "I'm tired of the dating scene? I want to get married!"

When the Sheriff recovered from her exaggerated bounce into her chair, he immediately responded: "Maybe we should date a few times before we get engaged!"

The first “non-date” was horseback riding in the Glenmore Highlands. The Sheriff led her to his favourite spot, which is now in Stephens Coyote Ridge Regional Park. On the west side of the ridge-top were several trees to tie the horses to and we sat on a horse blanket enjoying the panoramic view of Light Blue Lake below and Okanagan Lake off in the distance.

The Sheriff brought Sambuca (funny now since neither of them drink hard liquor). After a couple of shots, CCC put both of the shot glasses up to her eyes as if they were eyeglasses while they both howled with laughter. Who is not going to fall in love with a goofball like that? The Sheriff didn't want the first “non-date” to end and it hasn't 24 years later. A photo of that magical moment was enlarged and everyone signed it to celebrate at her birthday party.

So this week's SOS spot is directly up from the north parking lot of Stephens Coyote Ridge Regional Park, which has three steps, or layers, to get to the top of the ridge. The Sheriff planned to get a new photo there but the park is currently closed for danger tree assessment after the recent Glenmore Highlands North wildfire. Here's hoping that SOS location hasn't been destroyed. The Sheriff plans to check it out as soon as the park re-opens.

The Sheriff is now planning a mini-series. If TV networks and online services can do it, why not the Sheriff? Starting next Sunday, the mini-series Adventures with Wildlife, will feature four of the Sheriff's favourite stories. CCC and friends have heard them numerous times but the Sheriff now has fresh ears, and eyes, on Castanet.


In the South Okanagan, early bird memberships are available for Nickel Plate Nordic Centre until Oct. 31. Nickel Plate is also looking for a full-time staffer for the office and has openings for school instructors for four-hour (paid) shifts in classic technique. CANSI certification is provided and paid for with a two-season commitment.

New this year, Nickel Plate is offering two sessions of early-season masters three-day refresher camps Nov. 24 to 26 and Dec. 1 to 3. A work party will be held on Oct. 1 for cutting wood, trail brushing and clearing. Email [email protected], and say whether it's for wood prep or trail work. Bring hand tools (pruners, etc.) if you’re interested in trail work.


The annual general meeting of the Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club is scheduled for 6 p.m on Sept. 21 at the German Canadian Club on Harmony Road in Kelowna, with a wurst (German-style sausage) barbecue beforehand.

The AGM includes the election of five directors for one-year terms, including the positions of treasurer, snowshoe director and facilities (building and machinery) director.

The early bird deadline for memberships is Sept. 30, with a draw prize on Oct. 1 from club sponsor Fresh Air for Madshus Nordic Pro Skin Tech skis. Volunteers are needed for snowshoe trail brushing and clearing on Oct. 7 and 14. Email [email protected].


Cyclepath in Kelowna recently surveyed staff and customers who regularly commute for tips to help everyone go by bike more often.

• Start small. Commuting by bike once per week is better than not doing it at all. Starting small can lead to bigger and better results over time.

• Grab a bike bag (or two). Being able to store stuff on your bike makes a big difference. It frees you up to grab a handful of groceries on the way home or to ride to your afternoon date at the beach (without dealing with a heavy bag on your back).

• Ride to your rides. Many of us throw our bikes on our bike racks to drive to a ride but often it's only a little slower to ride there. Two of our team members tested it, and it's about as fast to ride from Rutland to Knox Mountain as it is to drive (factoring in the time it takes to load and unload the bikes) and it's only about 15 minutes slower to ride to Crawford Estates.

• Get a good lock. Unfortunately, bike theft is a problem in Kelowna. If you're planning to commute to work, it's best to ensure you have access to secure locked storage. For shorter trips, where you can't keep your eye on your bike, a high-quality lock may make your bike less of a target.

• Give yourself plenty of time and plan to leave five to 10 minutes early. You don't want to be sprinting to wherever you're going. It’s never fun to arrive somewhere social completely soaked in sweat. So, leaving early is the best antidote to this.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Fall is a great time to get out on your bike in the Okanagan

Fall bike rides in the valley

Happy birthday (today) to me, the Sheriff! And happy birthday to Constant Companion Carmen (on Friday)!

Two Virgos in one household is almost too much but it's important to remember that September is a transition month, when summer changes into fall (Sept. 21). Believe the Sheriff, change is almost constant and challenging around this household, so someone's nickname could be Constantly Challenging Carmen.

With transition to fall in mind, there could be only eight weeks of cycling in mild temperatures left in 2023 so take advantage of the opportunity to revisit some of your favourite routes and perhaps check out that new trail you've been itching to try since spring.

On the Labour Day weekend, the Sheriff and CCC e-biked one of our favourite routes, the Okanagan Rail Trail and the Kal Crystal Waters Trail from Oyama to Coldstream. On Wednesday, we returned to the ORT in the North Okanagan and cycled from Kekuli Bay Provincial Park to Kalamallka Lake Provincial Park for two other favourites, Comin' Round the Mountain (SOS spot) and down Cosens Bay Trail for lunch.

We have also paddled one of our favourite kayak routes from Bertram Creek Regional Park into Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park with its blackened trees still evident from the 2003 firestorm. What memories that brought back.

A reminder that the ORT will be closed weekdays between Kekuli Bay and Kickwillie Loop Road 7 a.m.-5 p.m. from Sept. 11 to 22 for rockfall mitigation work. The detour is Kal Crystal Waters.

September is also a time to reflect back on what a memorable summer it has been.

Marketing associate Deanna Kristensen is looking back fondly at Big White's season with the bike park and hiking trails opening on June 29.

"The new Dirt Pass was unveiled, offering three unrestricted days of mountain biking, and visitors captured the first views of a revamped village with shaded chill zones and the modular pump track," she said.

"On July 8, Dan Tait kicked off the weekly Summer Music Series in the Village. The sold-out eighth annual Craft and Country Beer and Music Mountain Festival on July 15 was the highlight of the summer for many visitors with Gary Saturday rocking the Village stage. From July 19 to 22, the Freeride Day MTB Festival saw global biking athletes competing for top honours."

The Summer Music Series presented a lineup of great local talent, including performances by Rusty Someone and Garrett Scatterty, Bray & Co and Jon Bos, she said.

"For Dog Day at Big White on Aug. 26, visitors celebrated our four-legged friends, raising $1,715 for Paws it Forward. Summer's essence was also captured in bike camps, providing enthusiasts an opportunity to learn and enjoy. Throughout August, the resort ran Fiv’r Friday event races - presented by Fox Racing to support MTBCO (Mountain Bikers of the Central Okanagan) - and bike camps, including the Youth MTB Clinic, Norco Dirt Series Mountain Bike Camp and the All Mountain MTB Camp with Elevation Outdoors."

Amidst all these festivities, devastating wildfires brought a challenge to mountain operations as Big White opened its arms providing shelter, comfort and services to more than 1,000 evacuees. On Aug. 20, the resort hosted a fundraising pancake breakfast by donation at the Woods restaurant. More than 500 Big White community members and wildfire evacuees contributed $1,261 to Mamas for Mamas to support their local efforts.

For the final weekend of the season, Big White provided free lift tickets (by donation to local firefighters) for the bike park or sightseeing for 2023-24 season pass holders.

"Don't forget to check out bigwhite.com and watch for updates on the opening day of the 2023-24 winter on Nov. 23," said Kristensen.


Meanwhile, the Revelstoke Bike Park brought non-stop fun and excitement to all who visited this summer, said Laura Meggs, communications manager in the marketing department.

"Our trail crew worked hard to bring new trails and features as well as perfected existing trails creating a dynamic experience for riders of all levels,” she said.

“Highlight events like the Canadian Enduro League weekend and the Dark Horse Invitational further elevated the park experience, drawing in riders and spectators alike to witness incredible displays of talent at the resort."

A reminder that the MTB Park's final day is Sept. 24 following the RCA 5er DH Race presented by the resort and Revelstoke Cycling Association, après party in the plaza, on Sept. 23.

The chairlift at Sun Peaks Resort also closes on Sept. 24. Golf, canoe, kayak, etc. are weather-dependent. Indoor activities like axe-throwing are open year-round along with most restaurants, cafes and boutiques.


It's time to catch up on information flooding in during the wildfires. First, a followup to the recent column on the popularity of Myra Canyon and Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park.

Penny Gubbels, long-time volunteer with Friends of the South Slopes, found a chart showing the incredible growth in numbers at the Stewart Road East trailhead in Kelowna during a 10-year period. (Not every year was included due to COVID-19.)

In 2012, BC Parks reported 35,000 visitors; in 2013, 44,352; in 2014, 47,635; in 2015, 58,786; in 2016, 68,586; in 2018, 81,321; and in 2021, 110,000.

"I'm sure the Myra Trestles have a similar trajectory," said Gubbels. "It would be very interesting to have an accurate measurement of total usage of the Crawford Trails section of the park as there are so many access points to the park that are used both by folks in the neighbourhood or folks that drive/cycle/walk to other access points.

“Most people I know don't access the park via the SRE Trailhead. They are using Stewart Road West, Harvard Road, Salamander, Ball Court, Luxmoore, Hromek/June Springs, Angel Springs, Bellevue Access, etc, etc. But I doubt if B.C. Parks would be willing to install a 'counter' at every single public access point."


Feedback from Judie Steeves, past-president of the Okanagan Xeriscape Association: "Thanks so much for featuring the UnH2O Xeriscape Demonstration Garden in your column. Glad you’ve found it an inspirational and restful spot to visit while touring around town. We hope everyone in the valley will be impressed with how beautiful plants that conserve water can be and will be keen on adopting the use of xeriscape plants that suit our dry Okanagan climate in their landscapes.

"Our annual Fall Plant Sale is being held in the garden 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 23 and will feature a wide variety of drought-tolerant perennials that will help everyone conserve water, even while maintaining a beautiful garden."


The Central Okanagan Naturalists' Club will hold its first post-summer general meeting on Sept. 12 at Evangel Church on Gordon Drive in Kelowna.

Merle Kindred of Penticton will present Gripped by Guyana about her adventures in that country. Copies of her just-released book of the same name will be available for purchase, said club president Douglas Graham.


This week's Secret Okanagan Spots (in the SOS series) are a bench on the Cosens Bay Trail with a panoramic view of the Coldstream Valley in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park and the hidden artistic bench in Kelowna's Sunset Drive Park.

A short walk in from Manhattan Drive, look for the short trail on your right into the bench and view of a heron metal sculpture which seems to regularly attract live herons.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Making Tracks articles

About the Author

J.P. Squire arrived in the Okanagan Valley from flatland Chatham, Ont. in the middle of the night in the spring of 1980. Waking up in the Highway 97 motel, he looked across the then-four-lane roadway at Mount Baldy and commented: "Oh my God, there's mountains." Driving into downtown Kelowna, he exclaimed: "Oh my God, there's a lake."

The rest is history. After less than a month in Kelowna, he concluded: "I'm going to live here for a long time." And he did.

Within weeks and months, he was hiking local hillsides, playing rec hockey at Memorial Arena and downhill skiing at Big White Ski Resort. After purchasing a hobby farm in the Glenmore Valley in 1986, he bought the first of many Tennessee Walking Horses. After meeting Constant Companion Carmen in 1999, he bought two touring kayaks and they began exploring Interior lakes and B.C.'s coast.

The outdoor recreation column began with downhill ski coverage every winter as the Ski Sheriff but soon progressed to a year-round column as the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff.

His extensive list of contacts in Okanagan outdoor recreation clubs, organizations and groups means a constant flow of emails about upcoming events and activities which will be posted on Castanet every Sunday.

You can email the Sheriff at: [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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