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.

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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