*Note: this summer, we are fortunate to share live updates on research being conducted by Vancouver Aquarium’s Cetacean Research Lab, whose team is traveling along the coast of British Columbia to gain additional insights that will support its groundbreaking cetacean research. This first update from last week was penned by the Aquarium’s senior marine mammal research scientist, Lance Barrett-Lennard.
Tuesday, June 19 – After more than a week of boat preparation (spring cleaning, servicing, hauling the boat for a bottom scrub and final check, stocking up with provisions and winding up office work at the Aquarium) we were finally ready to depart on the first leg of our summer field trip on B.C.’s beautiful central coast. The small crew on this leg of the journey include myself – Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, head of the Aquarium’s Cetacean Research Lab, and research assistant Meghan McKillop.
We got underway at 4 p.m., cruised out of Vancouver Harbour, turned northwest, and headed up the Strait of Georgia. As everyone who manages their own boat maintenance knows, the first day on the water feels simply magical after all the time spent in preparation. The weather was also magical…sunny, light airs, rippled seas – perfect for a boat like ours. We anchored up at beautiful Jedediah Island for the night, had a quick dinner and paddled ashore to stretch our legs.
Wednesday, June 20 – Another good travelling day – thin clouds and flat seas. We angled across the Strait of Georgia towards Quadra Island, sighting a few Dall’s and harbour porpoises along the way, then headed up the west side of Quadra past Campbell River, arriving at Seymour Narrows, where the tide can run to 14 knots or more at slack tide. We stopped briefly a bit further north to look at Chatham Point light station, where I and my wife Kathy Heise had served as lightkeepers for three years in the late 1980s.
Further along the coast, in the central part of Johnstone Strait near Kelsey Bay, we ran into a group of approximately 300 Pacific white-sided dolphins, charging back and forth and feeding actively. This species was common offshore but was rare in coastal waters through much of the last century. White-sided dolphins began to appear in nearshore areas in the mid 1980’s, mostly in the winter – a fact that Kathy and I started documenting when we lived at Chatham Point. The research lab is interested in the movements of dolphins and whether individual dolphins stay together for long periods of time, so the research team spent a couple of hours taking identification photographs. Like most cetaceans, dolphins accumulate scars throughout their lives and many individuals are relatively easy to identify. After leaving the dolphins, we anchored for the night in Port Harvey.
Thursday, June 21 – We were up early and headed towards Telegraph Cove, where we went ashore briefly to catch up on local whale news with Jim and Mary Borrowman, pioneers of guided whale watching in British Columbia, and long-time supporters of research and owners of Orcella Expeditions. Telegraph Cove is home to the Whale Interpretive Centre, a wonderful museum situated on the docks on the “old” side of the cove. We stopped in quickly to catch up with staff members Michelle and Olivia to admire the fabulous work they’ve done preparing it for the summer season. We then ran the Skana (our boat) up to Port Hardy for fuel, passed by the Bell Islets and Storm Islands, and rounded Cape Caution, which constitutes the northern end of the range for many summer boaters in B.C. – it always feels as if the research season really begins tarted once we pass this point.
During the past couple of summers, we saw sea otters off Cape Caution – no such luck this year, but the waters were choppy and we could have easily missed them. However, we did see our first humpback whale of the season just south of the Cape. We anchored for the night in tiny Jones Cove, in time to work on repairs on the Skana. In particular, we had to troubleshoot a problem with our satellite phone so that we could send out these updates…problem resolved at 1:30 a.m.!