*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 third installment was collaboratively written by Lance Barrett-Lennard, head of the Aquarium’s Cetacean Research Lab, and research assistant Meghan McKillop.
Monday, June 25 – After a very full day before, Monday morning felt a bit sluggish. It was sunny and clear with light winds as we left our anchorage and headed into Loredo Sound to drift while we ate breakfast and listened for whales on the hydrophone. It was very quiet, however, and we spent the morning travelling slowly east in Hecate Strait, scanning with binoculars and stopping every half hour or so to listen for whale calls with our hydrophone.
Everything changed shortly after lunch when our research colleague Graeme Ellis called on the satellite phone. Graeme is a long-time killer whale researcher with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the go-to person for killer whale identification in British Columbia. He reported that he was with a group of over 50 rarely-seen offshore killer whales about 35 miles away, and could use help taking ID photos.
We headed around McInnes Island lightstation and traveled north up the west side of Aristazabal Island and joined Graeme, who was on board his boat, the Roller Bay. The whales stretched over a couple of miles and were in a playful mood, rolling around in the shallows near shore, spyhopping and carrying kelp around on their noses. After taking ID photos, we dropped the hydrophone and recorded an absolute cacophony of whistles, clicks and scream-like calls as the whales moved slowly off to the west. The unplanned trip to join Graeme left us low on fuel, and after leaving the whales we turned back to the east in the direction of the nearest port, Klemtu. As the sun set we anchored for the night in Higgins Pass, within striking distance of Klemtu. Another long but very interesting day.
Tuesday, June 26 – We hauled the anchor at 5:30 a.m. in order to pass through the narrowest and shallowest part of Higgins Pass at high tide – 6 a.m. The federal government’s official ‘Sailing Directions’ recommend that the pass only be transited by sailors with local knowledge. I can claim such knowledge, having lived at nearby Boat Bluff lightstation more than 20 years ago – but I was a bit concerned that my knowledge might have rusted. We made it through without incident, however, and a little later I was catching up with old friends from that part of my life on the First Nations fuel dock in Klemtu. After a couple of hours filling the fuel tanks and telling and hearing whale stories, we were again underway.
We found a few humpback whales in Milbanke Sound, then crossed to Queens Sound – which was very quiet in the whale department, once again. We didn’t find any sea otters either, perhaps because choppy seas made sighting challenging. After a thorough look around the McMullen Islands we anchored for the night in a small bay in the Iroquois Islands.