*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 sixth and final installment from the last days of this first trip of the summer was authored by Lance Barrett-Lennard, head of the Aquarium’s Cetacean Research Program, and research assistant Meghan McKillop.
Tuesday July 3 – We awoke to the first sunny morning in days, and left our anchorage early to begin surveying in Finlayson Channel and Milbanke Sound. The wind was light and there was very little vessel traffic, making for perfect underwater listening conditions, but all we heard were the sounds of the gentle swell breaking on distant beaches. We passed Ivory Island Lightstation and entered Seaforth Channel, where we encountered a single humpback whale swimming quietly through the still water and a group of four frisky Dall’s porpoises.
After stopping in Bella Bella to fill our fuel tanks, we ran down Raymond Passage and Codfish Passage into beautiful, pristine Queens Sound. From there, we slowly surveyed south, stopping every four miles to listen to the sounds of silence on the hydrophone. We saw two curious, unafraid sea otters near the south end of Goose Island and encountered more debris that may have come from the 2011 tsunami in Japan – a freezer door festooned with exotic gooseneck barnacles of the type we documented on June 24. We didn’t see any more whales and finally anchored late in the evening in a tiny unnamed bay near the southern end of Calvert Island.
Wednesday July 4 – Last day of our field trip – and another beautiful, still morning. There were few seabirds or other obvious signs of biological activity, consistent with our experience this entire trip. This is the fourth summer we’ve worked in this area and each trip has been strikingly different – places that are bursting with life one year are often very quiet the next, and vice versa. That said, shortly after we headed out of our anchorage, a large humpback whale breached repeatedly just in front of us, throwing its entire body into the air.
We surveyed slowly across Queen Charlotte Strait but once again found everything quiet…no whales of any kind. Things picked up a little near Hope Island, off the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island, where we began seeing sea otters. The otters were spread out over several square kilometres in an area that was 35-50 metres – some were single, some were in pairs and the rest in ‘rafts’ of 25-30. Most were resting on their backs, but some were grooming – an activity that typically occupies up to a third of their time. We didn’t approach closely for fear of disturbing them, but could see that at least one was carrying a tiny pup on its belly.
After circumnavigating Hope Island, we headed west along Gordon Channel, where we encountered a second humpback whale. We then crossed Queen Charlotte Sound, and checked out the north side of Malcom Island – a favourite spot for resident killer whales, although not today. As we approached Telegraph Cove, our final destination, I (Lance) got started on various small boat repairs while Meghan ran the Skana and watched for whales. We arrived in Telegraph Cove at about 7:30 p.m., finished our repairs, and gave the trusty Skana a good cleaning and a little T.L.C. so that it would be ready for leg two of our 2012 field season – starting mid-July.