OrcaLab assistants 2017 – Suzie

I write this with a tinge of sadness, as my time on Hanson Island has almost come to an end. In two days, I’ll be leaving behind one of the most beautiful places on earth. In one sense, it seems to have flown by so quickly, but in another, this place truly feels like home and I can’t quite imagine having to face civilisation again!

This is my first experience of British Columbia, and even of orcas. I’ve loved them since I was a child and been on a few unsuccessful whale-spotting trips; but finally, in the beautiful setting of Blackney Pass, I’ve seen my first orcas. I remember it so clearly: the T090s (Biggs) came into view from the Johnstone Strait, and zoomed through the pass. I was outside using the scopes and was the first to spot them. I gave myself a few seconds to soak in the moment… and then it was “ORRCAAAA”, and all hands on deck!

From that moment, the sightings increased, and in August we had orcas almost every day. Not once did the thrill disappear when seeing black fins on the horizon or capturing them close-up on the rubbing beach cameras. Every time, I had that buzz in my stomach and felt my heart beat faster. I’m a fairly excitable person, and it was often hard to maintain composure and remember that there was lots of work to be done in the lab: tracking, counting and ID’ing the orcas!

Aside from the orcas, there is so much life here. We’ve seen humbacks almost every day, plus dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions and eagles – to name a few! It is truly a nature-lovers paradise and I’ve made sure to set some time aside each day to soak in my surroundings and appreciate life here for what it is. Hanson Island itself is also beautiful, and a wonder to explore. The allure of the trees, forgotten trails and secret hideaways will stay with me forever.

As a keen SCUBA diver, I lugged all of my gear over from England to help out with the underwater work on the cameras and hydrophones. I love diving, and even the 5-minute camera cleans at 2 metres deep were exciting to me! (I may have also mimicked the orcas and had a little belly rub along the beach…) My favourite dive was the last one I did on the Critical Point hydrophone. Located in Robson Bight, it’s a protected area which means that it’s not open to pleasure craft, and as such has only been dived a handful of times. The crevace down which we ran the hydrophone cable was so full of life; giant starfish, crustaceans and small critters, and the drop-off where we positioned the hydrophone had so many fish! It was amazing to be there, knowing that this is the same space that the orcas use and that I am one of only a few to have experienced it.

It’s difficult to express the gratitude I have for Paul and Helena, and the appreciation of what they do here at OrcaLab. To be able to share in their lives and their work is an absolute privilege, and I truly admire what they have built here over the years. The team has been wonderful, we’ve shared so much and I’ve definitely made friends for life. I have loved every moment, from the wildlife and the research, to the wood-chopping and even the early mornings (no, really!). I hope very much to return again: see you next year, OrcaLab!

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