By rob lott
Even before I left the UK for my visit to OrcaLab I knew this was going to be an unusual year. I had been following the orca reports, or lack thereof, since July when traditionally the Northern Residents return to their core area of Johnstone Strait. Apart from a brief transit by the A42s, the season here had yet to start, leaving everyone baffled as to what was going on. Possible theories abounded when I arrived on Hanson Island, better fishing up north, too noisy down here but I guess only the whales really knew the score. A few days into my stay I was offered the opportunity to spend the night at CP, OrcaLab’s remote camera platform. Of course, I jumped at the chance and what unfolded over the next 24 hours will stay with me a very long time. I had spent the afternoon watching humpbacks foraging in the riptide before settling down for dinner watching the sunset over the Strait. Just after midnight I sat outside in awe at just how clear the night skies are here with very little light pollution. As I stared up at the Milky Way rising over the silhouetted mountains of Vancouver Island and across Johnstone Strait like a celestial river, I wondered with hope more than expectation …. is tonight the night?
And in they came.
My cosmic conversation seemed to pay off. The Lab started hearing A5 calls off Flower Island just before dawn in the still quiet, ocean before the local boating community had stirred. It was the A23’s – Corky’s family including her sister Ripple and brother, Fife, one of WDC’s adoption orcas and a whale I know well. They came into view at CP just before 8am with beautiful, haunting calls on the hydrophone. A95, Fern, made a close pass to the platform – he was now a sprouter and at 14 years old his fin has grown and changed considerably from his profile photo in the ID catalogue. Also in view were humpbacks Meniscus, Ridge and Guardian with her baby. The orcas crossed over to the Vancouver Island shore and then spent the day in classic August fashion easting and westing along Johnstone Strait before treating us to one final view after dinner as they headed north in the fading light through Blackney Pass and up into Blackfish Sound. We were thrilled that finally, hopefully, we had all witnessed the return of the Northern Residents back to their ancestral summer home. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.