By Megan Hockin-Bennett
It’s around 5 am when I begin to stir, the faint sounds of the A30s filling the small 6 by 4-meter cabin perched on the rocks bringing me into consciousness, the world’s greatest alarm clock. I am alone on this island as I wriggle out of my cozy nest, switch on my lamp, and fumble around for my glasses. The whispers of light from the start of the day hover faintly above the grandeur of Vancouver Island as I peer out of the cabin adjusting my eyes.
I turn the scanner down and listen.
The rumbled call of the common murre is interrupted by my most cherished and familiar sound. KWOOF. They’re coming! I scramble around finding a jumper and shoes, flip the hydrophone monitor back up and fumble down the stairs onto the deck. The vocalizations of the A30s were getting louder as they moved closer to the point. Their squeaks and clicks echo out of the cabin like a gramophone into the Johnstone Strait. The sounds of the blows continued to reach closer to me. It’s still too dark to film so I sit down on the edge of the deck with the water not more than a few meters from my feet and wait. It’s silent, the ocean is so still, not even the lapping sound over the black rocks beneath fills the air. Just KWOOF, KWOOF, KWOOF.
I think back to my 14-year-old self tucked away in the corner behind the bar of an old English pub daydreaming about this very moment. Reading of Orcalab in Eric Hoyt’s book Orca: A whale called killer The high-pitched whistle of an N47, the signature sound of the A30 family pierces through the speaker and I know it won’t be long before they are traveling right under my feet. The dawn chorus has begun and I can hear the croaking of the Ravens perched in the misty trees above. The common murres bleat on undisturbed by the passing whales.
I know these whales, I know them well. I know their voice and my heart is pounding just like the first time I saw them. Back in 2013, my first summer at Orcalab. Back then the A30s formed a much different shaped family. Grieving the recent loss of their Matriarch, A30 herself, the family was comprised of her two sons A38 and A39 who would form the bookends of the remaining 9 smaller fins. Bend, A72, A30’s grandaughter, a most distinctive whale with the large notch on the front edge of her dorsal, 20 years old at this time now has her own baby, A108 Jameson by her side. Every year I have returned this family has changed. A38 and A39 are no longer with us but with the additions of 3 new babies the A30s are back up to a total of 12 whales; the offspring of two matriarchs, A54 and A50.
Thinking of the minuscule amount of time I have spent with A30’s legacy and what that represents in the passage of time these whales have been using this very path makes me feel not only exceedingly privileged but insignificant. Insignificant in the best possible way. Maybe it’s being surrounded by the grandeur of the mountains or hearing the melodic calls beaming from under the surface or watching their sleek black bodies glide effortlessly through the dark water. But it all firmly puts me back in my own body and I know that this is the very spot I am meant to be standing in.
As the A30s disappear around the corner heading north into Blackney Pass I listen as the sound of their blows fades into the distance along with their calls. And then, silence. I tiptoe back into the cabin and turn on the stove to make coffee as the sun starts peeking out from the misty evergreens. And I wonder what today will bring, chuckling away at my luck!