This time two years ago the Pacific Northwest was a very distant dream of mine that had been manifesting since i was 11 when I asked for a copy of ‘Orca: A whale called killer’ for my birthday. Growing up in England reading books about the history of Orca and the pioneering work that was going on in this area i knew one day, somehow i would go and experience for myself the sights and sounds of the Johnstone Strait. Finally at 23 after completing my degree i headed out to Canada for my first summer.
From May to July of 2012 I assisted at Cetacealab where I met Janie & Herman who had originally assisted at Orcalab in the 90’s and that had inspired them to start the North Coast Cetacean Society on Gil Island. Spending the summer there changed my life. I met some amazing & inspiring people & learnt infinite amounts about Northern Residents, Bigg’s Transients, Humpback whales, Fin whales, The Northern Gateway Pipeline project and much much more. It had been a little over 9 months since I left and i have thought about little else but the smell of cedar and the sound of blows all winter.
This summer i return to paradise a little further south at Orcalab on Hanson Island. Having read about this place for so many years in books i never really thought i could end up spending my whole summer here. But here is where ill call home from July to September. Living outdoors in the rainforest can be a wonderful experience…but without the right kit it can be a bit of a challenge. Last summer I had learnt this the hard way with a leaky tent and a 2 season sleeping bag. This summer i return prepared with a nice new tent, new gum boots and an extremely warm sleeping bag and I’m happy to say I’m snug as a bug in a rug.
Having only been here for a few weeks I have already learnt so much and had so many wonderful experiences which makes for an amazing summer ahead. Humpbacks galore in Blackney pass is a daily occurrence at this time of year. The regulars such as Black Pearl, KC & Inukshuk kept us on our toes whilst we were all learning how to work in the lab and photo ID the whales. The Northern Residents made their first appearance on July 6th with the A30’s sadly missing their matriarch A30. Soon after they disappeared and the A36 brothers Kaikash and Plumper showed up shortly after. Staying quiet for a few days into mid July it gave us all a chance to start learning annotations. Taking tapes from 1993 we have been labelling each call type on the spectrogram. Starting with the A30’s its given us all a chance to begin to get familiar with the Northern Resident call types just before they all arrive. A daunting task to start with and despite all the boat noise I have really been enjoying spending my time getting to know my N2’s from my N47’s.
One afternoon we were all gathered on the deck awaiting the arrival of 6 Bigg’s orca reported to be heading our way when Helena came out and with a huge smile on her face. She simply said ‘Its official, ‘SPRINGER HAS HAD A BABY!’ An eruption of cheers & tears filled the deck as we all let the amazing news sink in. Springer’s story is one I have been familiar with for many many years and last summer to see her traveling in here home waters with the A11’s along side her great aunt was one of my greatest highlights. After hearing the news this winter of A11 passing away i feared for Springer’s return and constantly wondered how she would be doing. I remembered a time at Cetacealab whilst reading ‘Operation orca’ me and Herman had an conversation of wishful thinking that she was coming of age and how fantastic it would be to see her start her own matrline and now the following summer that time has come.
It was only the night before round the dinner table that Helena had regaled us all with the amazing story of A73 and her triumphant return to her family and her home in 2003. Although we were all familiar with her story to hear Helena recall the night of her arrival and the first encounter she had with her relatives as they passed Dong Chong bay was so special. And now the next evening after hearing such wonderful news Paul, Helena and all the assistants toasted with champagne to Springer A73 & her new baby. Over the next few days still filled with excitement all the assistants helped repaint the ‘Welcome home Springer’ sign that hangs above the lab awaiting in anticipation for her arrival with her new baby.
by Megan Hockin-Bennett
July 17 2013