OrcaLab assistants 2017 – Shari

Reflecting on the third August I spent at CP (Cracroft Point) has been harder than I’d anticipated. It feels as though it was an oasis of scientific passion, a place dedicated to understanding and protecting non-human persons; a place to reflect on and relish the wondrous beauty of the natural world. This year, however, I felt that it was also a microcosm of the changes taking place in the world. Rallying against the not so subtle and insidious creep of faceless big business whose aim is to trash the planet there are humans there who are dead set against that greed, who have had enough of the selfishness and who are taking a stand. I feel immensely grateful to have had a chance to meet them and to learn about the fight that truly is a global one and that really does effects all of us however far away we live from the Johnstone Strait and the little platform at “CP”.

CP is Orcalabs small outpost situated right on rocks on the western shore of West Cracroft Island. I adore this small platform and “la shack magic”, but even more so the inhabitants of the deep, rich waters we look out onto. We had the same aims and objectives as before. We are there to film and photographing the individuals as they pass by; monitor the radio traffic for the locations of the Orca and report back information and updates to the main lab. Quite often groups of kayakers will stop to ask questions and we answer them and tell them about the network of cameras that ‘Explore.org’ have set up in partnership with Orcalab. It really is amazing what they have done and already there is a brilliant group of “explorers” who regularly tune in and we loved that we could share our days with so many people all around the world and all with no interference to the orcas lives. I think that really can not be overstated, and that has always been a key principle of Orcalab. It is significant that while the Southern Residents are arguably and heartbreakingly being loved and starved to death, the Northern Residents have space, The Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, where no vessels or humans are allowed. Lucky for all of us however, those sneaky explore.org cameras are there and watching the Orca on those special beaches is just plain awe inspiring. This is the real Sea World and we can enjoy it for free, while the Orca in turn get to enjoy their lives.

While Megan films on the big camera, I scuttle down on to the rocks to be far enough away so the clacking of the shutter isn’t picked up by the mic on the camera. We film and photograph for as long as there are Orca around. Sometimes it’s for hours if they are foraging, and sometime its barely 10 mins if they are in a rush with somewhere else to be. Where last year we found that they were almost always traveling along the Vancouver Island side and then would cross over to Blackney Passage, this year they favoured West Cracroft Island side and they would power into the pass right past us standing mouths agape, Meg on the platform and me on the rocks. After they leave us I would often poke my head up over the rocks and Meg and I would have the same frazzled/confused/can-this-be-real look on our faces! More than a few encounters have been so close that I have to have the large lens zoomed right in to 100mm and even then I only manage not much more than a detailed saddle patch. That’s when I have to just sit back and savour the moment and try to contain myself from laughing or crying hysterically. Composer in these circumstances is still something I reeeeally struggle with. Very often Megs has had to remind me that the sound is still on her camera and that, for example, the good people watching and sharing in this magical moment all over the globe do not need to know that I nearly peed myself with excitement!

Over the month I learnt more about the incredible people who have and are still actively fighting to keep it so remarkable. In the face of organisations who clearly care of nothing but the profits that can be made to the detriment of anything beautiful or sacred, there are people here who quietly form a resistance and who challenge those greedy and ignorant actions. The Orcas here have that Ecological Reserve only because scientists studied them and realised the behaviour was unique and in need of protection. Where the ban on whaling was introduced the humpbacks have returned to the area. The Marine Education and Research Society reports that in 2004 they only documented 7 Humpbacks in their core study area for that full year. In the same area in 2016, they documented 91 different individuals. Truly I feel if there was ever cause for a happy dance it is this! Many humans fought for the ban on whaling and sure enough the the natural world shows its resilience and determination just as soon as us humans give it half a chance. Megan and I had the pleasure of Jackie Hilderings company one sunny afternoon. Jackie has dedicated her life to understanding the life that abounds in those cold waters, from the smallest of barnacles to the big old humpbacks that have returned to the region.
I learnt about “Sea Star Wasting Disease”, Jackie has done a lot of investigating, and I can say for certain that I only saw five Sea Stars this year and three of them were wasting (and none of them have been the Sunflower Sea Star). I’m ashamed to say that during my first August, in 2015, I took the Sunflower Sea Stars that dotted themselves around in the rocks and intertidal zone completely for granted. And the same for the Bull Kelp forest that existed just off the platform. Because of the increase in Sea Urchins (due to the lack of their predators- the Sea Stars) there is less than a third of the Bull Kelp that there was three years ago. While no one knows for certain yet, Jackie believes that Sea Stars are wasting because of a virus that is triggered at specific temperature, so because us humans have messed around for so long and the sea temperature has risen this virus has taken hold and so many animals are suffering, including these beautiful and critical little Sea Stars. Walking and poking around among the rocks and pools in the intertidal zone is one of my favourite past times when the whales and dolphins are not around. This year was sad though because there were so many urchins around and so few Sea Stars. I often think about those Sea Stars in my daily life now and strive to make choices that will help make amends so that one day we can welcome them back to these waters with a happy dance too.

One of the most significant days during the month, began like all others, however, while I was making some oatmeal Megan got a call from Helena, we had 10 minutes to pack our bag because we were going to the occupied Salmon Farm! We got our stuff together and off we all went. This was extremely exciting for me as I had been following the work of Alexandra Morton on Sea Shepherds Vessel R/V Martin Sheen for a long while. We visited on the third day of the occupation. We got to meet Earnest Alfred and two other of his compatriots. Ernest explained exactly why they will no longer accept these illegal farms in their waters. The farms are literally poisoning the waters and the stock (Atlantic Salmon from Norway) are infecting the wild Salmon with parasites and viruses. He told us that the farms were not only killing wildlife but killing job prospects also. He explained the significance of the area for the lifecycle of the wild Salmon fry and why these horrid farms where having such a detrimental effect. The smell of the place was vile, the water surrounding it had a filthy scum layer on it and it was just altogether sinister. The First Nations here refer to themselves as the Salmon people, but its not just the people who rely on healthy Salmon – the eagles, the bears, the resident Orca, the sealions the seals and even the trees, everything here relies on the Salmon. I am inspired by Earnest and his people, I will return home with a renewed spirit to spread the word about just how awful farmed Salmon is for healthy oceans.

Happier news that has kept me feeling positive this year was that there is now have a couple of Eagles that have made a nest on one of the high trees right on the very most pointy bit of Cracroft Point. That’s super cool as I love listening to eagles.

Another wonderful thing was I got to see Grandmother Cedar, she is such an impressive tree and made me feel very tiny. Meeting Michael Reppy and helping he and Mike construct the new wind turbine for CP was brilliant fun- a great couple of days with many laughs.The gang of Sea Lions almost like clockwork swim past the platform in the morning and then again in the eve. Sometimes the make a big hullabaloo about it, other times they just cruise by real casual. And then there was the seagulls, one in particular we named Clive. Good old Clive.

And Boat Bay party was wonderful as per the norm, sitting around talking to the other people who work on the Strait; the wardens from reserve; Jerry (a.k.a The Alert Bay Trumpeter); some people from the local lodges and getting to chat to the folks from the main lab – actually in person not on Facebook messenger was grand. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s the people here who are trying, everyday, to make this world better for all inhabitants, they keep on keeping on because they know if we don’t at least try we are certain to fail. And there is just to much important beauty here to let up the good fight.

Since this time last year I have witnessed a lot of violence perpetrated against the other animals we share this planet with. I have an especially acute awareness of how violent humans can be to dolphins. To come here has been very good respite for my heart and soul. CP is my happy place and I am proud to help Orcalab in whatever small way I can and I am eternally grateful that I have the opportunity to do so.

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