I awoke weary yet excited for the day ahead. Poking my head through a porthole I gazed at the blanket of ethereal fog that cast a magical haze over the bight. Casting aside my duvet I stumbled out to Tinkerbell, my dingy, and began my morning commute to Boat Bay.
I paddled silently over the still water, casually glancing at my grizzled reflection in its mirror-like surface. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a river otter glutinously dissecting a fish on our dock, unaware of the mess he was creating. Suddenly a salmon hurled itself out of the water in what seemed like a gargantuan yet futile effort to catch a glimpse of a terrestrial world he would never discover. His mercurial body slapped loudly against the surface of the water, causing me to emerge from my morning reverie and clamber ashore. Once the necessary safety checks were completed aboard the warden boat, the four-stroke engine spluttered reluctantly to life, as if it had not the least bit concern for the challenges that faced the northern resident Orcas in the day ahead.
No sooner had I had positioned myself parallel to the reserve, than a tinny tune broke the air. On answering my cell, Marie informed me that the Northern residents were steaming down Johnstone Straight. The fog had lifted now and I busied myself educating boaters about the presence and purpose of the reserve, and when necessary, the whereabouts of the whales. Most boaters were receptive; however, I came across a large yacht owned by a gentleman who seemed to think such guidelines were not applicable to him. He defensively excused himself whilst chasing down the whales in the small zodiac he had launched from the yacht.
For many minutes, a calm descended on the bight. The boat traffic had slowed to a well behaved trickle and I watched a float plane descended lazily towards the surface of the ocean, then, with a jolt of panic I saw the Orcas surfacing right in the path of the plane. My heart began to race, I realized the plane belonged to the obnoxiously large yacht that I had contacted twice previously due to his continued harassment of the whales.
Rage bubbled within- threatening to overflow on to the ‘be whale wise’ brochures I clasped in my shaking hands. How could people be so inconsiderate? Treating the home of a threatened species like a playground for the rich?!
I hurried over to the pilot while making sure to keep over 100m away from the whales. A torrent of expletives rushed through my head converging into whirlpool of words more fierce than the waters of hells gate. With a titanic effort to steady my voice I calmly inquired “have you ever heard of be whale wise guidelines?” “Sure” he drawled in his smooth city voice, immediately giving away his unfamiliarity with his surroundings “ I was circling ’round, looking for whales”. His words did little to abate my anger and I found it harder to compose myself this time, as I blurted out “and you normally use thirty whales as your landing strip?” At this he looked taken aback perhaps realizing the recklessness of his actions. For the first time, a look of panic began to cross his face giving him the strange appearance of disobedient child that had only just realized the repercussions of his behavior. “I’m sorry” he stammered reaching out to take the brochure from my hands as his guests awkwardly watched on- one of the women looking close to tears after the near miss.
As I rowed back across the bay that night I reflected on the days events. I felt both physically and mentally drained as my brain went over and over what had happened. Was there anything else I could have done to prevent this near catastrophe I mused?
Unfortunately, although this was a particularly dramatic encounter it was by no means an isolated incident. The resilience of the cetaceans that frequent Johnstone Straight never ceases to amaze me – as they weave a dangerous path through gill nets, tugs and speed boats they expend precious energy that could be directed into foraging and socializing. It saddens me to remember that only two weeks ago Robin witnessed a head on collision between a humpback and a speedboat. My only consolation is that through educating as many boats as possible about the ‘be whale wise’ guidelines and the importance of ecological reserves the outlook for these fantastic, intelligent and sociable mammals can only get better.
Disclaimer: This story, written by our RObson bight Warden, Doug Gw, was based on a real day… some dramatization added by Emily Franke (Volunteer)