My First week in Canada (July 15 – July 21st 2012) by Thalia de Haas

After spending five days running around in the Netherlands between internships I left my house (Canadian time 2am) on July 14th and after about 40 hours of travel, by car-foot-plane-transfer-plane-transfer-plane-taxi-ferry-bus-ferry-foot, I arrived at Tysen (the Straitwatch North driver) ‘s place in Alert Bay at around 6pm on the 15th. Luckily I still had some left overs from lunch, which was followed by a well deserved beer at Pass’n Thyme, I looked at the scenery and the slow setting sun and realized it had been worth it.

The next day was my transfer to Boat Bay and after getting some groceries and reorganizing my bags a bit, Tysen brought Kayla (another volunteer) and me to Boat Bay in the afternoon. It was a gorgeous day, not really cold, sunny, clear and it was an easy ride. The snow covered mountaintops, the green hills and the glistening blue water made me feel like I was riding through a postcard, a raw type of nature hard to find anywhere else and it felt like a most unreal and real landscape at the same time.

My first marine mammal was, by no surprise, a Stellar sea lion and the second were a couple of Dall’s porpoises. Settling in was easy, Marie was super nice and after all the organizational things were done, I got to meet the rest; Ernest, Mark, Wade and of course Clio, the Boat Bay Friendly Wolf (or Ernest’s and Nick’s dog).

The first day working was exciting for me even if it was just because everything was new. The weather was gorgeous, the hike was challenging and the hopes were high. I’d never seen a Bald Eagle before and that day saw at least 2 different ones before lunch. Also before lunch; some Pacific White-Sided dolphins, which I still think are some of the prettiest dolphins I’ve seen and naturally some more Dall’s porpoises.

Day two I got to meet the Brothers and I hope they were just as honored to be my first as I was to actually get to see them. Plumper and Kaikash (A37 and A46; two members of the Northern Resident killer whale population). I’ll never forget them and their company over the next 3 weeks. They arrived in the neighborhood as the 2 gentle giants and stayed nearby at least for my remaining time at the camp, obviously not always in front of the cliff, but if you did not see them one day, you at least knew where they were because someone on the radio would tell you, so never too far away.

photo credit: Marie Fournier

Day three was crazy before noon we’d seen; almost 70 Pacific White-Sided dolphins (nearly all nursery pods), a Humpback mum calf pair and a couple of Stellar sea lions pass by the cliff, all heading west. We also knew there were Transients heading our way, so all these nursery groups were easily explained as, every smaller mammal was getting out of there. At the same time the Warden boat team saw about 200 dolphins inside the bay, swimming in circles hunting, at least they were until the transients showed up and the hunters became the hunted. At noon the arrived, the large dorsal fins of the males sliding through the water, wobbling when not supported by salty liquid because of their size and weight; especially T102 made a immense impression on me. These were the whales that inspired me to become a marine biologist more than 20 years ago. These are enormous, powerful, mammal eating predators and seeing a pod of 18 individuals at once, was more than I could have hoped for. I will never forget the brothers, but seeing T102 and the Other 17 all together was a dream come true.

photo credit: Marie Fournier

That first week I went trough tons of emotions, the stress of getting to Alert Bay in time for the transfer to Boat Bay, humbleness when hiking up the cliff realizing I wasn’t as fit as I thought I was, love for the landscape every time I crawled out of my tent, fear for that same environment at night trying to figure out all the small sounds around my tent, and pure respect, admiration and love for the animals that inspired me to do what I do.

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