Hi everyone, my name is Rachel Kobernick, and I’m the new driver for Straitwatch South this summer. I just wanted to say how much I enjoy working for Cetus. I have really been having a great time up here, and am so grateful for this opportunity. I have always wanted to work in killer whale conservation and outreach and this is basically my dream job, I’m sure many of you feel the same. I guess before this starts sounding anymore like a Miss America pageant acceptance speech (I guess it would be Miss Canada up here) I figured that I would entertain y’all and take you through an average day out on the Straitwatch South boat. And just to clear up some things, I come from a far away, mythical place known to some as Florida, and known to many Canadians as their winter get away, so pardon any American-isms in advance.
Our day usually begins hoping that the keys to the dockbox will work, then struggling to attach the EPIRB. I’m pretty sure we’ve all had a day where it took us over 5 minutes to convince it to stay. After we’ve completed our checklist, and figured out where the whales are, I have to figure out where on earth that is and how to get there. I’m still learning the area, but I think I’m getting the hang of it. As we leave the marina, I invariably spot a seal peeking up at us from the water and I get excited. We don’t have seals where I’m from, and it’s a thrill to see a face staring at you from the water, and everyone chuckles at my excitement. As we travel across Haro Strait, dodging driftwood and bull kelp, we cross the US/Canada border and we always joke about having our passports with us just in case the crew gets stuck in the USA again.
Most of the time we know where the whales are and head to the scene, but every once in a while our southern residents take a short vacation and no one knows where they are. On those days, we drift, keep our eyes out for other cetaceans, and enjoy the rare calm. On these days, when we’re not kept constantly busy by vessel counts, incident scans, and vessel contacts, lunch is a common conversation topic, and of course, our stomachs start grumbling not long after. Some of us have developed a system… to eat one lunch item per hour on the top of the hour. I gotta say, it’s an effective system.
Other days, our lunches aren’t eaten so leisurely. It’s always a long, busy day when we are with killer whales, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The last day I was with the whales, it seemed like everyone and their mother was out there with us. Within 5 minutes of coming on scene we found ourselves having to talk to a private boater who drove over the whales. Our day really didn’t slow down from there, and I ended up having to eat my lunch while on a plane going to prevent an incident, a source of amusement for one of our new volunteers. Other sources of amusement are the whale watchers themselves. Sometimes we can’t help but break out into laughter when they start telling jokes, or when Soundwatch simply calls “poop!!” for Moja over the radio.
In the afternoon, no matter what the never-changing weather report states for Juan de Fuca, a westerly usually picks up. Several times the weather had gotten bad enough that we had to make a safety call and go home, and other times we decided to stay on scene. Regardless of what the seas do, this is usually the time of day where the boat crew gets to laugh at me once more. Living in Florida, I got used to 40+ degree heat in August, something that you don’t normally get up here and definitely not out on the water. Well, while some of the crew are taking off sweaters and extra layers in the afternoon, this girl with her extremely thin blood is always starting to add some. When that wind picks up, I trade my cap for a beanie (toque) and break out my scarf and gloves. Yeah, yeah, yeah, laugh it up fuzzball; I get bundled up and most of the times I stay warm enough. But there’s always something to do that takes my mind off it, even if it’s keeping an eye out for sticks and driftwood on our way back to Canada.
It’s always a shame when it’s time to leave the whales, but we take solace in the fact that we will always go back out there. And we will go back soon and will be clearing a travel corridor for the whales, counting the minutes to lunch time, bundling up, educating boaters in the area, and being awed by the amazing creatures we do our best to protect. It’s a rough life, but somebody’s gotta do it!