Sunday, September 21:
We got up early Sunday morning to be at boatside in Telegraph Cove by 8:30, in time for our Stubbs Island Whale Watch adventure.
A little Telegraph Cove history:
Telegraph Cove is a coastal settlement about an hour's drive east of Port Hardy. It started out in 1912 as a telegraph lineman's station. In the mid 1920s Duke (Alfred Marmaduke Wastell - who first suggested it as a telegraph station) built a salmon saltery and a small sawmill on the site.
In the mid 1920s Duke's son Fred ran the Telegraph Cove sawmill. For many years his wife Emma and their daughters Bea and Pat lived in this hamlet of buildings sitting on stilts in the water and connected by a boardwalk. Many of the old buildings are still there.
I'm not sure if this truck is an original. It almost looks as if it could be!
By the 1970s most of Telegraph Cove's natural resource industries had petered out, giving way to recreation - boaters, kayakers, sport fishers, whale watchers and vacationers.
Here's how it's described today:
"Telegraph Cove is a center point to the huge marine park known as the Broughton Archipelago; the famous orca rubbing beaches of Robson Bight; and the inside passage marine route known as Johnstone Strait. Famed Sea Explorer Jacques Cousteau remarked that it is one of the best places in the world to view and enjoy killer whales in their natural environment.
June 2002 saw the arrival of Springer, the orca whale from A-pod that had been abandoned at the Vashon Island Washington ferry dock. A remarkable US/Canada cooperative effort brought Springer back to native waters to reunite with her pod."
It's to this spot we came Sunday morning. A little after 9:00 Captain Wayne maneuvered the Lukwa, with its load of international tourists, cameras and binoculars in hand, into Telegraph Cove. (Yes, it did feel a little odd to be out on the sea instead of in church on a Sunday morning. But then, I reasoned, isn't this really another mode of worship - coming out to see and admire God's handiwork?)
Shortly there was a sighting followed by a flurry of cameras as a school of White-Sided dolphins swam by.
Soon after we had the first glimpse of Orcas. Captain Wayne and naturalist Caitlin identified the A matriline (family unit) of resident (salmon-eating) Orcas. For about the next hour we tracked their progress. Caitlin said they were unusually docile as they traveled in line and were probably in rest or sleep mode.
A boat from Natural Geographic was out there enjoying the action with us.
To round out the morning, Captain Wayne decided to motor to where a group of Humpback whales had been sighted earlier. This is part of the Broughton Archipelago and we wove our way through lots of pretty little islands.
As we got back into open ocean, tiny clouds of blow-mist on the horizon indicated the presence of Humpbacks. When we got closer, we saw the show they were putting on. At one point I saw one breach. Sadly I was way too slow to capture such a moment with my camera and had to content myself with just a portion of a Humpback's body showing above the waves.
Finally, captain took us to a rock full of Steller Sea Lions. As we approached he told us to be completely silent so as not to frighten them into the water.
We must have been quiet enough for they paid us no heed at all, simply lolling in the sun in all their massiveness. And they were huge. The Steller or Northern sea lion is the world's largest with males reaching 3.3 m. and 1,100 kg. (11 feet, 2400 lbs.). These were all males who, according to Caitlin, have migrated here to eat and gain weight against the next mating season when they go for long periods living only on testosterone and aggression as they compete with each other for females.
While there we also saw a display of eagle education. Several adult and an immature eagle from a nearby nest were flying around diving and nipping at each other. I didn't understand what they were doing but Captain Wayne on his "Sightings" log about our trip described it as the parents teaching the eaglet "talon grabbing."
We returned to Telegraph Cove at about 12:40, a little chilly but thrilled at all we'd just seen.