My first two weeks at Gil Island

Wow!! What a journey, the bus ride was a long journey on a bus that was packed with people. The ferry from Prince Rupert to Hartley Bay was much better.  The worst part of the journey was probably the shortest leg, taking the boat from Hartley Bay to the lab on Gil Island.  When I got off at Hartley Bay there were serious downpours so my backpack got soaked, I found Hermann and he pointed in the direction of the For Whales Research boat and I threw my stuff into the boat and tried to cover it with my tarp. After we set off on his boat it was pretty rough and once we got into the main channel the boat was struggling in the bad weather, all the while more water was finding its way onto my stuff.  It took about one hour to get through Whale Channel but finally we rounded the corner and there it was away in the distance right in the middle of this huge bay, this what looked like a tiny log cabin on stilts right on the edge of the water.  As we got closer I realized it was much bigger but it was amazing it was right on a peninsula and was basically on top of the water overlooking a huge bay.  After getting onto dry land I met Janie and their two dogs, by this point it had finally stopped raining so I quickly put my tent up and headed into their house.  My first night was pretty rough heavy rain and winds mixed with a not so waterproof tent = not a good night!

The next day Janie left to go to Vancouver for a week so I spent my first morning on this huge Island alone.  I sat in the lab most of the day and just looked out at the postcard view hoping to see some whales, but nothing seemed to really happen.  Finally after spending most of the day staring at the water I saw a huge grey object right in front of the lab and realized it was a Fin Whale, it was just massive (2nd largest animal on the planet only a few meters shorter than a Blue Whale). I grabbed the camera and ran outside and got a few i.d pictures and spent the next hour watching this amazing animal disappear under the water for 15 mins and then pop up again.  The next few days were pretty rough to say the least, a huge storm had come in and my tent was taking the full brunt of it and for the next few days I just stayed in the lab with the fire on.  Finally two days of heavy rain and winds died down and I went with Hermann into the forest to check on the hydroplant and water supply, the woods here are so dense every possible place is covered with trees so it took a while to get to the creek.  It was worth it though out of nowhere a huge waterfall appeared right in the middle of the forest.  This place is just unbelievable. On the way back down we were walking along the beach and out of the corner of my eye I saw a fin whale not even 10m offshore it was much smaller but still looked huge.

The next day I spent again mostly in the lab, only briefly stepping out to help Hermann put a greenhouse together.  During dinner we got a radio report that there was 4 or 5 humpbacks right across the bay so we ran up and sure enough there they were.  They were quite far off but I didn’t care I was just happy to see a humpback for the first time.  By the next day (11th May) it was already a week since I had arrived but it didn’t feel like it, I’ve found everything pretty easy to cope with so far, things are very basic but I really enjoy living here.  Friday was pretty uneventful whale wise so I helped Hermann put some new braces onto the lab, not a job for the faint hearted.  I was leaning over the edge of the balcony and holding onto an 8ft log and while Hermann tried to get it into place.  Saturday….what can I say, probably one of the best days I have ever had.  I woke up early to Hermann shouting that a juvenile humpback was right in front of the balcony, by the time I got there though he had disappeared.  It was about 5.15am so I decided to stay in the lab, I was pretty disappointed at missing the humpback but then I noticed a huge dorsal fin in the distance and I knew it could only be a male Orca, the dorsal fin was huge! I called Hermann and ran outside to get some i.d pictures.  Unfortunately the male was right at the other side of the bay but I didn’t care I was so excited to see my first orca.  Then all of a sudden right beside the lab only 15metres away the rest of the pod came up, 2 females, 1 juvenile and a calf.  I might add here that the water was completely still and the sun was just rising…in other words it couldn’t have been more amazing.  I grabbed my own camera and took loads of photos as these beautiful creatures swam right past us.  They just glided through the water it was just unreal, just as they got to the end of the bay a huge eagle swooped down right behind them and grabbed a fish out of the ocean.  After they disappeared I really didn’t think the day could get any better but somehow it did.  Two humpbacks came up right in front of the lab and then as they moved away the larger one breached, absolutely unbelievable power the whole whale came of out the water and the noise it made when it hit the water was unlike anything I have ever heard it was so loud.  What a day!!

The next couple of days involved helping Hermann get some more tasks done ready for the rest of the interns arriving.  We also took a trip out to try and fix one of the hydrophones, this was only my second time on the boat but yet again conditions were terrible both the dogs came with us and Cohen had wedged himself into the cabin while Neekos would wander around the boat and then come and force her way in between my legs and lean up against me.  We got to Campania Island and couldn’t figure out the problem so decided to head back before the weather got worse.  By now I had gotten used to seeing loads of sea lions just casually swim by the lab and humpbacks were beginning to become a regular sighting too.  Something else that I love about living here is the eagles, you can hear them off in the distance and the call they make is beautiful.  I was lucky enough to come out onto the balcony of the lab and spot one sitting right above the lab, they are massive! By Monday it was time for Hermann to head off and pick up Janie, it couldn’t have been worse timing for him to head off on the boat as soon as he left the whales just came out of nowhere. During the day there were 5 different humpbacks, a fin whale and a group of transient Orca’s that stayed just outside the bay for 2 hours, which can only mean that they had probably hunted and killed a sea lion.  I was looking through the binoculars at the orcas when all of a sudden 2 humpbacks breached at the exact spot I was looking at, everything seemed to slow down as these two huge animals came totally out of the water and slowly spun onto their backs and landed in the water.  It was just totally unreal and it is something that I won’t forget in a hurry.

The last two days have been quite busy, Hermann did a dive in front of the lab to check on the hydrophone, I met “Juggy” the head chief of Hartley Bay and the Chief of the Killer Whales which was very cool and we took some batteries and a solar panel out to a tiny island called Skinner Island ready to set up another hydrophone station.  The weather has also picked up since my first week and there were a few days that the temperature was really warm but yesterday and today it’s been quite cool.  Tomorrow the first two interns will get here which will be really good and then one more on Sunday.  The next few weeks I think will involve getting the program running and also by the end of next week I think we will have Ulric Point set up which is on the very northern tip of Aristazabal Island.  Ulric Point is an extremely basic outpost but it is where most of the resident Orca’s feed so the whale action is pretty intense.  So I will probably be one of the first people to head out there (not looking forward to packing my tent though) and will be staying for at least two weeks and depending on how it goes I might stay longer which would mean no internet for quite a while.  Also just want to point out that unfortunately I can’t upload any pictures because the internet is really poor, but if you do want to see some pictures you can check out the Cetacealab website and there’s also some more info on what Hermann and Janie actually do here. (


4 responses to “My first two weeks at Gil Island

  1. Fantastic stories Aaron! It looks like you’re on a great start. The weather in Vancouver has gotten better, it’s warmer and sunnier and I hope there too. Too bad we can’t see the photos. But keep taking them anyway. You can show me when you get back. Take care.

  2. Wow Aaron, as soon as I saw you post this I was dying to read! This post has made me even more excited than I already am and I can’t wait to be there! It sounds so incredible!

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