1 month on Gil Island!

1 month done already…scary! The last two weeks have been a mixture of lots of exciting things and lots of not so exciting things (mainly the weather).   The days after the transient orca hunt were quite slow, although the new interns had arrived so it was good to spend time getting to know everyone.  On Monday 21st Hermann took Sole and me over to a local harbor where two fishing lodges move into for the summer to pick up some lumber and food.  When I say fishing lodges I don’t mean little small log cabins, I mean huge hotels that float on barges.  They are in probably one of the most spectacular harbors I have ever seen.  When we pulled into the harbor the backdrop was a huge mountain covered in trees and topped with snow, as we got closer to the lodge out of the middle of the trees appeared an amazing waterfall.  No wonder it costs nearly $4000 to spend 3 days at the lodge! On the way back from the lodge we came across a humpback and a calf, you could barely see the calf in the water apart from its tiny blow beside its mother’s much larger one.

The next day was much of the same picking up items from the King Pacific Lodge and unloading them from the boat, however there was one moment that truly scared everyone.  Hermann and Janie had decided to get rid of their wood-burning stove and opt for a gas stove.  Hermann had picked up the new stove and the two rather large propane tanks on the boat and we were all helping to get the stove off the boat when I heard a huge hiss.  I knew straight away that it was one of the propane tanks I looked around to see clouds of gas spraying out from one and the smell instantly hit everyone’s nostrils.  There was a frantic rush to turn the engine of the boat of and everyone moved out of the way, Hermann had a look at the tank and said he thought there was a crack in the side of the tank.  I think everyone was too shocked to even contemplate how lucky we were.  After a few minutes though Hermann realized that one of the safety release valves was actually loose and we managed to stop the flow of gas.  I guess we were pretty lucky with that one!

The next day was so uneventful I only wrote one thing in my diary and that was about the amazing pizza Janie had cooked in the new oven.  The next morning we all had an early alarm clock in the form of Neekas (the dog) letting everyone know at the top of her lungs that Hermann and her were going fishing.  After breakfast Hermann, Neekas and I headed to do a dive on the Squally Channel hydrophone to see if we could get it working.  It was an amazing morning the sun was shining down and on the way we spotted 5 different humpbacks.  I helped Hermann set up for his dive and then he headed overboard, the water was so clear we could see him under the water.  Once he returned to the boat with the hydrophone I swapped the old one with a new one and we tested the signal and everything was good.  As I was waiting for Hermann to head out and put the hydrophone on the seabed I could see in the distance that four humpbacks were heading in our direction, there blows were amazing against the sun filled background.  Once Hermann was out from the water we headed towards the humpbacks to get some i.d pictures.  Before we even got close I could tell that I was going to see something special, I could already see one humpback continuously raising his huge white pectoral fin and slapping it against the water.  Then he breached, this huge humpback whale completely out of the water spinning onto his back and then crashing down into the water, it was pretty unbelievable.  Even more unbelievable was that the second group of two humpbacks further to our left started to breach.  I grabbed the camera and was just hoping I would even manage to catch one of these amazing animals showing off their power.  It seemed like I wasn’t going to have any luck though as when I would wait for a whale to breach it wouldn’t and then the other group I wasn’t watching would breach.  Finally though it happened, we were still quite far away but as if on cue this whale breached right in front of where my lens was I got my first breach photo!  It was amazing, it was as if he was trying to jump up to the clouds just above the water, and when he flipped onto this back the water just looked like a fine mist surrounding his body in the sunlight.

The next morning we had a whale sleeping outside in the bay! He would slowly bob up towards the surface take a breath then sink again before rising up again.  Finally the sun had come out and we all spent most of the day on the balcony soaking up the sun, it felt like a totally different place when the sun shinned everything seemed to come to life.  The next day I saw something that made my heart sink, I was in the lab looking out and I just happened to catch a glimpse of a bald eagle in the water.  It had obviously caught a fish to heavy to fly away with and because of their talons they can’t let the fish go.  I felt helpless as I watched this amazing bird try and swim to shore, it was really far out from shore and I watched and just hoped he would make it to shore.  Finally after what seemed a lifetime he finally got close to shore, even though he seemed not to be swimming anymore but grasping onto every last piece of energy he had to stay afloat a little longer.  It is yet another amazing thing I have seen since being here and something I will always remember.  Later in the day I happened to look out the window again at just the right moment as I saw 5 immature bald eagles all swooping and interlocking and then one of the mature eagles that lives close by swooped over and chased them all away.

The next three days just seemed to drift by with a mix of very uneventful whale action and lots of rain and cold weather.  On Tuesday (29th) I awoke to something very special, the sound of orca’s coming over the speakers at 5.30am.  What an amazing sound to wake up too, I got dressed as quickly as I could and ran into the lab passing by Hermann who was as excited as me.  It was the resident orca (R clan) that had not shown up this season so far and Hermann and Janie had noted how unusual it was.  As I was looking out the window I could also see that there were four humpbacks off in the distance, just then Hermann came running back into the lab saying there was whale in front of the lab.  I should mention it was Hermann’s birthday (what a birthday!), we headed out onto the balcony just as everyone came rushing into the lab and there right in the bay was a tiny little humpback.  He was so small he almost looked like a calf; he swam back and forward right in front of the lab.  He was so close you could see him underwater gliding back and forward and turning underwater with ease.  The dogs were straight down to the rocks to see what was going on and the humpback seemed just as interested in the dogs as they were in him.  It was something that really didn’t seem real this tiny humpback just milling around without any care in the world right in front of us.  It was something really special to be able to see such an amazing animal so close and be able to see him underwater.  He finally slowly drifted off and we all headed back into the lab.

Yesterday was quite uneventful the weather was doing its best to dampen everyone’s spirits but after dinner we had another small juvenile in the bay and I sat outside just as the sun was setting waiting for him (or more hoping) to come close enough that I could get some pictures.  It’s pretty scary how fast this first month has disappeared but it’s been pretty unbelievable at times.  Tomorrow Hermann is taking Sole and me to the out camp (Ulric Point) on an even more remote island (Ariztazabal Island) that will be something totally different and exciting.  The resident orca’s are meant to feed pretty close to the tiny wooden shack we will be sitting in all day for the next two weeks so hopefully when I get back I will have some good stories!


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