Vancouver Island

Oct 03, 2017 - National Geographic Quest


Some of us were up before the first hint of light to see the Milky Way and the stars in the dense dark sky devoid of any artificial light pollution. We were travelling through Johnstone Strait in the upper reaches of the eastern side of Vancouver Island, far away from cities and towns.

A beautiful sunrise followed the early morning star gazing with nary a ripple on the ocean surface. Suddenly a pod of Pacific white sided dolphins sped by on the port side of our ship, the National Geographic Quest. This was followed by another pod that went by on the starboard side. Soon another pod was seen in the distance. Sometimes these dolphins will stop to play with the bow wake, but today they seemed to have another purpose, and instead sped by in pods numbering in the dozens. As we approached Blackfish Sound, we decided to take a detour and see what might be in this quiet little area. We weren’t disappointed. There were six humpback whales swimming and feeding. They raised their backs in the distinctive “humpback” pose and lifted their tail flukes straight up as they dove down for a dive. These magnificent baleen whales can get up to 60 feet in length. Off on one of the rocky shorelines, were over 30 Steller sea lions sunning themselves in the early morning sun. Others were swimming among the humpback whales, but both were foraging for small fish.

Upon arrival to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island we tied up to the government dock and divided into groups. This island is home to the First Nations village of the ‘Namgis. Our first stop was at the ‘Namgis traditional burial grounds where we were met by Trevor Isac who introduced to the totem poles and a little history. Our next stop was to the U’mista Cultural Centre. This building houses many exhibits of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. It was returned to the First Nations people in 1980 when the cultural center opened. Beautiful masks, blankets, and other Potlatch regalia were on display. We were again given a history of the people that have shared this land with the forests, the salmon, and the wildlife for millennia. Our final destination was the Big House where we were witness to ceremonial dances in full regalia with a cedar log fire burning away in the center of the house. The gracious warmth and hospitality of the people of the ‘Namgis was a true heart felt experience.

We returned to the ship for a recap of the day’s events and then another exquisite dinner was served.  However, this dinner was interrupted by an announcement of killer whales off the bow of the boat. As we drifted quietly with a sunset glowing in the west, the killer whales came right by the boat. Their exhalations and a few tail slaps the only sound on the quiet water. This was a magical moment to a perfect day. 

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About the Author

Victoria Souze

Naturalist

Victoria is currently director for the Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to responding to marine mammal strandings and the welfare of marine mammals. After completing her studies in fisheries and wildlife at Grays Harbor College and marine biology at Western Washington University, she moved to Lummi Island, a small island that is part of the San Juan Islands in Washington State. For the past two decades she has worked as a marine naturalist on tour boats with an emphasis on the endangered Southern Resident killer whales in the Salish Sea, a region that encompasses the Puget Sound, San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Strait of Georgia (Canada). In 2009 this area was officially renamed the Salish Sea in honor of the Coast Salish native tribes who have lived there for thousands of years.

About the Videographer

Sarah Culler

Video Chronicler

Sarah was raised on a multi-generational family dairy farm, established circa 1815 in Lucas, Ohio. Consequently, her first paying job was milking cows! Rewarding as it was to get paid for the first time, she found her passion behind the lens of a camera. Growing up on the farm gave her not only a strong work ethic but also the love of nature and being outdoors. 

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