Whales and fires are not two things that you think of together.
But on a magical day last September they came together in a mesmerising moment. While out on the water we had a chance encounter that lives on in our memories. Over the last few years the numbers of Humpback Whales have been increasing in the waters on the inside of Vancouver Island. This good news is welcomed by locals and visiting tourists who go out on whale watching trips. 2017 was a great year for whales and on a couple trips on the water early last summer I saw a good number of whales, especially just south of Campbell River.
Humpback pectoral fin against a backdrop of the Coast Maintains near Campbell River
Tail slap. This is thought to be a method of communication for these whales.
After swimming directly under our motionless boat a humpback whale gently dives.
British Columbia has long been plagued by forest fires and last year was the worst wildfire season in history. Our air quality on the coast was severely diminished for quite long periods of time, especially during outflow winds. During a large high-pressure system that was parked over the Strait of Georgia we embarked on our first adventure on our new sailboat. We had recently bought a 24-foot sailboat in Victoria and were now “sailing” it up to Campbell River over a four-day period.
Setting sail from Esquimalt Harbour in Victoria.
Entering Active Pass as BC Ferries exits. An exciting stretch of water with big standing waves formed by strong currents.
We only actually sailed for a few hours one of the days. The rest was spent motoring in conditions that more resembled the tropical doldrums. As we headed Northwest towards Campbell River the smoke from the interior progressively filled the atmosphere and conditions became quite surreal. The horizon line was almost invisible at times and the sun was a glowing orange ball reflected in the lazily rolling sea.
As we were nearing Mittlenatch Island between Comox and Campbell River I told Kim to keep an eye out for whales. This is where I had seen some a few weeks prior and I hoped we would have another encounter with them. The water was like glass and the air had a heaviness about it that was palpable. I had my head down in the hatchway when I heard an exclamation from Kim and looked up to see a sight that is forever burned in my brain. Two Humpback Whales had simultaneously done a full breach together and were in the process of crashing down into the water with a giant splash when I glanced them. In the stillness they just erupted with no warning right where Kim was looking, about 300 meters away from us. We immediately cut the engine and came to a drift.
For the next ten minutes we watched them breaching continuously. With each breach they seemed to get closer and closer. The contrast between the still sea and the mighty crashes of whale and water was amazing.
It got to the point where we were concerned they would land right on us. I cautiously started the outboard and slowly motored out of their path with the sound of thirty tons of whale landing on the still waters behind us. We didn’t want to leave but the unpredictable nature of their movements and the fact they can’t tell where we were made the decision easier.