Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Adventures in British Columbia - July 19th

Sunday, July 19th
We woke up early the next morning in Port Hardy, and walked a few blocks down Main Street for some breakfast at the coffee shop. We drove in two cars a few miles south to Port McNeill to meet the whale watching boat.
At the appointed hour we roared off south down the straight at about 40 mph to pick up a family at Hidden Cove, past Alert Bay. When they were safely aboard we hurtled back north again, flying along at full speed past McNeill, Port Hardy, Bell Island, Hurst Island, Balaklava Island, and Scarlet Point out into the Queen Charlotte Straight. Once we reached open water the captain slowed to a stop and turned off the engines. Lowering a hydrophone, he listened in vain for whale sounds.
Dense morning fog hung low over the water, obscuring vision and deadening sounds. The engines rumbled into life again, and the captain proceeded with more caution now, keeping a close eye on the radar screen. He spotted the approaching sailboat several minutes before it loomed out of the fog a few hundred yards off the port bow. Another ten minutes farther out into open water the captain stopped the engines again to listen, but still there were no sounds of whales in the area.
W started slowly back on a course to Port McNeill, and at this point we all thought that it would turn out to be a nice, but expensive boat ride. Fifteen minutes later we spotted the surfacing and spouting of a pod of orcas, and eased over slowly to meet them. The captain stayed the required 100 meters away, and we wallowed along slowly beside them for the better part of an hour. Individual pods of orcas are led by an elder female. Babies born into that pod stay with their mothers for life. Although males will swim with other pods long enough to find a mate and procreate, they always come back to mother. This particular pod was unusual. Several years ago a dying mother orca was found with a severely malnourished baby. The mother died soon after, and rescuers took the baby to be nursed back to health. After more than a year in a large open water pen near the shore the youngster was deemed healthy enough to be released. It soon found a pod to swim with, but wasn’t well tolerated, and soon left. After some time on its own it began to swim with the pod we saw, and was soon adopted into the family. We could see this young whale surfacing along with the others, still not fully grown at age nine.
We got a special treat when one orca swam leisurely under the boat, just a few feet below the surface. We cruised with them for at least an hour before coming back to Port McNeill.
We drove back to Port Hardy where we said goodbye to Jerry, Ruth, John, and Sheila. They headed off to the airport to catch the small plane to Vancouver, where they would stay overnight before their Monday morning flight back to Richmond.
There were festivities that afternoon and evening as people from miles around came into town to celebrate FILOMI Days. FIshing, LOgging, and MIning are the three industries that support the Port Hardy Economy. There was over-amplified rock and country music coming from a portable bandstand that had been parked at the curb next to the waterfront park, a small array of the midway arcade booths you can find at any county fair, face painting for the kids, and an unusual attraction consisting of a twenty-by-twenty foot inflatable pool filled with water and three very large inflatable transparent plastic balls. Kids would climb inside a ball which was then inflated, zipped, and velcroed, then rolled onto the surface of the pond. Big crowds watched with great amusement and the kids tried to stand and walk or run, but mostly fell down inside the floating balls. The crowds began to pack up and head for home when the sun set about 9:00 p.m. and we headed back to the motel.

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