Monday, June 23, 2008

Watching the Whale Watchers

Hey folks! Part of the reason there was no official paddle this weekend was that Bernie and I volunteered with Straitwatch on Saturday.
This is an organization that collects data for the federal government on the whale watching so popular in this area. Bernie and I met Kathy at 8:30 am and got back to shore at 5:40 pm.
Kathy gave us an orientation spiel and then fired up their 18-foot Zodiac. We zoomed over to Discovery Island and hung out for a while, listening to radio reports.
When her counterparts at Soundwatch (the Puget Sound organization that collects data also) reported whale sightings near San Juan Island, we headed off in that direction. It turned out to be more than one whale, or pod. The superpod of J, K and L pods had gotten together for a big family barbecue equivalent. There were eighty to ninety whales, according to Kathy, and we saw several groups of three or more. Some even approached the Zodiac to within 50 metres!
All day, we enjoyed seeing whales and some seals near San Juan Island and Lopez Island. There were usually eight to twelve small vessels nearby, watching whales, and most of the time the international rules about Not Approaching Whales were observed. Good!
I enjoyed seeing unfamiliar beaches, and the opposite side of a very familiar two-humped hill on San Juan Island. The islands looked like the ones we paddle among in Canadian waters... makes me remember that border is an intellectual line, not a physical one. We hadn't expected to cross the border, but the day went well and a good time was had by all as Bernie and I figured out what we were supposed to be doing as volunteers. Bernie did most of the data recording; I mostly grinned and had a good time. It was like having a personal whale watching tour!
The most confusing moment of all was when a small steel-coloured boat came by, flying an American flag. "That's Homeland Security," said Kathy. We tried not to look like terrorists... but I'm not really sure what they were looking for. Frankly, if whale watching or gathering data on whale watchers is making Homeland Security suspicious, well, we've all got to have some more communication that eases those suspicions.
It took an hour of high-speed travel -- much faster than a kayak, the Zodiac has two four-stroke engines that howled their way through over 80 litres of fuel -- to get us back to the Oak Bay Marina. Bernie and I saw a hummingbird, and hopped on a bus, then transfered to the bus to the Beach House. Next time we'll bike instead of bussing to the Marina for a great day on the water.
Note to self: sunscreen doesn't stop windburn when roaring along in a Zodiac. Still, no regrets.

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