What does your ‘office’ look like?
Our Cetacea Lab office is built on stilts over water on the rocky shoreline of a small bay on Gil Island, British Columbia. There are more windows than walls and they give us a beautiful 180-degree view of the ocean to the south, east and west. The room is filled with iden tification dorsal and fluke photos of orca, humpback and fin whales. We have two desks with computers: one is used to monitor four hydrophones by means of spectrograms, the other for data entry. Radio receivers and speakers on a large cedar shelf enable us to listen to the rest of the hydrophone stations. A sliding door leads onto a deck, on which two spotting scopes are set up to look for whales. The view from the deck is of the ocean and coastal mountains.
Describe the first time you saw an orca in the wild.
I was in a kayak, paddling for the first time, when a pod of orcas passed directly underneath us. They were so close we could make out their black and white markings as they glided by. My first thought was how graceful and gentle these creatures of the sea are. I didn’t feel afraid, even though they were much larger than the kayak I sat in – just present and aware that in this moment my life had completely changed.
You’ve been listening to whales for more than 10 years. Do you feel like you’re learning a new language?
I feel like I’m learning many new languages, each one unique to each species of whale and to each season. Whales communicate in a way that humans may never truly understand and I love that this mystery still surrounds their behaviour. I know that if we want to even come close to understanding this language, we will need to think way, way ‘out of the box’.
What does the SOSF–Cetacea Lab partnership mean for you and your work?
The SOSF supports the work of Cetacea Lab in an extremely remote location along the north coast of British Columbia, which has given tremendous insight into the habitat use of orca, humpback and fin whales. This data will help us in our goal to have this area designated a marine protected area for whales and for this we are proud of, and grateful for, our partnership with the SOSF.
What achievement in the history of the Cetacea Lab are you exceptionally proud to have been a part of?
We are extremely proud of our relationship with the First Nations and how we have inspired their interest in playing a role in whale research and as guardians within their own territory. This complements our role of bringing to the attention of the world the importance of this area for whales – and all the other inhabitants of the Great Bear Rainforest.
Janie and Hermann are working for the protection of Orcas and Humpback Whales in the Great Bear Rainforest by tuning into underwater hydrophones and deciphering the secret language of these majestic animals.