I roll out of bed, grab my boots and reach for my camera. Two steps to the sliding door and then I am on the deck and suddenly very awake. A north-west wind chills me to the bone, but there is no time to go back for a sweater. Five humpback whales are surfacing together, only metres from shore. There is just enough light to take photos as they dive, massive tails lifted to the sky. They are gone as quickly as they appeared.
This is the start to another day at the Wall Islets, a cluster of tiny islands in the middle of Caamano Sound off the north coast of British Columbia: our own Galapagos of the Great Whale Sea. Today I am the only human on this island; even the larger islands in the distance are uninhabited and rarely visited by people.
In place of phones or the Internet, there is the sound of the ocean reaching for the shore. Through millennia the waves have smoothed the edges of this one big granite boulder that makes up the body of the islet. Just beyond the shoreline kelp beds trail dark golden fronds against the ebbing tide. Above me an eagle’s nest sits empty near the top of an ancient cedar tree. Leaves drip with dew that shines with life as the first rays of morning light start the day. I turn back into the cabin to get the coffee going.
This small shelter perched on a cliff overlooking the sea is one of the research outposts built by the North Coast Cetacean Society (NCCS), a non-profit organisation dedicated to whale research and conservation. NCCS operates a main facility at CetaceaLab on Gil Island, at the mouth of Douglas Channel. We built this outpost to study the movement of orca and humpback whales that spend time here from May until late October. Years ago we had installed a hydrophone – an underwater microphone – in this isolated location to determine if we could record any presence of whales. We were in for the shock of our lives!
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.