Glimpses of the World

Everyone knows that the most exotic way to travel is by cruise boat. Imagine waking up in the morning with a beautiful view of the open blue ocean or another country or island you have never seen before!

Among the Orcas: British Columbia

The two-person Atlas team spent 6 days in sea kayaks following "killer whales" through the waves and strong currents in the straits dividing the mainland from little islands of British Columbia, a region of high, snow-capped mountains, deep fjords and ancient forests of red cedar and spruce.

The Johnson Straits is one of the
best places to observe the Orcas.

A break at Sophia Island. Preparations to pass
through Johnson Straits are in progress.

The team at their camp on
Parson Island in the morning.

Paddling in the mist in a medium without
dimension. Land, sky and sea are fused.

 

Just before arrival at the Eagle Bluffs camp. A little later the team will come upon a mysterious woman in a lone kayak in the mist.





On the second day of the journey in the early hours of morning the team in kayaks encountered Orcas as soon as they set off from their camp on Hanson Island.

At the Vancouver Public Aquarium an underwater level window makes it possible to watch the Orcas' movements below the surface. Female Bjossa does the rounds of the pool in Vancouver Aquarium.

 

One of Finna's tricks in the aquarium is swimming in an counter-clockwise direction. Later in his performance at a signal from his trainer he does a few circuits of the pool with only his tail above the surface, swinging it from side to side. With another signal he drops his speed and heaves his body up onto the island separating the 2 pools on which his trainer is standing.





Finna begins his performance at Vancouver Aquarium.

After 25 years in captivity at Sea World California a petition with thousands of signatures secured the release of Corky the "killer whale". The only surviving member of Corky's family who knew him was his mother. The other members had all been born after Corky's capture and had never seen him before. In spite of the many years that had passed his mother recognized him immediately and was overjoyed to see him again. The other family members regarded him as a stranger and his mother was obliged to keep him at a distance for a time. Corky's other major problem was that he had forgotten his hunting skills and a few months passed before he was seen with a fish in his mouth.

Our participation in the Orca Days tour organized by Ecosummer Expeditions(Canada) was the result of a chain of correspondence in reply to an article and advertisement in Sea Kayak magazine.Ecosummer Expeditions organizes professional nature safaris all over the world. These trips can be in all environments, climates and seasons. Whatever your reason for joining an expedition you are making a good choice. No experience is required as long as you can get on a bicycle or walk in the wilds. Whatever you do you are guaranteed an excellent guide. However, people joining the trips usually have previous experience considering only fanatic nature-lovers will spend this kind of money on the trips. The Orca trip, joined by Zafer Kizilkaya and G�khan T�re, is organized 3 times a year. If we were not to see Corky himself we would observe several of his species.

Our destination was the Johnson Straits, a narrow waterway between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia connected to the open sea by the Charlotte Channel. Daily tides and strong coastal winds bring a concentration of food to the area around the Johnson Straits that sea creatures find irresistible. Among the many different living creatures of this habitat are 5 kinds of salmon, otters, sea lions, sea birds, sea eagles, bears, seals and whales. It is one of the best places to observe the Orcas belonging to the north colony. Every year the Orcas follow schools of salmon south and in the course of the journey pair off and mate. From time to time they rest on the pebble beaches.

During our trip we camped at incredibly beautiful spots and paddled through waves and strong currents side by side with these enormous, intelligent, lovable creatures, listening to their underwater language using hydrophones.Our starting point was a small town, Port McNeil, on the north of Vancouver Island, which draws thousands of outdoor sports and nature lovers every year. From here we took a boat to Ksuiladas Island in the Plumper Islands group where our kayak journey was to begin. The kayaks were loaded with our camping equipment including firewood, and donning our life jackets we set off over the calm surface through Waynton Straits and Hanson Island to the open sea. Entering a small by we set up our tents in a forest clearing. In the evening we began to hear the distant "puuff" sounds of a group of Orcas diving and surfacing at 2-4 minute intervals. Throughout the day they patrol the Johnstone Canal hunting schools of salmon. This fatty food provides them with the energy they need for the breeding season. The only light came from the fire. The crackling of the fire and sounds of Orcas continued throughout the night.

Early next morning we reloaded the kayaks and on the point of leaving the shore were greeted with the "puuff" sound. A family of 5 Orcas were passing the mouth of our bay, surfacing and diving in the morning mist. Following the rules we stopped paddling and waited for them to pass. These gentle giants seemed almost apologetic for disturbing us, moving with great care.

Keeping Hanson Island to our left our leader, Steve, radioed through to check that Blackney Straits were clear of other vessels. Giant convoys tug timber to Vancouver through this waterway and visibility may be reduced to 10m in the fog. Our intention was to reach Izumi Rocks across Johnstone Straits, but we were forced to wait on land for the fog to disperse. Occasionally a curious seal would clamber ashore and then turn its attention to a large salmon. A few Orcas passed by in the far distance. Traffic Control gave us the all clear and we set off for Sophia Island through an indefinable, indistinguishable volume of sea, sky and land with only the sounds of our paddles cutting through the calm water and the splashing of giant salmon.

The weather cleared and we paddled non-stop for 4 miles through this deep strait where Orcas have hunted salmon for thousands of years, patrolling the waterway from north to south covering 150 miles a day. We set up camp at a small clearing in the rocks at a point where the Orcas would pass by very closely. An eagle perched on a branch gazed fixedly at Steve cleaning fish. A few schools of Orcas passed by before sunset and in the night we could hear their sounds. Why are these animals which eat nothing but fish called "killer whales?" The only answer I could come up with before drifting into sleep was that the term came from the massacres perpetrated against the Orcas.

In the morning the strength of the wind and rain prevented us from leaving Izumi, so with light provisions and waterproof clothing we made a short excursion following the coastline to Robson Bight, a bay protected as an ecological reserve. Whale observation boats, trekkers, campers and kayakers may not pass beyond a certain point. Violation of the rules incurs a $5,000 fine. Only academics and researchers running government approved projects are permitted. We returned to our camp and dried our clothes by the fire.

The travelers watching the sunset at Weynton Straits.

In the depths of the ancient forest grows a thousand year old spruce whose trunk it takes 8 people with outstretched arms to span.

Black tailed deer on Sarah Island, yearning to cross to the other shore.

This totem belongs to the native Haida people (left). A sea eagle awaiting its share (right).

The "First Human and Creation" sculpture of Bill Reid in the "Dome Department" of the Anthropological Museum. One day a raven finds an oyster on the shore and opens it. Thus begins life in Native American mythology.

The Anthropological Museum, associated with British Columbia University, is dedicated to the first coastal inhabitants of Canada. Objects on display in the museum include several totems belonging to the native tribes of British Columbia and a carved wooden figure decorating the door of a ceremonial house. From the early 1800's many objects have been bought by people posing as archaeologists or anthropologists, stolen and collected. They were subsequently sold to the collections of museums of other countries.

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