These last couple days we have been able to check off a lot of "firsts" for the crew onboard. Not only are all the places we are going unfamiliar and unexplored by Orion herself, but also the crew has been able to add new species and populations to their personal lists of wildlife sightings. As new species show up, we are finally starting to realize how far north we have already come and how much farther we still have to go. Stepping away from the highly populated areas in the Salish Sea and getting into the wild, more remote areas of coastal British Columbia, has allowed this journey we've embarked on to settle in a little more. We are seeing ecosystems and wildlife that don't exist in our Washington backyard. Not only are we finally sailing through the places we have studied on the charts but we are also seeing the wildlife we have read about in books. Two crew were able to see their first black bear and that first sighting included a small boat mission to shore to get a better perspective for the camera. That same day we had around thirty Pacific White Sided Dolphins play in Orion's wake and cruise from boat to boat looking for more waves to frolic in. Three crew members had never seen these energetic and speedy dolphins before, and the crew that had, had never had an encounter like this one. We thought the day was over for crossing first wildlife sightings off our lists but then we got to Blackfish Sound.
As mentioned before, Orion has a gathering of whale nerds on board. Collectively we have read upwards of a hundred books on whales and dolphins and have been inspired by researchers and cetacean advocates to get involved in supporting their conservation messages. Most of our exposure to orcas has revolved around the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, the three pods who spend the summer months in the Salish Sea munching on chinook salmon. However, this year has been a little different with the lowest Southern Resident sightings in decades. Thoughts on the future of this population are uncertain, which is hard to accept when you've read thousands of pages about these animals and try to remain hopeful. All of this previous knowledge, hopefulness and inspiration to help the Southern Resident population was transferred into excitement and pacing back and forth on deck when we found out we were less than six miles away from the Northern Resident Killer Whales. We looked at each other, eyes wide, smiles slowly growing, and put Orion into full throttle. Before we knew it we were in Blackfish Sound. Blackfish is another name for orcas, and the Sound is properly named. The next couple hours would leave us speechless. Three groups of A pod successfully fishing, fifty Pacific White Sided Dolphins leaping in and out of the groups of orcas and humpbacks everywhere. We could hear the orcas and dolphins communicating on the hydrophone using clicks and whistles. Seeing the Northern Resident Killer Whales was a first for everyone onboard and no one knew what to do, say, or think while we took in everything Blackfish Sound had to offer. The last few days have been foggy and rainy but we have had time to work on projects and meet with people to talk about North Pacific right whales. We had the opportunity to talk with Jared Towers, whale researcher for DFO Canada and Marine Education and Research Society. Learning about his work studying different whale species in British Columbia and talking with him about different whales we might see on our trip, left us inspired and encouraged about our film efforts. When a rockstar whale researcher gives you hints on where the right whales may be and says he has a feeling we will find one, the haystack doesn't seem so big anymore. Tally update: Whales sighted: 65 Pacific White Sided Dolphins, 60 Humpbacks, 35 Resident Orcas, 30 Dall's Porposies, 1 Minke Pounds of coffee we've gone through: 5 Pounds of coffee still onboard: 12 Number of Stone Cold Steve Austin impersonations done by Leon: 7 Bears sighted: 3 Black Bears Cans of black beans: 25 People who have heard of a North Pacific Right Whale: 3