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The Grizzly Details of Blackfish Sound

We titled our last blog post “Bearly Believeable” because after our incredible wildlife experiences we thought we had seen the magic of Blackfish Sound and Johnstone Strait. However, the last couple of days we have been able to explore places, like the Broughton Islands Archipelago Marine Park, and our journey still isn’t quite believable. We found new peaceful anchorages for our evenings where we watched the moon rise over the beautiful coniferous trees that blanket the shoreline and witnessed the progression of fog burn off in the morning at Waddington Cove. Our end destination was Telegraph Cove, not too far away, making our decision to take the long way around and spend another night at anchor, easy. We explored the inlets and sounds of the marine park with one thing on our mind, grizzly bears.

We headed up Thompson Sound, knowing that six miles in, there was a glacial river and marsh- a likely spot to find bears. However, it only took us one mile up Thompson Sound for Captain Kevin to yell, “GRIZZLY”. Off the starboard side, in a hidden marshy cove, there was a grizzly bear cub. Everyone onboard, knowing how protective mother bears are with cubs, knew mom had to be around somewhere but didn’t know where. We scanned and had another grizzly come into view. It was a second cub! For two crew members, this was their first time seeing grizzly bears and when we found the two cubs, everyone was speechless. These cubs looked to be from last year and we watched as they flipped over rocks and munched on the found treasures. It was a beautifully silent moment. No engine, only whispered shrieks of excitement, distant harbor porpoise breaths; so silent we could hear the bears chewing. Seeing wildlife is one thing, but to hear the animals as well is a lucky experience. Finally, the mother bear came into view and we watched peacefully, enjoying the precious cubs investigating under rocks, seeing similarities to what kids do when tide pooling except less eating, hopefully.

But that’s not all…all of a sudden a black bear comes out of the tree line and is startled by the grizzlies. The cubs, feeling all tough and mighty from their sea urchin breakfast, stand up on hind legs, give a couple hardy huffs, and the black bear gets a hop to its step and heads down the other side of the beach. All four bears continue to flip over rocks and check out what’s on the menu. At one point we had a harbor porpoise, black bear, and three grizzly bears all in our binocular views. This moment illustrates how exceptional the British Columbia coastline truly is. A place where open ocean meets mountains and you witness the convergence of wildly different ecosystems. It creates moments where you watch the seemingly effortless soaring of forked tailed storm petrels under snow capped mountain peaks and capture bears and cetaceans in the same frame.

Finally on the move to Telegraph Cove, we headed through Blackfish Sound for a second time. After our last spectacular experience, we were hopeful for more good wildlife on the way. Blackfish Sound, once again, did not disappoint. For over an hour, engine off, letting the current float us in the sound, we saw humpback after humpback. You could see and hear them feeding and traveling on all sides of the boat. There was a lot of exciting activity: lunge feeding, caudal peduncle throws, trumpet blows, breaching, and we couldn’t stop watching. But eventually, with word of Northern Residents orcas close by, we left Blackfish Sound and headed back into Johnstone Strait. From a distance we spotted the orcas and watched as they traveled our way. As they approached, we lowered our hydrophone into the water and were blown away by all that we heard. Our speaker rang out with clicks and whistles, as they communicated to one another and looked for prey. But we had a schedule the whales had already delayed by hours, so after some quality time we had to say farewell to the orcas and get into the dock at Telegraph Cove.

We were able to meet with Jim and Mary, two integral people involved with The Whale Interpretive Center, educating and informing the public about the marine mammals found in this area. Their museum is newly re-finished, with a wonderful cedar smell to the new wooden building right on the waterfront. They have amazing skeleton displays of fin whales, drawn family lineages of the Northern Resident community and examples of ways to get involved in protecting this area. We spent some time nerding out in the museum and walking around Telegraph Cove. While at the museum simply looking out over the water, a huge male orca fin emerged; the Northern Residents were back. They headed into Beaver Cove, trapping the salmon at the end, making for some amazing photographic opportunities. The Pacific White Sided dolphins were once again, frolicking all over the orcas. Needless to say, our visit in Telegraph Cove was memorable. The people we met, the interviews filmed, and the wildlife seen makes this place one of a kind.

Wishing we had more time here, but we are headed to Port McNeill for a couple days of interviews, meetings, and a crew swap out. We are sad Jesse “Chester’s” time onboard is coming to an end. She has been so great to spend some time with and has made us laugh so hard we have all ended in tears. Chester will be missed but her support for the film from California will be much appreciated. We will be gaining two new crew members for the next portion of the trip! Hayes will be joining us as the main film and camera person onboard. With an extensive amount of film-making and photography experience, we are all excited to start more of the filming aspect involved in this trip. Also joining us is Alyssa, past Deep Green Wilderness student and another whale nerd! We are lucky to have another set of eyes on the water and an increasing amount of excitement for wildlife and sailing. After we get everyone onboard and stock up on food and fuel, we will be back to the northbound compass bearing.

Next stop: Haida Gwaii

Tally Update:

Whales Sighted: 85 Pacific White Sided dolphins, 80 Humpbacks, 55 Resident Orcas, 45 Dall’s Porpoises, 1 Minke

Times T-Rex has sun meditated: 4

Pieces of technology that has not worked right for Captain Kevin: 11

Times E-rob has cried laughing at/with Chester: 7

People who have heard of North Pacific right whales: 5

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