There really is nothing comparable to the sound of a whale exhaling only 5 meters away from you. Perhaps to the whale, it’s any old sigh, but to those of us braving the elements to catch a glimpse, it’s a welcome alarm. As soon as you hear it, your eyes start to scan, separating waves and gulls to find the sleek body of a marine giant. Clutching the metal railing for balance as your ship pitches in the waves, you turn your head left, right, trying to lock your eyes on the impossibly massive body slinking below the waves. “I was excited and nervous at the same time,” says Nadine, an iCA youth group participant. “It was amazing to watch the whales move. It was such a great experience.”
On a foggy day in October, our youth group gathered at Fisherman’s Wharf, bundled and masked up for an adventure on the high seas. For the majority of youth, this was their first experience whale watching. The trip was graciously organized by Rick Searle, of the Greater Victoria Naturehood, and Eagle Wing Tours. The trip celebrated the return of the Bufflehead, a black and white migratory seabird with an uncanny knack for being punctual – arriving consistently to the Coast on the 297th day of the solar year on Oct. 15th from interior British Columbia.
Despite celebrating the Bufflehead’s adherence to routine, this trip was a welcome change of pace for our youth to do something out of the ordinary. “I feel like we are like a family. Being on the trip and seeing friends again to see these ocean animals is really refreshing for my spirit,” says Jerry, another participant. “It’s really calming and healing for those of us stuck at home.”
Our tour took us to the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve, south of Metchosin, where a small rocky outcrop is home to a lighthouse and hundreds of seals, sealions and sea birds. Our group was lucky to catch 5 Humpback whales feeding in the area, with one coming right up behind our boat to dive underneath and surface beside us. In the last hundred years, Humpback whales were rarely seen in the Salish Seas due to whaling efforts at the turn of the century. However, in 2008, the whales appeared to be returning in strong numbers, bringing more with them each year.
Getting to share these experiences with our youth is an incredible opportunity to learn, for staff and youth alike. Our group enjoyed teaching one another words and phrases in our home languages to help point out interesting sights along the way – with “Look over there!” and “Whale, whale, whale!” in Arabic being particularly useful to our group. Getting to appreciate something bigger than yourself is a great way to put things in perspective, particularly during these tumultuous times. For our youth, it was a welcome chance to celebrate their ICA community and learn about their marine neighbours.