A Novel Expedition Amid COVIDImages and content by Bluewater Naturalist, Sherry Kirkvold
It was a poignant moment as our trip came to an end. When we usually hug and say our goodbyes, we all stood in a spread-out circle and cupped our arms in a group air hug.
This group signed on for the only regular trip that took place this season and was the result of careful planning for a Covid protocol plan. It required the wearing of masks while inside the vessel and at times when physical distancing couldn’t take place. It required a different type of food service, additional cleaning procedures, and a different method of washing dishes. It required the daily recording of temperatures. But these seemed like minor events when placed in the context of what was an amazing trip.
With many First Nations asking that tourism operators stay away during the pandemic, Northern Vancouver Island was an area where we were able to operate. And so nine guests and four crew arrived in Port McNeil. I donned full facial protection and met everyone at the dock where temperatures were taken and health forms filled out. With everyone wearing masks, I didn’t even realize that I had travelled with four of our group on previous trips.
We boarded Island Solitude and after our various orientations, cast off the lines and headed out on our adventure. It was not long before we tallied five different marine mammals to our list of sightings! We had a fairly wet and foggy beginning, but were treated to better weather as we went along.
We made various excursions by kayak or zodiac as we explored low tide and small island groups. We had a variety of hikes ranging from easy strolls to longer more challenging walks in beautiful forests. A highlight was visiting the village site of Mimkwamlis and while walking among the remains of an an ancient bighouse, watched a grizzly bear swimming between the small adjacent islands!
The marine mammals were really the stars of this trip. We were fortunate to see a group of Bigg’s killer whales on a couple of occasions, swimming among sea lions who were gulping down fat chum salmon. Humpback whales at times seemed to be everywhere, and two even dove right under our ship and surfaced on the other side. We also saw several break free of the surface in a behaviour known as breaching. A sea otter was spotted bobbing in a kelp forest, and we had some brief sightings of Dall’s and harbour porpoises.
But it was the Pacific white-sided dolphins that really gave us a thrill. There were what seemed like hundreds of them dashing about and leaping high in the air. Then, along with some humpback whales and sea lions, they dazzled us beneath a beautiful rainbow!
We have these very special memories shared in a time that is different than anything we have experienced before and yet the natural world seemed so unaffected. And so when we couldn’t hold each other in an embrace, our circle hug was our acknowledgement of our special time together in a very special place.
(Whales, Totems & Grizzlies 2020)