A group of kayakers (left) get up close and personal with a humpback whale in the Johnstone Strait.

Humpin’ it in the strait

I’ll say up front I am not a God-fearing man, but if communing with nature is a religious experience, then Capt. Wayne Garton and his knowledgeable crew aboard the 60-ft. Lukwa whale watching vessel just blessed me and a boatful of others in the world’s largest cathedral.

I’ll say up front I am not a God-fearing man, but if communing with nature is a religious experience, then Capt. Wayne Garton and his knowledgeable crew aboard the 60-ft. Lukwa whale watching vessel just blessed me and a boatful of  others in the world’s largest cathedral.

The wildlife in our part of the Johnstone Strait is vastly plentiful and there’s something truly spiritual about being in close proximity to animals usually only seen on television wildlife specials.

In fact, we got so near a couple of humpback whales last week we smelled something decidedly unholy — the fetid air they jettisoned through their blowholes. Still, it was a brief discomfort and  I was so taken with the entire experience it’s something that will be on the agenda for every friend who visits me.

The day however, did not start with any special promise. The skies were gray and overcast and later on I got soaked by the “Vancouver Island mist,” as my traveling companion Carrie called it.

It was, however, calm as we pulled out of the Telegraph Cove marina and wee fish could be seen leaping from the water and skipping like stones across the velvety surface, no doubt fleeing from some unseen predator below.

The morning fog was heavy and hung so low on the ocean we could see no more than maybe a half-kilometre in any direction. The captain said it would clear, and it did.

Garton, a retired Mountie with 30-years under his Sam Browne — mostly with the RCMP’s marine service —  is a self-described  “people person” and is definitely the right man for the job of taking tourists to view the abundant wildlife in our part of the Johnstone Strait.

“I love it,” he said of the seasonal gig with Stubbs Island Whale Watching.

“But it’s pretty hard to call it a job some days.”

In addition to piloting the Lukwa — “a place in the forest” from the Kwakwala language — Garton keeps a sharp eye peeled for whales, birds and other things of interest during the three an-a-half, to four-hour cruises.

Using a PA system, passengers will quickly go to port or starboard, depending on Garton’s instructions.

We didn’t spot any orcas during our trip, but did see plenty of Dall’s porpoise, Steller sea lions, and some bald eagles in their nests, to the delight of some birders aboard. Being so close to three separate humpbacks was spectacular, especially considering the leviathans were nearly hunted to extinction.

“I started here 15 years ago and you’d never see a humpback because they  were hunted out in local waters,” said Garton, who noted the whales are identified by their tails; the colouring, and any nicks or other marks. “It’s just in the last nine years or so that they’ve been coming back and we identified 54 separate humpbacks last year.”

There is so much more, but I’m outta space. Visit Stubbs’ excellent website at http://www.stubbs-island.com, then book your passage.

Have and idea for a day trip in this space? Please call 250-949-6225, or email editor@northislandgazette.com.


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