WRITTEN BY DEBRA LYNN
Once upon a time known as a “pulp mill town,” Port Alice has developed renown for being a great place for whale watching.
However long the whales have been frequenting Neurotsos Inlet, it seems that, lately, they are certainly making a big show of it. Villagers are talking a lot about the whales.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence—if you find yourself walking through town near a group of people—that you will hear someone say, “Hey, look! Whales!”
Faces will then turn and fingers will point to the inlet to see spouts and sprays shooting from the surface of the water, indicating one or several of the massive creatures just below.
This is exactly what happened during Port Alice’s Walk and Talk to update the village’s Official Community Plan (OCP) and Zoning Bylaw back on Sept. 6.
As the group of 13 people walked along Marine Drive, they stopped to “ooooh” and “ahhhh” as the whales gave the focus group their two-cents worth.
For some people in the village, the whales have become delightful “noisy neighbours.”
Vince and Dayna Devlin, a forestry family that lives at Jeune Landing close to the shore of the inlet, can hear and/or see them every morning. The whales also make an appearance at Quatsino Log Sort—Vince Devlin’s place of work—daily. He believes they like to hang around between Jeune Landing and the Log Sort, but not as much toward the end of the inlet.
Devlin says that though he can’t ascertain if there are more whales in the inlet, he is seeing them more often.
He noticed an increase in sightings about three or four years ago (about three years after the mill closure that happened in 2015) when they were “breaching all the time.” He says that he and his fellow workers saw them “play more then,” adding, “but I see them just coming cruising past more this year.”
Gail Neely, who has lived in Port Alice for 50 years, has noticed an increase in whale activity about seven years ago when she got involved in the MERS (Marine Education and Research Society) whales survey, which coincides with the time of the mill closure.
Brenda Stevenson and her sisters, who arrived in Port Alice in 2017, can watch the whales from their kitchen window, even though they live a good distance up the hill in the Strata 2 condominiums.
Stevenson states that seeing the whales is “just very joyous. It just makes your heart sing. It just makes you feel good. We come from the prairies: we see squirrels, we see deer, we see moose, lots of eagles, but you don’t see anything like that.”
Regan Hickling, owner of Rumble Beach Charters, has seen three species of whales in a single day. Approximately three years ago he came across grey whales migrating steadily for four or five hours while he was boating five or six miles offshore with a friend. They also came across some humpback whales and, later, Hickling saw an orca in front of his house.
Rod Kitchen, a former east coast fisherman who moved to Port Alice last June, has “only been on the water once without seeing a whale.” When he’s trolling in his boat, the whales will follow him.
Jackie Hildering, marine researcher and co-founder and director of MERS who goes by the moniker, “the Marine Detective,” says that there is no way to determine if the return of humpbacks to the Port Alice area is related to the mill or not. She says there’s an increase generally along the coast.
Hildering adds that the whales are not territorial, that they just have strong site fidelity to where they have learned to feed. “They generally come back to the same places to breed [warm water] and feed [cold water] year after year. This is what any good fisherman or fisherwoman would do.”
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