Trans Can HWY #13: Nothing but clear skies and killer whales

Two years ago this past August, my mother and I ventured on a cross country trek in my brother’s Jeep across Canada. We drove west from southwestern Ontario to Vancouver, BC over the course of two weeks, and then down to northern California to meet up with the men in our family. The following are taken from emails I wrote to family and friends.

Day 13: Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hello chaps, today was a day of riding some waves on an old fishing boat and then on a grand ferry to Nanaimo, Vancouver Island.

DSCF3822Got up at 0600 and drove south to Steveston for the Seabreeze Adventure. Within minutes we were being introduced to a single, stranded California Sea Lion. They come up to Vancouver for the salmon (I think I’m getting this right), but somehow he got left behind. He’s still healthy and feeding himself as he hasn’t lost weight. I noticed a circular branding mark on his side and asked Tasslyn, our amazing guide, what was up, and she said that he probably got branded as being a problem seal. Meaning that once a seal has been caught more than once stealing fisherman’s catch , etc., then they mark them, so that the next time they’re caught, they are put down. I think this is horrible and had no clue it went on.

DSCF3828Next up were some harbour seals. Apparently there are upwards of 40,000 of them all along the coast from Seattle to Vancouver. They were quite fat and cute as most seals are… even elephant seals in their own, strange way.

Drove out for an hour to reach San Juan Island where there had been sightings of one of three pods of orcas native to the area, J Pod. Lo and behold, there were about a dozen of them, intermittently coming up to the surface in pairings or groups of three. This past Monday a momma whale in J pod had a baby, and as luck would have it, we got to follow alongside the pod with the mother, another IMG_3674relative, and the six day old baby. Apparently, this is quite rare to see. Yay. Moms was helping the little guy surface. We were watching them for at least 30 minutes, maybe more, rising to the surface, “spyhopping” (when they come straight up, nose first), pectoral fin splashing, and even raising their flukes out of the water. ‘Twas a gay ol’ time. We also learned, that this particular pod has four generations in it, and that the grandmother (killer whales are matriarchal) is 100 years old – possibly the oldest orca in the world. Theories for reaching such a great age are that their diet is exemplary, they eat, darn, either Chinook or Coho salmon, which are high in omegas, and they live in a pretty non-stressful environment.

IMG_3653I sadly learned that when aquariums started popping up all over the continent, from 1964 to 1975 people from said aquariums would come up to steal an orca or two for their tanks. One lone orca, Lolita – the oldest in captivity, resides at the Miami Seaquarium. Apparently, the aquarium is so small that when she puts her head out of the water, her tail touches the bottom of the tank. So sad. Back in 1995, someone who discovered her mother was still in the Vancouver waters recorded her voice/speech and brought it to Lolita, and she apparently was spyhopping in recognition to her mother’s words. It breaks my heart.

DSCF3887Random orca tidbits: their teeth are up to three inches long, they swallow their fish heads first (so the spines and barbs don’t get caught in their throats), males’ dorsal fins can be up to six feet long, and males can be up to three metres long. Orca’s brains are four times the size of ours and are highly intelligent and creative and depending on their food source they have a unique way of obtaining that source. Sometimes “transient” orcas come into the waters of the local whales and their behaviour is noticeably different. They’re very stealthy and stick to the shore, they don’t communicate with one another and this is all because they need to be quiet to catch their smarter prey. Whereas the locals talk freely, splash about, and do their thang, because the salmon, their food source, are quite dumb and are easy to catch. Also, next to humans, orcas are the second most distributed species across the planet – from the Arctic to the Antarctic.


waiting to board a ferry

On our way back we had to contend with some 8-ft swells. Thank the heavens mom gave me a gravol to take prior to boarding our vessel. Sunburned and tired, we had some fish & chips and made our way north up to Horseshoe Bay to catch a ferry to Vancouver Island. An hour and forty minutes later, we made it to Nanaimo, had some dins and are calling it a day. Tomorrow we expect to reach the beginning of the Trans Canada Highway.


Peace and love.

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