Day Four of my Grizzly Bear Safari Adventure in the “Knight Inlet” area of beautiful British Columbia, and today it was my turn to join my Aussie companions David and Valda, and guide George on a journey west of Sailcone Lodge on Minstrel Island, bound for a stretch of water known as “Blackfish Sound”.
With the usual scrumptious and filling “continental breakfast on steroids” taken care of, it was time to head down to the dock once again (see below), to meet our guide George, and to learn about what we could expect to be seeing throughout the day’s excursion. To my excitement, George rattled off a number of animal species including black bear, orca (killer whales), humpback whales, minke whales and white-sided pacific dolphins.
“Tick just two of those boxes and I’ll be a happy little Vegemite,” I thought to myself.
So, off we sped into the blue yonder under partially cloudy blue skies, full of high expectations. The idea for the day was to keep your eyes fixed on the water and towards the horizon in the hope of catching a “blow” from a whale that we could then go after.
Despite our incredible encounters on Thursday with a number of grizzly bears up at Glendale Cove, I was still interested in seeing as many bear as I could, so while David, Valda and George kept an eye on the water, I kept a close eye on the shorelines of the surrounding islands as we buzzed by.
Sure enough, before too long, I caught the unmistakable dark shape of a large black bear plodding around on a beach, rolling rocks in much the same fashion as Roll and Peanut were a couple of days ago.
Ueli, Katja, Rob and their guide Cam (Sailcone Lodge’s owner’s son) soon arrived on the scene noticing that we had diverted course and cut our engine’s close to shore. As you can see in the photo below, Ueli was also pretty stoked with the photographic opportunity that we had stumbled upon.
Moving on, we eventually arrived at what appeared to be the salmon fishing grounds given the sheer amount of fishing boats in the area. It just so happened that the same stretch of water was also the famed “Blackfish Sound” named after orca, or killer whales, which the native Kwakwaka’wakw coined “Blackfish”. I say “famed” as Blackfish Sound is considered to be home to the largest resident orca population in the world.
With that in mind, the prospect of chancing across a pod of orca was hopefully going to be pretty good. While the Aussie tourists eyes weren’t sharp enough to make the first sighting, George well and truly stepped up to the plate spying a number of orca making their way east through the gaggle of fishing vessels. All we had to do was pretty much drift in the water where we sat and the pod which looked to be about 10 strong, approached and passed us.
Orca cruise at a pretty impressive speed, so we needed to make a move in order to keep up with them at a safe distance to their side. They’re kind of hard to photograph considering the somewhat unpredictable nature of their movements, but I was patient enough to stick with them and finally snap a group shot with one pod member actually surfacing head first executing what is known as a “spy hop”.
While spending a magical hour or so with the pod, the word got out about their location and we were soon joined by a flotilla of small and large site-seeing vessels operated by a number of the local tourist companies operating out of “Knight Inlet” and nearby “Telegraph Cove”.
As the scrum of boats continued to grow around us, George’s focus shifted elsewhere and we zoomed off in the opposite direction from all the action. George, you see, had spotted (and I still for the life of me can’t work out how) the “blow” of a humpback whale off in the distance and he was already timing its dive in anticipation of its return to the surface.
You see, there’s a bit of an art form to viewing humpback whales. They tend to kick around on the surface of the water for a few minutes exposing their backs briefly a handful of times before they arch their back in a more pronounced way in a lead up to lifting their tails and diving for greater depths, usually for 6-8 minutes at a time.
It’s this tail lifting behaviour that all photographers clamber to capture as it’s the best opportunity, apart from the much sort after breaching display, to get a decent shot of these majestic, graceful beasts in action. So I was pretty chuffed when our humpback friend lifted its tail ever so slightly for me one time after about 4 previous “misfires”… enough for me to get close to the shot I was after.
Famished from all our whale chasing fun throughout the morning and in dire need of a bathroom, we made a beeline for a gorgeous little sawmill and cannery community called “Telegraph Cove”.
Stepping back onto dry land and regaining our land legs, we strolled around the marina boardwalk which featured a number of touristy haunts such as coffee and souvenir shops, whale watching tour operator offices and a well presented Whale Interpretive Center.
The following are a number of shots I took while wandering around the quaint little village:
Hopping back into our boats, Cam brought Ueli, Katja & Rob’s boat up alongside ours and we all took some time out to chow down on a pretty outstanding packed lunch supplied by Madelin back at the lodge.
So far for the day we had ticked off black bear, orca and humpback whale, so all we needed to complete the day was some sea lion and seal sightings and perhaps a bald eagle or two on the way back to the lodge. George, always keen to satisfy, pointed the boat in the direction of the tiny “Stubbs Island” and we kept our eyes peeled for sea lion which he was convinced we would find.
Sure enough, a great hulking mass of blubber and fur popped up on our visual radar within minutes of arriving at the island’s edge, and the beast proceeded to scratch, yawn and flop about as we snapped away with our cameras.
With a few more sea lions patrolling the waters around us and a seal or two popping up to say hi, we began retracing our water-based footprints back in the direction of Minstrel Island, stopping briefly here and there to view a number of bald eagles and also to view some old rock paintings (see below).
Back at Sailcone Lodge, Clint was on hand to help tie up our boat and give David and Valda a hand exiting onto the dock. Cam, Ueli, Katja & Rob followed shortly behind and we all soon made our way back up to the lodge swapping stories about the amazing sights we had seen throughout the day up in, and around Blackfish Sound.
With the Dutch crew returning from their exciting day up at Glendale Cove, we all came together in the dining room ready to enjoy another of Madelin’s home-cooked masterpiece’s and to dissect the day’s activities and observations.
On the menu tonight, a chicken and broccoli salad, prawn curry with wild rice and steamed vegetables, rounded off with Madelin’s trump card – tri-sorbet profiteroles. As evidenced by the last couple of photos in this entry’s series, I made short work of the dessert and only stopped short of licking my plate clean. That, after all, just wouldn’t be good manners now, would it.
Tomorrow, it’s day five – the last day of this thoroughly enjoyable Grizzly Bear Safari. We’re off to Glendale Cove again for a second day of grizzly viewing (fingers crossed), and then it’ll be back to Campbell River by float plane. Should be fun!