With over 300 cetacean sightings logged in the past four years, Susan MacKay isn’t just a regular coastal citizen. Instead, she admits to having a bit of a ‘whale habit’, where she spends her summer aboard her boat Saltwash and her winter peering out into Malaspina Strait from her home above the water for a familiar splash or blow. Each cetacean she sees, she records.
As one of the BC Cetacean Sightings Network’s 2000 plus observers, Susan’s sightings are used in over a dozen projects each year- everything from species recovery planning to environmental impact assessments. The observers are a crucial part in collecting data on British Columbia’s whales, dolphins, porpoises and sea turtles that can be difficult to obtain otherwise. BCCSN observers come from all walks of life: professional mariners, avid sailors, keen beachcombers and others who happen to be lucky enough to spot a cetacean or sea turtle along B.C.’s vast coast.
Susan’s personal interest in cetaceans started at a young age, when the boat she traveled on to Canada encountered a large group of Atlantic white-sided dolphins that rode the bow of the vessel. Now on the Pacific, she sees a variety of species near her home on the northern Sunshine Coast. “Harbour porpoises, Dall’s, Lags (Pacific white-sided dolphins), Orca and Humpbacks. Anything else is very rare” she describes. Although other species in Malapsina Strait aren’t very common, while cruising the coast aboard the Saltwash Susan has had some incredible encounters with a variety of other species. She describes one of her more idyllic sightings as “Fin whale blows sounding like steam trains moving slowly, breaking the silence in the early morning as they passed our anchored boat while we sat with coffees in hand on the bow.” Others were likely adrenaline inducing such as the time “A minke sped past us in a narrow shallow channel as it was being chased by Orca!” Of course, with so many amazing experiences watching whales, it can be hard to pick a favorite, but Susan admits “dolphins always make me smile.”
Like many observers, Susan is happy to help the BCCSN project. “Apart from my own interest in cetaceans I trust that the information is of use to track changes and individual animals” she explains. Susan now encourages others to get involved in the BCCSN project as well, even jotting down reports she hears about through friends and neighbors.
Anyone can be an observer like Susan, if you are interested, get involved! If you see a cetacean or sea turtle, please report your sighting here or call 1.866.I.SAW.ONE. If you, like Susan, see wild cetaceans often, and live, work or play on the water frequently, the Sightings Network will provide you with a logbook free of charge. Get involved with this program by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org