As the trip was coming to a close, we remained hopeful that we would find blue whales. We were vigilant in scanning the horizon, doing our best to will the appearance of a tell-tale towering blow. Finally, on the morning of August 13th, I heard the good news. A promising blow had been spotted – we were closing in on a blue whale.
Upon approach, we quickly realized there were two whales. Binoculars and cameras ready, we scanned and snapped away, capturing images detailing the dorsal fins and flanks of these whales – a surprisingly difficult task to undertake in choppy seas even when focusing on the biggest animal to have ever existed on the planet. Upon analysis, it was discovered these two individuals had not been observed in B.C. waters previously. Everyone was excited about adding these new entries into the research catalogue.
As the vessel headed back towards Vancouver Island, my last observation shift concluded with a remarkable event. Consumed with keeping my eye on a nearby group of humpback whales, my ears perked as I heard a belly flop-like slap. My head snapped to where the noise came from and I saw a huge circle-shaped splash, with an enormous ocean sunfish (Mola mola) nearby. My colleague, Christie McMillan, confirmed she had seen it too – something the research crew had joked about throughout the trip – a sunfish had just breached out of the water! It was the perfect example of some of the most amazing, albeit bizarre, events that can be witnessed in offshore waters.
The voyage concluded with an awesome barbeque on the Tully’s outer deck, the crew delighting in stories collected over the past 12 days. A common theme was how fortunate we all felt to have had the opportunity to explore B.C.’s coast and offshore waters.
As I disembarked the vessel early on the morning of August 17th, I started the trek back to my home in Vancouver. While I would return to my role with the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, biologists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada would take the data we carefully collected and start analyzing it, working towards the admirable goal of understanding why these magnificent marine mammals spend time in B.C. waters and how we can ensure they can continue to utilize their oceanic home.
Tessa Danelesko is the coordinator of the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, a research collaboration of the Vancouver Aquarium and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
This summer, Tessa was part of a 15 person research crew, led by federal marine mammal scientist Dr. John Ford, aboard the CCGS John P. Tully. The crew engaged in a marine mammal survey aiming to collect data on species listed as “at-risk” under the Species at Risk Act. This is the last in a series of posts about the voyage.