Garbage collected from the ecological reserve. Credit: Marie Fournier

A couple of weeks ago I made the trip to the North end of Vancouver Island in British Columbia to help out with the annual Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve beach cleanup. Several summers ago, I worked as a warden at the ecological reserve helping to educate boaters about the reserve boundaries, the northern resident killer whales it was established for, and the threats these iconic animals face off our coast.

Since that first summer, I have been blessed with the opportunity to spend several summers in the small community of Alert Bay working as a marine mammal educator with the Cetus Research and Conservation Society (Cetus) — the non-profit which helped to organize the very beach cleanup that brought me to the north island 2 weeks ago. The cleanup was a great success — although we all found it ironic that we were disappointed when we didn't find more garbage — something we should have instead been happy about!

On our travels home we were told that several groups of killer whales were in the area. As the fog cleared and the sun began to shine through the clouds we started to catch glimpses of whale blows hanging in the air. It was one — no, two — humpback whales. Then, further in the distance smaller fins...

After dropping off several members of the cleanup crew at a research facility in Blackney Pass, the Captain decided to stop and put his hydrophone in the water to listen to the whales that were ahead. We heard the beautiful and happy sounds of four groups from the threatened northern resident killer whale population — the A30s, I15s, A8s and A36s (listen to the slide show for a taste of their sounds). But what made the experience more beautiful than anything was the fact that there were no other boats, no tugs, no ships....just whales. Sadly, this is fast becoming a rarity off our coast!

These whales face a myriad of threats ranging from underwater noise and entanglement to toxins, decreased food availability, disturbance from boats and the threat of oil and gas development in BC. Over the past 10 years, the Cetus Society has aimed to protect these whales from these threats through monitoring and education programs. These programs attempt to increase public awareness of the potential consequences of inappropriate whale watching behaviour and the current global and local ecological issues affecting marine wildlife. Sadly, this past summer, the Cetus' societies programs were unable to be out on the water due to a funding cut from our federal government.

The silence was a small comfort to those on-board who have worked for years helping to protect these see that they get a break from the many noises we humans contribute to their underwater world....and a reason not to give up the fight and to continue to work to get Cetus' programs back out on the water next year!

You can help Cetus get back out on the water and help BC's endangered killer whales by donating here:

Message to Canadians: We must fight to protect our oceans and the amazing animals that call them home from the many threats they face — both present and future!
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By Nicole Koshure

Whistler, B.C.

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