Kayak right in
After arriving in Vancouver and transferring to Nanaimo to overnight at Painted Turtle Backpackers, we make our way to Telegraph Cove, an historic fishing village and the heart of Vancouver Island’s whale watching industry. We learn from local naturalists and researchers as we head out on whale watching boats to observe orcas, humpbacks and other marine mammals up close. We are now official naturalists-in-training and must act accordingly. Find your way to the Whale Interpretive Center (WIC) in Telegraph Cove to do meaningful conservation work that will ultimately help increase public awareness of the needs of these incredible creatures and protect their habitats for years to come. If you haven’t participated in bone cleaning or seen the decomposition of a whale specimen as it ultimately becomes a skeleton, get ready. Our newfound knowledge of marine mammals is put to use on a remote island kayak adventure in the Johnstone Strait. Watch for spyhopping orcas. Marvel as your guides lift sea urchins to the surface for you to examine and introduce you to the taste of fresh kelp. Days are spent rattling off species we can now identify with ease.
Canadian nature at its best
Transfer to Campbell River to work with the Quinsam River Fish Hatchery, where we can view multiple species of salmon in their natural habitat or in the hatchery. Stay at the beautiful Elk Falls Campground. We then make our way to Port Alberni, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The surroundings are epic: surging rivers filled with salmon and trout, 360-degree mountain views and rainforests that are home to some of Canada’s tallest trees. Take a day to yourself and take it all in. You could easily spend weeks here. We overnight at the funky Fat Salmon Backpackers, just a five-minute walk from the city’s bustling Harbor Quay. Day 10 is a wet one as we whitewater raft down the thrilling Nipkish River.
Formal studies of marine mammals in an informal way
Settle in at the Salmon Coast Field Station. Here we begin our formal studies of marine mammals with resident faculty and researchers. In the classroom and labs, we learn about oceanography and the ecology of the whales, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins and seals found on Canada’s Pacific coast. In the field and on the water, we witness these magnificent creatures up close alongside marine mammal scientists, getting familiar with the equipment and methods that these researchers use. We conduct our own field studies, learning the significance of each species within the ecosystems they inhabit. Conduct plankton tows in Broughton Archipelago, comb tide pools, gather data and run marine mammal surveys aboard the Buffer Zone Too. All this hands-on work leads to a deep understanding of these local marine mammal populations.
Spot whales in the open sea and find the conservationist in you
Set off on a challenging sea kayaking expedition to one of the world’s most untouched settings, the rugged Deer Island Group in Barkley Sound. By day, survey the natural history, biology, behavior and threats to the marine mammals that converge in this area. Camp on remote islands at night. Everything you’ve learned about marine mammals comes to life as we spot curious seals, keeping our eyes peeled for breaching whales, schools of Pacific white-sided dolphins, and humpbacks. These final days are centered on helping us carry home the philosophy that it’s possible to study the wild without interfering with it. It’s a philosophy we carry with us long after the trip ends.