For the love of whales 

The lowdown on life as a whale research volunteer

click to flip through (2) PHOTO BY JENN DICKIE - Dive time Humpbacks are frequent visitors to Caamano Sound and their strong family units and acoustic traditions are captivating to researchers and volunteers alike.
  • Photo by Jenn Dickie
  • Dive time Humpbacks are frequent visitors to Caamano Sound and their strong family units and acoustic traditions are captivating to researchers and volunteers alike.

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When not on whale watching duty, volunteers help out making dinner, chopping wood or exploring the beaches. In Dickie's case, that was always with her camera in tow.

"I just about always had my camera and for me, even in my personal time, it was all about spending some time focused on photography. It was relaxing as much as it was work."

But whales were always on the scene in one way or another.

When the volunteers and researchers converged to share a meal at the end of the day, Dickie noted that whale recordings would be playing in the background.

And even in the tents there was a microphone which would play the calls, so if you heard things in the middle of the night, you could hop up and record them, explained Dickie, adding that she has many fond memories of lying in her tent at night, listening to whale blows in the bay.

And if Cetacealab wasn't isolated enough, volunteers could spend time at Ulric Point, an out camp on Aristazabal Island. Dickie describes it as a rustic little shack where she stayed for a week with another volunteer, watching for whales, photographing and recording their behaviour.

As for challenges, as a hardy, experienced wilderness guide, Dickie says she didn't find it difficult to live in a tent for five weeks and even allowed herself the luxury of a pillow, but she did notice some of the other volunteers brought tents which were not suited to the super-saturated rainforest climate.

When asked what she took away from the experience, she admits her passion for the Great Bear Rainforest has only grown stronger as a result.

"For me, the time to be in and around the wildlife of the Great Bear Rainforest is a rewarding thing," she said. "It's different, it's so much richer than most places I've worked and guided — whether it's the whales or the bears or the wolves or even just the inter-tidal life, there's so much life in that area that it's invigorating for me, it reminds you what wilderness really means or what it could look like.

"I live in Squamish and we go down to the river and there's 10 or 12 salmon visible in one little spot and people think that's great. That same section of river on a north coast river might have 10,000 salmon. It's night and day difference of the quantity and the richness of the wildlife.

"I certainly have a lot of love for that area," she continued, "and the threats with Enbridge and the pipeline and the tanker traffic being proposed to come through there is certainly concerning when you have a sense of all the wilderness and wildlife that exist in that area."


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