On the west coast of Canada is an island about the size of England, Vancouver Island. Like Canada in general, its population resides mainly in the southern part. If you zoom closer you notice this island is not alone, but surrounded by lots of islands. Heading north continue zooming, probably using the Google search bar to assist you, is Compton Island in Blackfish Sound is home to Orca Dreams. Its adjacent Johnstone Strait and forms part ofthe Inside passage which leads all the way to Alaska. The island is 1km long. Zoom closer to find white beach pass and on it, white beach, it is home to 5 safari style tents nudged up to the beach, hosting people to experience this slice of paradise. It’s on an Indian Reserve of the Mamalilikulla First Nation and White Beach is a miden formed of discarded shells showing a settlement place for thousands of years.
Monique and I are the help, here to cook, clean, greet and host the ten guests which arrive every three days. Within those ten are fellow travellers from all over the world, of all ages, keen to share stories around the campfire.
We arrived 8 days before before the first group of guests. Enough time to share the bottle of Cuban rum on sunset beach, perfect our table tennis skills and create perfect s’mores.
Our ‘work week’ is a three day trip on repeat, so it starts as it begun on the final day. Our trip arrives on the water taxi from Telegraph Cove around midday and as we wish our departing group an emotional goodbye, we welcome new faces, new names to remember, new memories to create. The new group share in a soup lunch and get to hear JD’s speel on how to store your toiletries and fight off Cougars. Then we walk to humpback point to explore the trails, checking out the shower and open air bathtub on the way to spot wildlife from land. Having found their feet, the group heads out on the trusty Tenzing, named after Tenzing Norgay, Sir Edmund Hillary’s Sherpa as it’s known for being able to carry big loads.
The following two days the group falls into a rhythm of eating and exploring and in between food prep, we also take the opportunity to get on the water and see who is around.
The humpbacks are a reliable favourite, often visible from the beach breathing as they swim back and forth. Occasionally a tail fluke or something a bit more energetic catches your eye and you can share it with the rest of camp by calling out a commentary. Whilst they are always around, you never know what they might be up to. Their various feeding methods have often been the highlights. Sometimes they swim up under a bait ball of herring and lunge out of the water gulping whatever they can grab. Often Dolphins, birds or other animals are feeding on the same prey and it seems a close call that one doesn’t end up inside this mammal which seems to be all mouth. In June and July, the hundreds of Bald Eagles who inhabit the area can be seen lining up for an orderly feeding affair. They use a runway method of one after another to claw at and grasp up to 10 silvery herrings in their claws, sometimes eating mid air, sometimes flying off to perch in a tree to gobble them down.
Trap feeding is a feeding technique only seen locally and the humpback will sit on the surface, mouth open, directing fish into his open jaw using his pectoral fin, eventually gulping when he deems it full enough. Another technique is called bubble netting. This is seen by groups of humpbacks in Alaska but it is a learned behaviour and was noticed a few years ago here by one lone whale. Now there seems to be three practicing the technique of swimming underneath a group of fish blowing a circle of bubbles to groups the herring close together. The whale can then jump through the centre chomping on the tightly grouped fish.
As the summer has gone on we have been getting more and more visits from Orca. There is two species, the fish eaters (known as residents) and the mammal eaters (known as transients or Biggs.) Whilst the residents are usually being hassled by dolphins or Dalls porpoise, the Transients send these guys sprinting off to hide elsewhere. The unmistakable black fin on the horizon excites a great reaction and whilst they can pick up quite a pace, sometimes we encounter them cruising slowly on the surface resting, or more playfully jumping around, foraging or singing. Their cheeky spy hop remains a favourite as they poke the front half of their body up in a bob motion to peek on the surface.
Everything else in this cluster of islands also swims. We’ve had several deer swimming, a black bear leaving the island, paddling to next door Harbledown Island. The mink can also be seen going for a quick dip too. Even the staff occasionally brave the 10 degrees water. The record is a balmy 45 minutes held by Ryan who combines his dip with an impressive sell out Whale performance. Nothing short of competitive, I have made a steady second on the leaderboard at 20 minutes. Impressive enough if you take into account the next closest competitor is clawing at 8 minutes.
The intertidal life makes for interesting watching and the occasional snack. Clams spurt water in jets of all directions, and on an extreme low, several types of sea urchins can be collected. Ray liked to prepare the roe for brave guests to sample, a delicate job of killing and dissecting their beautiful bodies. On land the Canker snakes have been seen by a beady eyed few, their tiny black wire like bodies slithering quickly away.
With our whole world seemingly shrunk into 500 metres we’ve come to enjoy getting to know the residents, big and small and our visitors who come from far and wide to share this paradise.
Orca Dreams is a whale watching safari based on Compton Island in Blackfish Sound. JD and Kelly are Vancouver Island locals who host guests in the experience of a lifetime. Find out more at Orcadreams.com