Johnstone Strait holds more than kayaking with orcas! Our July 29 6-day expedition tour was a banner week on northern Vancouver Island, BC Canada with perfect weather, abundant wildlife, and fantastic guides. Misty mornings melted into brilliant sunshine on glassy-calm waters, with only one rainy night on this temperate rainforest coast. Fleeces were exchanged for short sleeves and sunscreen, and one guest even went for a swim! The lack of wind allowed for extensive paddling opportunities and crystal clear waters.
Within the first hour of paddling, a trio of Dall’s Porpoises (including a very small calf!) delighted our guests, and were spotted fishing just beyond the kelp nearly every day thereafter. Pink salmon leaped continuously and attracted sly harbour seals and gregarious sea lions, as well as a chorus of bald eagles. Rhinocerous auklets and red-necked phalaropes feasted below gulls, and were occasionally interrupted by the great whooshing breath of humpback whales. The group saw numerous humpbacks both from sea kayak and shore, including tail fluking and pectoral fin slaps, a close encounter just 20 meters from their beach-side lunch, and feeding humpbacks visible from camp. Even on land, the wildlife flourished. The group witnessed a small black bear swimming between islands, a mink exploring the seaside brush, black-tailed deer, and a pair of cheeky squirrels racing through camp. Kingfishers swooped from low-hanging branches to snatch up small fish. Between land and sea, the intertidal zone held fascinating anemones, sea stars, sea cucumbers, limpits and barnacles, and large purple urchins, for all of which the guides recited natural history and facts. However, the primary draw for Johnstone Strait, the Northern Resident Orcas, did not disappoint. The group witnessed orcas from a distance almost every day, but was also graced with several closer encounters. Next to Robson Bight, the world’s only orca preserve, a pod breezed by the kelp line just as we started launching our kayaks. Our very surprised guests backed off of the line of travel but were treated to a very close encounter! The preserve wardens took the time to visit the group and congratulate their proper orca conduct. Orcas also swam by one of the group’s campsites twice, offering great chances for photos and videos. However, the greatest showing of all occurred on day 4, when the group crossed through Blackney pass and encountered an orca pod swimming the other direction. The guides maneuvered the kayakers safely into the kelp line, with a perfect view of the orcas who stopped to play in the opposing current for over 45 minutes! The guides called on the radio for identification, and the group learned that they were viewing the A30’s: a 3-generation pod with a 65 year old matriarch named Tsitika. The pod even hosted a VERY special treat: a brand new calf, born to A75 just days before on 24 July, and still tinged with yellow. Despite these breathtaking encounters, guests report that their favorite part of the trip was undoubtedly the tireless, cheerful efforts of their guides Leah and Dustin. Sea kayak guides go far beyond merely reading currents and wind charts: they are naturalists, chefs, instructors, educators, communicators, hand-holders, and leaders, and the heart of the trip. Bravo for a fantastic job well done and a stellar week in Johnstone Strait!