A night on Sophia

By: Rachel Kobernick, high school alumna High School Study Abroad, Wildlife Biology

Nine teens, including myself, and two adult leaders made up the program designated PWT-21, or Pacific Whale Trek, a Broadreach trip to Vancouver Island. Towards the end of the trip, our group was camping on a small island in Johnstone Strait, having just finished a week working with a local whale watching company. Our first day there, our guide regaled us with hope about possibly spotting some killer whales, who were known to frequent the waters around the small Sophia Island. Later that night, after the sun had set and we had retired to our tents, I heard a familiar sound coming from one of the rocky shores near my tent. However familiar the sound, it didn’t register with me until someone cried out, “WHALE!” It reverberated through the trees as I scurried out onto the trails to try to find a beach on the correct side of the island where the whales were, all the while listening to that telltale blow.

My heart pounding, I finally climbed out onto the rocks and sat down, my eyes scanning the water for merely a glimpse of the orcas. I could hear the sound of their exhalations of breath and follow it through their lungs. It was too dark to see them, but I knew they were there.

The experience was frustrating but at the same time exhilarating. I don’t think that it would have affected me nearly as much had I been able to see them. By hearing alone, I could tell that they were close, their splashes echoed off the channel, and my imagination filled in what my eyes missed.

I stayed on the rocks for a few minutes, enjoying the thrill before I went to the kitchen, the main headquarters of the island where everyone gathered, and met up with some of the other trekkers. Someone had turned on the hydrophone, but all that was coming from it were the noises of boats in the area, no whales. The A-24’s, the orcas, were usually very quiet when they were traveling, but we all listened hopefully anyway. We were all very quiet as if speaking would scare them away, but as time passed and the whales moved away we were too excited to keep it to ourselves. We gushed about how cool the experience was and how lucky we were, that although we couldn’t see them, we could hear them. Eventually we all split up again, because it had now gotten quite late, and went to sleep, each of us happy beyond belief.

That night was one of the most spiritual of my entire life. I had feelings that I had never known before. Listening to the sound of such a majestic creature simply breathing recharged my spirit. No gift I could ever receive could be as precious to me as that one night. Simple as it was, I feel that it changed me as if suddenly everything clicked into place. I was perfectly content to sit there in the dark because I was at peace. And I was not the only one affected in such a way.

I knew then and there that no matter what happened, no matter what life threw at me, I had to somehow involve these animals in my life. I had to protect them and help educate people about the dangers that they face, how we have to increase our conservation efforts for posterity’s sake. I wanted future generations to be able to experience what Mother Nature graced me with, and to not have to look at pictures in a textbook at animals that humankind had driven to extinction.