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British Columbia Marine Mammal Studies 

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If you are interested in marine mammals or even animals in general, then ...
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Some may say spending 3 weeks in the middle of nowhere, stranded in the ...
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This whole trip has been an amazing experience! I've learned so much ...
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My daughter departed for her trip excited but apprehensive. She came ...
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This trip was the perfect means for my daughter to confirm that marine ...
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This trip was an unforgettable experience. It has allowed me to participate ...
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This is the third straight year our daughter has gone on a Broadreach ...
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Kirsten loved the trip. It was a very different experience from her Belize ...
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Lia had very positive things to say about the trip. She learned a great ...
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British Columbia Marine Mammal Studies

Megan McGrath

“Come on, Megan, let’s run the trail back.” “No way!” I replied automatically to Greg, our team leader, who was already jogging off down the path. I ran to catch up to him. There was definitely ...

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“Come on, Megan, let’s run the trail back.”
“No way!” I replied automatically to Greg, our team leader, who was already jogging off down the path. I ran to catch up to him. There was definitely no way.

The hike up to Eagle Eye, a research station on a cliff overlooking the vast expanse of water that was Johnstone Strait, had been more arduous than I had expected. It was not long—only five kilometers, as opposed to the hike we had taken about a week before that had been 22 kilometers, or 14 miles, and longer than I had ever walked before. However, this hike was over much rougher ground, quick, steep uphills followed by sudden drops, through a dense choke of ancient trees and ferns that were as tall as my shoulders and as wide as I could spread my arms. British Columbia is the land of the enormous. The trees are gnarled with the story of their age, and have an immensity that seemed impossible. Sea stars three feet wide or more crawl in the shallows of Johnstone Strait, and 100 feet offshore the watery abyss plummets 2,000 feet straight down. And then there are the whales, of course. They are the giants of the sea.

Though I insisted to Greg that I couldn’t possibly run the trail back, he pushed me. He ran ahead, and I found myself running with him, weaving through the trunks and jumping down the declines, finding the quick rhythm of the strange combination of jogging and walking that is trail running. Every few minutes Greg would look back and ask if I needed a break, and I would surprise myself by saying, “No, not yet, I can go farther.” I didn’t know how it was possible, but I could. And somewhere down that trail my thinking changed. I stopped humoring Greg and began thinking about just how far I could run before walking again. Come on, just get to the top of this hill, and then I can fly down the other side. We paused to lean against a tree that had been blackened and gutted by lightning. I gulped water, then air. I was still a little out of breath when Greg suggested we go on, but I didn’t say no.

I knew that we were reaching the end of the trail when the light changed. It became yellower and brilliant, the color of open space against the muted, gray-green darkness of the thick forest. Spaces opened above us and in front of us. “Let’s run the rest of the way,” Greg said, and took off, and now I was game for it. As we ran into the light, I remember thinking that it was an impossible thing that after that whole trail I was now running full out, I who had never run in my life. But I was. The trail curved sinuously back and forth, through tall grass now, under an open sky. And then we were there, and I was still running, running all the way up into the shed where my two friends were waiting, and they looked up from their books, startled, as I pranced in through the door and collapsed into a chair. Greg was already there, and we smiled at each other. He had tested me, and I was glad of it now, for I had passed.
“What, you ran all the way back?” asked Rachael incredulously.
I laughed through gasps of air. I am stronger than I knew.

Greg went out to talk to the warden of the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, Trish, who had brought my two friends Rachael and Jess back from Eagle Eye in her warden boat. Greg had needed one person to come with him back down the trail, and as I had been sticking with him all day as he went out on the warden boat to look for whales, it seemed logical that I would be the one to come with him once more. Now I lounged in the shed with Rachael and Jess, reading a book and munching on sweet maple sugar cookies, as we waited for Trish to be ready to take us back to Telegraph Cove in her boat. After a time, she came to the shed for us, and she led us down to the boat launch.

Getting into the warden boat involved carefully levering ourselves down a sheer cliff of black rock onto a ledge. My legs, still a little wobbly from the trail, trembled a little down that cliff, but I made it with some help from my friends. Once we all had our feet safely in the boat, Trish began rapid-firing commands at us. We had been given the supreme pleasure of being passengers on many private boats throughout the month, and we paid for our passage the best we could by doing whatever the captain told us to do.

Trish, the warden of the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, is a woman with enormous character and an even bigger laugh. She is dark-skinned and tenacious and she is made for water like a duck; she would have made a good pirate. Her job is to keep boats out of the Reserve, which is closed to water traffic. Her passion is observing and protecting the orca whales of British Columbia, the great black-and-white dolphins of the sea. The night before, Greg had told me excitedly, “Wait until you meet the warden, Megan. She’s just like you, only older. Obsessed with the orcas. You’re gonna love her.” He was right. Out on the boat earlier that day, I had gotten to know Trish, who spoke with the Scottish-sounding lilt of her native Nova Scotia and called roiling seas “snotty,” and rainy weather “gross.” I came to realize that though we are similar in our love of the orcas of British Columbia, she is not exactly like me. Rather, she is the kind of person I aspire to be. Confident, energetic, and strong, she has found her path in life, and she was a role model for me during the brief period in which I knew her.

Trish’s boat was a familiar sort to us, a type of inflatable motorboat called a Zodiac. I had ridden in one of these before on the trip, but this one was bigger—perhaps thirteen feet from bow to stern—and it was old. Duct tape and marks of wear patterned its sides as if, in its years of service, it had earned merit badges and ornaments of honor. I positioned myself near the bow, and Trish gunned the boat away from the cliffs. We all whooped as the Zodiac reared up against the churning gray waves, and the five of us—Rachael, Jess, Trish, Greg and I—braced against the wind as we flew over the surface.

The passage was long and very cold. The air over Johnstone Strait is chilly, and moreover it had begun to rain down on us. The cold rain mingled with the cold sea spray, and the two were indistinguishable. I was soon unable to feel my hands hanging on the ropes of the Zodiac, and my face stung deliciously. Jess withdrew further and further into her rain jacket, until we could only see her nose and smiling eyes. Trish stood at the wheel, swaying with the rhythm of the boat and occasionally looking over her shoulder to tease Greg, who had been forced to fold his tall self into the small space behind Trish. Rachael and I sat across from each other at the bow, and we leaned full-faced into the gale, rocking back and forth as the boat skipped across the waves. We sang. I felt enormously alive.

And then, suddenly, there was a whale dead ahead of us, not more than 100 feet away, a massive black fin knifing the surface. The orca blew explosively. Terror and awe mingled in me and burst out of my mouth in a scream as we rocketed toward the orca, and then Trish pulled the key out of the ignition and we were still.

I scrambled to my feet. The massive bull orca sculled at the surface for a moment, turning this way and that, as though he was confused at our boat’s sudden lapse into silence. We watched the whale and he watched us. Then, giving us a wide berth and surfacing frequently—as if, I thought, to tell us where he was so that we didn’t again risk a collision—he swept past our Zodiac with unspeakable majesty and grace, and continued down Johnstone Strait. My spirit caught in my throat.

We continued, but then there were more of them. Trish cut the engine once more. A family of orcas surrounded us. Their breath rushed into the air in white clouds, two, three blows at a time, and then they were away again. Underwater, they called back and forth to each other, always in touch with their family, never alone. Above the water, we five humans in our boat stood, and watched, and said nothing. We had only to look into each other’s eyes to say what we felt. A whale to our starboard side surfaced and crooned a high call into the air, and Trish and I laughed and hugged each other in wonder and joy. As the whales glided past us in their watery realm, we all looked to each other with tears in our eyes. I trembled from the cold, and from my awe at the beautiful world around me, at the huge sky and water of the Strait, at the orcas, the spirits of the wild around me, and at my boundless love for the people with me. As the sky began to clear and pale sunshine broke through the clouds, I closed my eyes and I promised myself that I would not forget this day, and that somehow, I would find my way back to British Columbia.

- Megan McGrath, Warwick, NY
British Columbia Marine Mammal Studies

Jessica Ries

Wow, what can I say? This past month has been the best of my life. Why do people think happiness lies only in what they can gain or accomplish? In these 25 days I have been happier than I thought ...

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Wow, what can I say? This past month has been the best of my life. Why do people think happiness lies only in what they can gain or accomplish? In these 25 days I have been happier than I thought anyone could be, but not a surface happiness because I’m doing fun activities. This happiness is much deeper and lasting. The kind of happiness you get when watching a sunset, viewing the tide come and go, or best of all sitting in silence with close friends.

I was so anxious when I walked off my plane to this new adventure. I suppose we all were. Conversation was sparse, as we waited for all participants to arrive. One by one they came into our circle, on the floor, and sat down. Megan was to meet us later at the ferry since her parents mistakenly told her the wrong date. Luggage, we very quickly found, was to be our first adversary on this trek as we loaded and unloaded, packed and unpacked, and every time we did, the pile grew by at least fifty pounds.

The next morning, after a ferry and bus ride the previous day, we loaded up again for the trip to Bamfield, where we were to meet our kayak guides. It was so long and bumpy everyone was grateful just to be walking again when we arrived. Long bus rides, though, are the perfect way to get to know your traveling companions. Being well acquainted, we made our way across the channel, loaded with more luggage, of course, to the kayak center. We met Don and Rose, our instructors, ate lunch, and prepared to load up for the trip, but not before we walked down the boardwalk to the tree house toilets, no really, it’s in a tree. Anyway, after the briefing, the very long briefing, we plopped into the kayaks and took off. That night as we snuggled into our tents, after a warm talk around the fire, we looked forward to morning with the eagles, the sky, and the Pacific, all ours to enjoy and care for.

Our three day excursion is, perhaps, the most difficult of all to describe. If you’ve never been camping, I mean really camping, you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. If you have, you know that some adventures are sharable and some are too magical to speak of without someone misunderstanding. How do you explain a feeling? All I can say is we connected: with each other, the ocean, sweat and salt. We sang, laughed, and fought with the ocean as we kayaked. From yoga on the beaches, to the sharing of Broadreach traditions, to silliness around the fire, we experienced life, every moment, moments you would miss if you had distractions like TV’s, computers, civilization. Things that are not bad in themselves but have a tendency to steal from us the things that truly matter. As it came to a close we felt almost as though our entire adventure was ending; little did we know all of the exciting surprises that awaited us ahead.

Our next portion was one of academics with not only long lectures, but also field trips. The days were tiring and a tad stressful because of the tests and our upcoming projects, but we shouldn’t have worried. Anne, our guide, was an expert at mixing relaxation and learning, such as beach walks. My absolute favorite was during the latter portion. We assembled at the docks at 9:30 to view bioluminescence: tiny glowing creatures know in the day as plankton or whale food. It was beautiful! If you put your hand in the water they glowed green even brighter; all of us treasured that night as a favorite.

The first real whale watch, though we had seen one during our kayaking, came at this time as well. It was a choppy day and several of us dropped out of the excitement to empty our stomachs. It may sound cruel and silly since I was one of them, but the whole experience struck me as extremely funny. In between my waves of nausea, I had to stifle my laughter to risk getting the wrath of the others in our small “back boat” party.

Telegraph Cove our final intensive segment had come upon us. Many apprehensions and excitements filled the, you guessed it, bus ride. The first introduction to Jackie, head naturalist, and Nadine, whale interpretive center volunteer, stifled all fears as we found them to be enjoyable and just plain fabulous. Our group dubbed “Orcinus and the Spyhoppers” found that we must, oh horror, be split up into smaller groups during the day. Fortunately this did nothing to dampen our togetherness, and, actually, I found I brought us closer. The fires were more special and being in smaller groups allowed those few remaining insecurities to dissipate into nothingness. This was probably to our counselors’ dismay, as we became increasingly silly. Our affection was shown with back rubs which started off as a quite painful tradition. Alex thinks he’s skilled in massage, but really as we found out is more skilled in Chinese torture.

Orcas, finally, graced our presence. Out on Straitwatch zodiacs or on the stunning Lukwa they were just as magnificent and wildly breathtaking as you can dream. TC is devoted to them as the voice for the seas. They have a mysterious aura to them being only viewable for the short time they blow their misty breath into your dry barren world. On the last day, Lindsey and Greg took us to an empty parking lot overlooking all of Telegraph Cove. They presented us with tokens to tie around our necks and on it was an emblem of an orca with the word “loyalty”. The emotions were raw as we shared the words that exemplified our adventure together, private words that only should be shared with family, but then that’s what we had become, a family, like the close bonds of orcas in a pod.

To end our journeys, we took a zodiac to Sophia Island which is in Johnstone Strait. We kayaked some, but mostly relaxed and reflected on our epic adventure. I would sit in the warm sun on the rocks overlooking the pacific with cool familiar sea breezes tickling my hair and remember: the inside jokes, making whale calls, evading random guy, the beaches, learning true conservation, being with nature, the nightly bear hugs, “hauling out”, crying, laughing, singing, but most of all the people. Our pod: Alex, Anna, Bill, Greg, Me, Kristina, Lindsey, Megan, Rachael, Robyn, and Spencer, I love them all.

Our departure was obviously tearful, and I, the first to leave, was bombarded with tight hugs. Even through their bleary eyed faces (yes, I made them wake up at 3:30am) there was love. We will reunite because that’s what you do in a pod, you don’t leave anyone out, each one has a place, and distance is irrelevant because your closeness is in your soul.
Find love, truth, and peace for yourself. Explore, discover, and give back. Take adventures and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Learn but don’t learn too much. Find and be found.

Thanks Broadreach!

- Jessica Ries, Rapid City, SD
British Columbia Marine Mammal Studies

Hannah Peck

Static erupted over the radio and then a clear voice said, "Lukwa, we have had some sightings of pacific white sides" I made my way to the station at the bow of the boat, excited to hear about ...

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Static erupted over the radio and then a clear voice said, "Lukwa, we have had some sightings of pacific white sides" I made my way to the station at the bow of the boat, excited to hear about prospective dolphins in the area. It was my first day as a naturalist-in-training aboard the Lukwa, a whale watching vessel off the eastern coast of Vancouver Island. I had learned about the Broadreach Program through a flyer in the mail and decided to give the course, Marine Mammal Adventure, a try. I don't know what inspired me to leave the comfort of my home, family, and friends to go live in the wilderness, learn about marine mammals, camp, kayak, and bond with a group of strangers for 3 weeks, but I will never regret it. I had been through a college course in marine biology before, off the coast of Maine, and thoroughly enjoyed it. This time I wanted to go through a similar experience in a different area of the world and determine if I wanted to not only seriously study, but actually pursue a career in marine biology someday.

I didn't get my hopes up about the dolphins, as we had just seen a number of humpback whales and I didn't want to be disappointed. We cruised into a cove and in the distance I saw objects twirling through the sky, jumping so far out of the water I couldn't believe that they were dolphins. As we drew near, pacific white-sided dolphins came along either side of the boat. They got closer and closer and Jackie, the head naturalist for Stubbs Island Whale Watching, began shouting, "Look down at your feet! Look straight down!" I stood against the railing and about 10 feet below me were seven dolphins riding the bow. They were a lot larger than I expected, and moved through the water with effortless grace, weaving up and down and around each other, so close that I felt like I could reach down and touch them. I wondered how they could possibly keep up with the boat and to my amazement, they would rush ahead and jump out of the water to breathe before returning to the bow. I was filled with awe because I had never before witnessed such natural wonder up close. I was also amazed because I didn't know that wild animals behaved like this and it made me realize that the natural world is a very exciting place.

That day I knew I had found my calling. The thrill of being out on the open water, refreshed by the light breeze and coasting on the calm blue waters enticed me. Witnessing these majestic mammals in their natural habitats showed me that the world had a lot more to offer; a world I had previously passed by. Jackie stressed the negative impact mankind has had upon all marine life and this inspired me. I know I can make a positive difference on this earth, be it large or small. Having seen the wonders of Vancouver Island, I am determined to learn about this unseen aquatic underworld and help to preserve the animals that live there. While many stood at the railing that day and simply saw dolphins...I saw my future unfolding before me.

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