It’s 1.30pm, I am sitting in an open kayak floating in a sheltered bay part of the greater Georgia Strait. Forest fire smoke surrounds me as it drafts through from the mainland of British Columbia. Engulfing the East Coast of Vancouver Island, its hard make out the conditions of the day. The sun like a blood moon sitting on the mountain peaks eerily shining its rays with all its might, but to no avail.
The waters calm and reflective, the air silent with a suspenseful mood. There’s a feeling of anticipation on the water, like the smoke will lift and the ocean will become enraged at any moment. With that thought everything continued to wait, I did nothing but float calmly in my Kayak, camera around my neck, waiting, waiting, waiting.
As time passed the silence broke. The sound of a giant snorting breath could be heard as the calm ocean rippled. All of a sudden out of the water appeared a …….. curious Harbour Seal. It was only mere metres away from me. Its whiskers glinting in reflection and water, while its wide puppy dog like eyes circled me for only moments. Click went my camera’s shutter, whilst it investigated me. To the seal I was half a man and half a boat, while to me this seal was an amazing, quirky marine mammal with curious looking eyes. It circled me for only seconds as it made one last look. Inhaling with another snort. It propelled itself up before submerging below the ocean surface.
Once again it was quiet and calm…
Throughout this year, I traveled to Vancouver Island, with a simple goal, capture stories of wildlife. At first this meant, any forest, mountain, beach, whatever time of the day, whatever scenario. However after many nights of reviewing images and my daily motivations from cheap hostels, tents and cars I couldn’t help but notice the natural story I had been telling. There were two thoughts in my head at the time, from an analytical point of view, over 90% of my images had included some form of water. Whilst from a more emotional/social standpoint, I had felt a significant pull to spend my days exploring all varieties of coast.
Ever so naturally I was beginning to find out that the story I was gathering was one that represented Vancouver Island’s coast and the inhabitants that call it home.
So why the coast? Out of the entirety of Canada, with the rolling Rockies, incredible lakes and forests. Why spend 95% of your time on and around the rugged rocky coastline of Vancouver Island? Believe me that was a question asked many times by many people.
To answer simply, they were wild, for the most part untamed and most importantly so full of life. To exemplify here a few stories.
Humpbacks From The Beach
While traveling Northern Vancouver Island, I had met up with a fellow wildlife enthusiast. We had decided to explore a very rough forest to shoreline hiking trail around ten kilometres south of the Port McNeil town centre. It was an overcast afternoon, very bright and not great for photography however the place had a feeling of wildness. After a short walk, we appeared out of the forest and onto a very open and rocky beach mixed with pebbles and stones. It wasn’t exactly a brochure attraction and certainly didn’t exhibit the class or popularity of Tofino and Uculelet’s long beach. But this place had so much more, moving out into the open and into the elements we decided to explore further.
The salted Rocks of an outgoing tide crunched under or feet as we made away along the shoreline. We were exploring taking it all in, and so spoilt for views. The conifer’s above were full of screeching Bald Eagles, perching proudly. The shoreline abundant in plover’s, birds so small we couldn’t even tell anything was there until we were too close. On the tidal rocks stood very tall Great Blue Heron, while to our surprise a hiss like snort also appeared to be, a Steller Sea lion swimming elegantly, dipping and diving its way through shoreline debris just off the coast. To me this was incredible, in the space of just twenty minutes we had come across so many species and so much life in such an unassuming place.
The sun had begun to set on an already dim afternoon, but there was one last installment for us. Off in the distance we could hear a huge exhale of air followed by a large splash, both sounds were distant. It took a while to gather ourselves to what was happening, Stopping we waited, quietly and attentively. We could hear the exhale again scanning the horizon we found the culprit it was non other than a humpback whale. We stationed ourselves excitedly as the whale dived and exhaled, across the ocean surface moving with an elegant rhythm.
It was an unexpected find. However seeing the large mammal moving in its element so graciously was nothing more than incredible. Being so far away, we didn’t try to track its movement. We just continued to watch, as it dipped and dived along the ocean’s surface in what seemed like an eternity. However the reality was that the spectacle all took place all in under a minute and with that as much as we were amazed and all struck by the Humpback’s show, it wasn’t long until it all came to an end. The humpback proceeded to launch its large tail vertically breaching the waters below as it ever so slowly and quietly sunk into the abyss of ocean
That afternoon only affirmed my interest in telling the story of the coast. However what was to happen the following morning would only confirm it even more.
A Run In With A, Vancouver Island Black Bear
It was 6:30am, we had made our way down through the forest track onto the shoreline once again, to a cloudy rough looking environment. Finding a large rock to station ourselves around, we sat as still and quietly as possible. Only moving to wipe away the rain off our gear, the rain had only been trickling but had begun to intensify, which was growing doubt in our minds. We gave each other looks of “should we wait around longer?” “Should we move?” In the end we decided to wait and within moments, just like the afternoon before itself the beach came to life again, this time along its rocky outcrop.
Out of the forest line appeared the large furry head of a mother Black Bear. She cautiously made her way onto the shoreline. Presenting her large body, she moved rather clumsily yet smoothly hopping over the unstable rocks. She’d then pause, survey the surroundings before flipping a rock over. Effortlessly, she would move the large and heavy objects like a piece of crumbled paper to one side, while she then proceeded to search for shellfish. This was her home, a rugged untouched peace of nature, aesthetically unpleasing to many of us, but everything for her.
We watched her from a distance for at least ten minutes, in that time she had become aware of our position and although she seemed slightly off put, she continued her routine rather calmly before returning towards the forest behind her. Hanging around a little longer, We couldn’t quite believe our luck. But there was one more surprise.
We had began packing up our gear and heading back towards the trail but we stopped in our tracks only a foot or two from our rock hide. Behind a log under the darkness of tree cover around thirty metres away, sat what we presumed was the same mother Black Bear. She just stared directly at us, not moving at all. However unlike the moments on the beach before, this time she wasn’t alone. Next to her side sat two little black bear cubs peering ever so slightly over the log. We watched calmly as the three bears stared at us curiously before they all simultaneously moved off back into the forest line behind them.
We left that beach, but returned many, many times during our North Island stay. Always to a new scene.
The Coast Joins Us
I have explored many Vancouver Island coastlines before and since those incredible experiences. For me the coast exemplifies and presents wild, rugged and untamed life. However it also represents on so many occasions the relationship of human and nature and our joining. This relationship is represented so differently in so many areas. For example in Comox (Vancouver Island) Boaties set sail from the wharves, while Great Blue Herons apprehensively perch on the nearby rocks. Their coastal neighbor the loud and fluttering Orange Breasted Belted Kingfisher is also commonly present, swooping in and out alongside the wharf pillars, stalking the shallow water. Both species searching for a meal all the while keeping an eye on the humans who visit the ecosystem.
In the British Columbia capital, Victoria. Orca and humpback whales glide along the ocean surface, breaching and diving, all the while being viewed by fifty odd people on a covered whale watching expedition vessel. These people all paying to leave the safety of the shoreline in order to explore the whales habitat, even if only just for a glimpse of these remarkable animals free in the ocean, hunting, diving and in some cases, as unintentional as it maybe show boating.
In such contrasting comparison many of Vancouver Island’s coastlines, harbours and oceans remain wild and untouched. Its surprises only accessible to someone of the adventurous kind whether it be the odd hiker or kayaker or many others.
From a photography and exploration point of view, the coast and nearby surroundings offer so much, including a sense of identity with the wild nature of the island. There is consistently wildlife present in the various seasons from Ducks and Geese, Bald Eagles, Turns and Gulls all the way to Black Bears.
So why am I so obsessed with exploring the coast and waters. Well its as simple as reiterating the stories above. A deserted rocky beach can become an oasis for so many forms of Wildlife. A small accessible harbour or bay may just surprise you by revealing its ocean dwelling occupants, all the while introducing you to its Eagle, Gull and kingfisher neighbours of the nearby the shoreline. If you allow time and are patient, the environment will come to life in some shape or form.
The coast, its surprising, its variable, its home to so many species of wildlife and with all its natural hides and untamed aesthetics is the perfect place for photo or two.
See more of my ever growing Vancouver Island Gallery.