For the last sixteen years in early June, the boardwalk at Telegraph Cove fills with teenagers. These young adults are preparing to embark on a four-day excursion into the wilderness where they will camp on a nearby island, as part of an integrated outdoor education program called Explore. They will live in tents, cooking and fending for themselves, while applying classroom projects to what they will encounter while they are there.
Explore is facilitated by Georges P. Vanier Secondary School in Courtenay and is open to students from all three high schools in the Comox Valley. Students go through an application process and must be able to maintain their academic studies throughout the year. The group goes on three to four excursions over the semester, ending their season every year in the waters around Johnstone Strait.
Stubbs Island Whale Watching has worked with this group from the beginning to help ensure the trips success by providing three main services. On day one, we transport all students, teachers and their gear to the nearby island where they will live for the next four days. On day two, we pick them up early in the morning for a full day on our boats. While on board they will observe local wildlife and attend on board education sessions with local researcher and longtime Stubbs naturalist Jackie Hildering. On the fourth and final day of their trip, we return to pick them up at their camp, help them load their gear and equipment onto our boats and transport them back to Telegraph Cove.
This year the group arrived on Monday, June 6 at about 12:30 pm. They carried packs, water, cooking stoves, kayaks and were full of energy and anticipation about the adventure ahead. Our crew helped ensure their safety and proper packing of gear as the forty-seven teens and six teachers/guides worked cohesively loading both boats. Once the Kuluta and the Lukwa were loaded we departed for Mound Island about 45 mins away.
We stopped at multiple points along the way to observe Humpback Whales, Dall’s Porpoises and a Steller Sea Lion. As the students had researched many of these animals beforehand, it was exciting for them to be able to observe animals in their natural habitat.
The Lukwa and Kuluta are both large boats which made dropping them at their beach location slightly challenging. The tide was low and the beach was tucked away into a small bay, so we transported gear and people by inflatable . After we transported the last remaining passengers, we waved good bye for the time being.
When we returned Tuesday morning at 8:00am, the water was calm and the sun was beginning to break the fog, it was an absolutely beautiful morning. At Mound Island the group was waiting on shore, with a quieter vibe than the day before. The quiet did not last long as the group spotted two blows off of Cracroft Island and quickly raised into a state of excitement and curiosity. They hurried from the cabin to the front viewing deck.
The two whales were swimming and surfacing close together. On board naturalist Jackie Hildering identified these whales as Ripple and Quartz. The whales surfaced and fluked many times. Between the whales surfacing, the students participated in mini educational sessions as to what they were observing. The energy of the group was further ignited by a group of Dall’s Porpoise who chose to ride on the bow wake of the boat. The kids were inquisitive and keen, continuously asking questions.
After a morning of wildlife observation, we transported the group to Echo Bay and the home of Billy Proctor. Billy and his dog Buster greeted us at the dock. At Billy’s the group explored his museum and then had a relaxing lunch before getting back on the boat.
Billy Proctor spent years as a commercial fisherman and is well known in the community for his knowledge of local waters. His museum is a collection of everything from gems, to old wine bottles that washed ashore. Billy describes everything in his museum as “artifacts” or “junk” but junk is the opposite of what we saw. In Proctor Bay, Billy has built a museum of artifacts he has collected along the coast. Nothing is ordered or store bought, everything was found by Billy himself.
Billy tells stories to the group about how he used to travel as a commercial fisherman and made a habit of walking the shore during low tide. During these walks he would pick up different artifacts along the way. He was happy to share the story about the first artifact he ever found, it was a piece of jade. He found it digging in the garden with his mother when he was young..
The kids toured the museum looking at the finds of Billy’s life travels. They took in stories from well beyond their years and seemed to really relish being there. Billy is a quiet man but was more than willing to answer any question asked and shared stories with many of the kids. At one point I asked Billy, “Do you like all this company?” To which he replied, “I do, I don’t have anything better to do.” Then he chuckled, which appeared to be his way of saying he enjoys it.
As everyone bid Billy goodbye and boarded their respective boat, we began to make our return through the Broughton Archipelago back to Mound Island. On board the group attended an education session lead by Jackie Hildering. This session was structured around marine wildlife behaviours, habitats and threats to those animals and their environments . Students were expected to contribute to the session with research completed prior to the trip. Before we knew it, we were back at Mound Island and everyone was deposited on shore including Jackie who would spend the evening and next day with the group.
On Thursday at 7am we departed Telegraph Cove for Mound Island. The sun was shinning reflecting off the calm and glassy water, we were once again blessed with a beautiful picturesque morning. Shortly out of the cove we encountered a pair of Humpback Whales swimming together. Swimming along with them was a small pod of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins. Identification photos were sent to the Marine Education and Research Society but neither of the flukes were recognized. This means these two whales have most likely not been sighted in this region before.
We left the humpbacks and dolphins behind and continued on our mission. We picked up the Explore Group at 8am, transporting them back to the Lukwa and Kuluta for the final time this year.
Arriving in Telegraph Cove at about 10:45am, the students worked together unloading their gear. Part way through the process they picked up the pace in an attempt to beat last years unloading time record. Cheers and clapping were heard while they raced to finish, in the end setting a new time record. It was an energetic end to a four day trip filled with adventure, education and fun. The group was all smiles as they said goodbye.
For the last sixteen years Explore and Stubbs have worked together to make this portion of their program a success. Their visit to Telegraph Cove is something we look forward to at the beginning of each year.
If you are looking to book a private charter or educational excursion like this for your school or group please contact our office. We love working with groups and sharing our passion for the unique waters around Telegraph Cove.
To the Explore group, thank you for another fantastic year. We look forward to seeing you in 2017.