Captain’s Blog

Port Renfrew Whale Watching Report: Doing Our Part in Being Responsible Whale Watchers

September 12, 2020

September – 9am/1pm Zodiac Vessel Tours

The privilege that comes with visiting such naturally beautiful places should always be paired with the responsibility to better understand and preserve nature. It should be the foundation for which all eco-tourism industry is built upon.

The slightly remote waters off Port Renfrew have become a focal point for scientific research as funding increases for the study of the critically endangered southern resident killer whales. The trials and struggle of these killer whales have been studied and documented for many decades. Their individual family members known and loved by those who want to protect them. In the last 4 years we have had increasing encounters with this particular population in offshore waters around Port Renfrew. Government and university-based research boats are usually the only other vessels that we see offshore, asides from the massive container ships whose traffic lanes lead them straight through critical habitat. Being the only whale watching boat out there is a unique situation and now we strive to make our presence as meaningful as possible.

Any time we find killer whales we record their location, direction and identify which members/pod we’re seeing, this helps us to report our findings and hopefully aid research personnel to track them. If we identify southern resident killer whales we will leave them to find other whales and often will only see them in the far distance as we make our way to see other equally amazing wildlife. One of the simplest methods for us to collect useful information is to photo identify whales allowing us to look at the population here as the sum of it’s individuals; their health and changes in life becoming clearer over time. Injured animals and near-miss encounters are all recorded, our orange whale watching boat now acting as a signal to commercial vessels that there are whales in the area and they should divert course or slow down. This is a presence that has not existed in the area before.

We record seasonal changes and map the corresponding movements/behaviours of the wildlife through the summer and pay close attention to weather systems that affect how and where we find these animals. Such attention to detail is essential for the success of our tours as we are mostly alone and without help to find whales. Thankfully such attention to detail paired with an incredible consistency of whales has shown huge success in finding whales on every tour we do. In the last 4 years our success rate has been 99% with only one single tour that didn’t see whales. The future of research and conservation around Port Renfrew is bound to grow alongside it’s booming eco-tourism. It is our goal to grow together and to continue to work alongside scientists and businesses alike to preserve these incredible places and the animals who call it home.

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