Whale of a Story...It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
Trip Start Apr 03, 2006
21Trip End Jun 30, 2006
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It was a dark and stormy night on Good Friday and admonitions from Barbara of "you can't go out on a night like this" were still ringing in my ears as I headed out for my nightly after-supper walk.
Yes, the wind was certainly howling creating a wind chill factor that made me glad to be wearing gloves and a Gortex jacket as I headed south towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Leaning into the wind and walking unsteadily along the breakwater that borders Dallas Road, I could feel the adrenalin flowing as I tried in vain to keep my baseball cap on top of my head. At this point I had two options – play it safe, cross the street and walk along the sidewalk on the north side of Dallas Road or continue along the sidewalk on the breakwater side. This option, during high tide, seemed a lot more exciting as approximately every fourth series of waves were particularly powerful as they smashed against the breakwater. This resulted in a geyser of cascading water being shot high into the air only to be blown across the street by the fierce winds blowing from the south. It was spectacular and despite the inclement condition I wished I had my camera to record this spectacle. Unfortunately I did not have a waterproof camera as any other type would have had a very short lifespan under these conditions.
Wouldn’t it be fun to try to weave and bob through the cascading water? I was wearing a Gortex jacket after all.
My weaving and bobbing worked for about two minutes before I was caught by a huge mass of water cascading across the street. My defensive position of curling up and trying to only expose my back also worked for about thirty seconds. In the end however I quickly had to revert to Plan B – survival.
The Gortex jacket was keeping the upper part of my body dry and even my head protected by a cap was not too wet as I took my defensive position. Nevertheless there was no mistaking what felt like large quantities of salt water running down between my legs. Salt water is particularly sticky and the extra weight of the water soaking my pants and shoes made walking difficult and uncomfortable. The uncomfortable was quickly overtaken by something more serious – I was freezing cold and if I didn’t get out of here I was going to risk hypothermia.
Quickly I changed my route and high tailed it back home and the 15 uncomfortable minutes it took to walk home in the deserted streets seemed like half an hour. Finally arriving at home and looking forward to a hot shower I was met not with a warm welcome but a knowing “I told you so”. Yes, but I would have missed the biggest windstorm of the season.
While eastern Canada was basking in summer temperatures and good weather for the long Easter weekend the same could not be said for Victoria. Good Friday night especially was miserable in the Victoria area for both man and beast.
I didn’t realize how miserable it was for one particular beast until the next day. The morning local news reported that a grey whale carcass that had been washed ashore as a result of the strong winds near East Sooke Regional Park just south of Creyke Point.
Considering how that was only about an hour from Victoria, Barbara and I decided to take a drive to Sooke to try and locate the grey whale.
With the help of a map and asking a few questions it did not take us long to join the trickle of gawkers eager to get a glimpse of the whale.
Theories as to the whale’s demise included natural causes, an orca attack, a boat strike, starvation and pollution. Later reports from the Fisheries Department indicated that the cause of death was starvation without giving further details as to how such a thing would be possible.
It helps to be lucky and in this case through no planning of our own we arrived at the location of a rocky point at the end of a bay just at the peak of low tide. This meant that we could walk or clamber right up to the whale carcass lying on top of jagged rocks as if deposited by giant hands. Had we arrived at high tide we would have seen very little as the carcass would have barely been visible above the water.
So how close did we get to the carcass? As close as one’s comfort zone would allow and apparently the comfort zone of some previous visitors extended to cutting pieces of blubber from the whale and even worse – cutting some of the baleen or whalebone out of the whale’s mouth or standing on top of the carcass.
The local First Nations people and their leads found this behaviour particularly offensive and disrespectful. Much of coastal native art involves depictions of whales, as they are an integral part of their culture.
This gentle giant, who it turns out was only a 10 meter adolescent, died of starvation perhaps due to being blown off course in the Strait of Juan de Fuca between British Columbia and the State of Washington.
The next source of speculation concerned the disposal of the carcass. Options mentioned were letting it decompose on site or allowing a university to retrieve it for purposes of research.
In the end action was taken within three days of our visit. Under the supervision of Fisheries and Oceans Canada a rope was attached to the tail of the whale and towed by a tugboat at high tide to the Beecher Bay First Nations Reserve, only four kilometres away. Then it was dragged by an excavator to a large piece of land where it was given a traditional native burial. Here it will rest in peace far from the gawking tourists.
However, it turns out it will rest in peace only for a few years as the skeletal remains will be given to Vancouver Island University where the bones will go on display at its biological field station at Mill Bay.
That would be a fitting end for this grey whale.
That brings me to a bone of contention. All the reports in print and television and radio referred to a grey whale.
If you go to Google and do a search for IMAGES of a GREY WHALE, you will find many there but none as detailed as the images that I have. The reason of course is that all the images on the web are of live grey whales. This one was definitely a carcass. But that is not the point I am trying to make. My point is that none of the photos show a large white dorsal fin. Several of my photos are of a large white dorsal fin so therein lies the mystery. Was this really a grey whale?
On second thought as I look at the photos again, this is not a dorsal fin since it seems to be on the belly of the whale. So one more time, what is it? Any suggestions?
Finally, it was a week for whales in the Victoria area as on Wednesday a wrapped skeleton of a giant blue whale was transported on two flat-bed trucks onto the BC Ferry – Spirit of British Columbia at Swarz Bay for transport to Vancouver. The restored skeleton will be on display at BC’s new Beaty Biodiversity Museum.
Some of the information contained in this blog was taken from a story which appeared in the Victoria Times Colonist, Sunday April 11 entitled “Grey Whale Buried but not Forgotten”.
Every time go to Sooke we make a point of stopping at the Sooke Harbour House to enjoy the scenery. It is the only thing that is free there. The rest is first class and expensive. The inn has been rated in past years as one of the top inns in North America.
Since blogging about Panama/Costa Rica/Nicaragua is going to take up all my blogging time there is no time to blog about beautiful Victoria, BC where we now live.
I have therefore included a few photos of the cherry blossoms that brighten up our neighbourhood - James Bay - at this time of year.