Broughton Archipelago and Whales

2018/08/26-31: Kayaking

In both 2014 and 2016 we did coastal sea kayaking trips with German friends Carsten and Jackie. As West Coast hosts, we were happy when dolphins, seals, sea lions, and array of sea birds appeared as if on cue during our 2014 trip to the Broken Group . Returning to the kayak rental base at Sechart on our final day, we’d watched a mother bear and her cubs graze. The calmness of that scene may have helped diminish Jackie’s fear of bears.

Two years later, Jackie and Carsten returned, and we spent a week paddling together in Desolation Sound. We didn’t see the same variety of wildlife, but endless sightings of whiskered harbour seals basking languidly on rocks taught us the meaning of the German word niedlich! – cute.  It must be the dark eyes and the whiskers that are irresistible.

In 2018, we set our sights on the Broughton Archipelago, across Johnstone Strait from Telegraph Cove. This was to be a little more challenging than previous trips. We took detailed route advice from a former colleague of Chris’s, an experienced paddler who knows the area well. We purchased a handheld marine radio and acquired our operator’s licenses. I took a course to review my paddling skills, getting my Paddle Canada Level 1 certificate to satisfy the kayak rental company’s demands. Chris would have joined me, but was occupied with grandparental babysitting duties in the Yukon.

We were nervous about paddling across the strait, which can be busy with large fast moving commercial vessels, so we’d arranged that the kayak rental company would ferry us across the strait to our starting point. As we crossed Blackfish Sound, there was a large group of killer whales, and several whale watching boats were quietly gathered. Our skiff captain cut the motor, and we drifted quietly as we watched them breach and dive. A large whale swam toward our boat, gathering speed, diving  to swim under us. Another spy-hopped close by, to get a good look around.

Spyhopping orca
P1010059 (2)
First campsite

We packed the kayaks and set off from Echo Bay to our first campsite, where a friendly sport fisherman gave us freshly caught salmon fillets which made a special first camp meal. We reached Crib Island two paddling days later, and it was from this base that we did a day’s paddle out into Queen Charlotte Sound to view sea lion colonies we were told lay just off Eden Island.  We got good views of sea lion rookeries from close enough to hear the animals bellow and to smell them, and we were followed by a curious group of youngsters who would craned their necks above the water to examine us.

Sea lion rookery

As we turned to paddle gently back to our campsite, there was a gentle swell from the strait, and wisps of mist surrounded us. Over my right shoulder, I heard a massive exhalation. I turned to see a cloud of steam rising close to me from the blowhole of a humpback whale. The area of its back which broke the surface gave a suggestion of the size of animal gliding beside us, quietly sinking below the surface. We were not expecting this. It was a powerful moment.

Before this, we’d only seen humpbacks at a distance from an Alaskan ferry.  This one was so close that we could see the barnacles on its skin. Humpbacks are about twice the length and four times the weight of an orca, and seeing one from a small human-powered craft was moving. On our final night at Owl Island, we heard a humpback sing as it passed our camp. Only males vocalize, probably to attract females.

Kayaking between islands

Thank you Jackie and Carsten for the companionship, and for the impetus to explore our local surroundings.


See Flickr set for more images.

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