Great Bear Rainforest - Day Five

Posted on 14th November, 2023

We woke to the sound of howling wolves - coastal wolves, to be precise. It had to happen, didnt' it? Just when you thought things couldn't get any better, it seemed they could! We went up on deck and, although it was still relatively dark, you could clearly see them on the shore.

We watched them from the deck for a while, maybe half an hour - I wished that I'd thought to record their howling, but I was too caught up in the excitement of just seeing them. At one point a black bear appeared right in the distance - almost impossible to see and clearly not keen to hang around with the wolves. 

Now a little lighter, we got into the zodiacs and very, very slowly, moved just a little closer to the shoreline. One paler wolf, possibly the leader of the pack, was closest to us, foraging on the shoreline. The rest were on the main part of the beach and at times, came together to play, at other times went about their business on their own, seemingly full of intent. We counted seven wolves at one point but, for the most part, I could see six.

It was quite extraordinary watching them, sometimes playing or play fighting, sometimes foraging; their behaviour seemed totally natural and only very occasionally did they show any awareness of our presence. They certainly didn't seem to be concerned by it - although it's important to stress how far away we were and how quiet. Most of these images are heavily cropped, with my maximum focal length only 280mm. It was fairly mizzly and the wolves tended to blend into their surroundings but, for the most part, auto focus was accurate, even if the size of what I was focussing on relative to the frame, was quite small!

It's been difficult to choose which images to feature here. Although I have several of them play fighting, the lack of reach and the fact that the wolves are all jumbled together makes them less suitable to share in this blog format - so I've just gone with the ones that resonate most for me and that I hope hint at just how special (and rare) an experience it was.

As well as enjoying watching the wolves, we had plenty of jumping salmon, ravens and bald eagles for company, not to mention some very lively Steller's sea lions, torn between hunting for salmon and having a good look at us. This was our first experience of sea lions close up, and I have to say I absolutely love these guys. They are such characters and endlessly entertaining; although possibly not if you are a salmon. You'll have to forgive me for including rather a lot of photos of them here!

After a good hour or so, we returned to the boat. We'd hardly noticed how wet and cold it was, such was the thrill of witnessing something as rare as this. Laura's usual amazing breakfast soon warmed us up and we then headed out for the day on the boat to see what else we could find.

Conditions were stil beautifully moody and I went back into landscape photographer mode for a little while, enjoying both wider scenes and zooming in tight to make the most of the low cloud swirling around the forested hillsides.

It wasn't long before we were watching wildlife again, this time turning off the engine and drifting for a while near Ashdown Island to watch from afar a few hundred Steller's sea lions, for all the world looking like models draped over the rocks for some High Renaissance painting!

Because we were drifting I sometimes found parts of the boat suddenly encroached into the edges of my viewfinder - but in fact I quite like the framing effect here and it's solved the problem of where you put the edge of the frame, impossible as it is not to cut off sea lions in their prime. We next travelled into Squally Channel, where at first the waters were really quite calm. It wasn't long before we saw more humpback whales, and yet again, a treat was in store for us.

A group of six whales began bubble net feeding - it was quite amazing to see them all propel themselves out of the water as they herded their prey (herring) into their circle of bubbles - you can just about see the odd herring in the image above if you've got good eyesight!

At this point the whales were really very close to our boat and you can also quite clearly see the eye/s of a couple of the whales on this image. For the next hour or so, we were treated to numerous displays of humpbacks feeding, diving, fin slapping and more.

We also saw another couple of fin whales, gliding past and with very little showing to give away their huge size. Perhaps the islet gives a little context.

We were also able to hear the calls of the humpbacks, thank to a hydrophone lowered into the water -  so hauntingly beautiful, and also a signal that they were about to emerge for the next bubble net feeding session. The trick was trying to predict where, with the water now less calm and the bubbles harder to spot.

After a couple of hours or so, the whales moved further away and the excitement was over - for now at least. It had been such a thrill watching them and with so many showings, I even felt liberated to take rather more photos than I had done previously.

It had become quite damp and gloomy out there, but of course the colours were wonderful in these conditions and, not for the first time, I found the reflections witin the wake of the boat were magical, particularly with the rain gently falling.

We returned to anchor at Cameron Cove and we then had the difficult choice between going out on the zodiacs again or having a paddle around the cove in the kayaks. I was somewhat torn but opted to join Rob in a kayak - I was keen to explore the rocky shoreline a bit and the sea was calm - perfect conditions for it. There wasn't a lot of room for gear so I decided to take one camera body with the long lens, and then my iphone for anything wider.

Of course iphones are great these days, but they do have their limitations, particularly in low light and I do now wish I'd risked having both camera bodies with me so that I could have taken better quality wide angle images - the bull kelp was magical and made for the most wonderful foreground, but the detail is a little patchy.

However, my decision to opt for the 70-200mm was definitely vindicated when we were joined by our friendly and incessantly curious sea lions - at times I really did wonder if they might jump into the kayak they came so close, exploding out of the water, huffing and puffing like someone on 20+ fags a day! Iin the picture above, you can see all six of them have at least one, curious, beady eye on us.

Did I mention they were endlessly entertaining? I really could have stayed there all evening, they were such fun to be around. However, the light was fading rapidly and we knew there would be drinks and another excellent meal waiting for us on board, so we paddled back to the boat. It turned out the others on the zodiacs had seen the wolves again, and in fact we'd just missed seeing them walking along the rocky shoreline. It was impossible to be disappointed, however, given the wonderful evening we'd had with our friendly companions!

POSTSCRIPT: Neil mentioned to us during the day that wolves are legally hunted in British Columbia. Having watched them for so long, often reminding me of the way our dogs used to play together, it really hit home how wrong this seemed. I have since read a little more about it and, without wishing to oversimplify, it seems that the government encourages and effectively sponsors the killing and persecution of these animals, nominally to help protect caribou, although any conservationist worth their salt will tell you this is a nonsense. I was really horrified by what I read and the cynical way in which wolves are hunted and killed. I don't know what the answer is, but I do find it so depressing that mankind is so intent on controlling and destroying the natural world.

It may seem a little unintuitive, but please click on the PREV link/button below for day 6!