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Sunday, August 20, 2017

August 4: Alert Bay

On August 4th we packed up camp and took the ferry from Sointula to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. On the way we saw a deer considering making a swim across the same channel - she decided not to:

Alert Bay is one of those places I had read about in books by some of my whale heroes so it was awesome to finally visit. A bald eagle welcomed us at the ferry terminal:

The First Nations cultural heritage in Alert Bay is amazing and well worth the visit. The U'Mista Cultural Centre is home to artifacts of the Kwakwa̱ka̱╩╝wakw people, many of which were taken when the potlatch was outlawed in Canada from 1885 to 1951. Many of the masks and other items were confiscated by the government or in private collections but are slowly making their way back to their rightful owners. No photographs are allowed in the exhibit - so you'll have to make the journey to see for yourself one day. Outside the cultural center I was amazed to see another bald eagle perched on top of a totem pole. I managed to catch this photo just as it was taking flight:

Another must-see sight is the Namgis Burial Grounds, where totem poles and other grave markers are viewable from the road. Some families choose to maintain the totem poles while others believe letting them decay and return to the Earth is part of their natural journey.

One thing that's for certain is that the cultural juxtapositions between the First Nations people and European immigrants are everywhere:

Alert Bay is also a formerly bustling fishing village. There are still a lot of fishing vessels in the harbor, but many have been seemingly abandoned, as was the old cannery near the marina.

We had time to do a little birding too, and the best finds (other than the bald eagles) were a large group of black oystercatchers:

And some black turnstones near the ferry terminal, which I caught in some surreal lighting as the smoke from the wildfires in interior BC made for an orange cast to the sun:

The weekend after leaving Alert Bay, we made our trek back down Vancouver Island to Victoria and then home to San Juan Island, where things had also been pretty quiet on the killer whale front. A group of L-Pod whales made a short visit while we were gone, but then even the transient killer whale sightings dried up for about a week. A combination of wind and bad timing would keep the orca sightings very sparse for me until just last night, August 19th, when I finally had another great transient killer whale encounter. I'll feature photos from that in my next blog post, but in the meantime, incredibly, we've gone more than 2 weeks again without any Southern Residents and are approaching a month without J-Pod. :(

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