2019: Summer Expedition Update
We’ve had a spectacular 2019 sailing season thus far and it’s not over yet!
Last week we said farewell to another amazing summer in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve as we sailed across Hecate Strait and into the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. Already our guests onboard have been thrilled by sightings of bears, wolves, and other wildlife eagerly awaiting the annual migration of wild Pacific salmon into the rivers and forests of the largest intact coastal temperate rainforest on earth.
In this Summer Expedition Update, we’re excited to share with you some of the highlights that our 2019 guests and crew have enjoyed so far.
Our 2019 expedition season began in April on the west coast of Vancouver Island, exploring Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands Unit of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. We were thrilled to witness the annual herring spawn, one of the great ecological events of our coast. Our guests and crew enjoyed warm spring days and watched in awe as eagles, seals, sea lions, seabirds, and dozens of grey whales gorged on the thick layers of tiny eggs deposited by herring on seaweeds and sea grasses.
Another highlight for us was our newest edition to this region: a visit to the Kiixin Village and Fortress National Historic Site of Canada, near Bamfield, where we were welcomed by Huu-ay-aht First Nation Traditional Knowledge Holders who taught us so much about this remarkable ancient site – we can’t wait to go back next spring!
In early May, as we ventured north towards Bella Coola and into the southern portion of the Great Bear Rainforest, a new region for Outer Shores, we were pleasantly surprised at what awaited us there. Our Great Bear Spring highlights included – but were certainly not limited to – large rafts of sea otters (over 300 animals!), very hot hot springs, towering snow-capped mountains, unimaginable encounters with hundreds of Pacific white-sided dolphins, family groups of Northern resident killer whales, grizzly bears grazing in coastal estuaries, and even a few encounters with coastal wolves. Spring is such a wonderful time to visit this region that we’ve decided to add even more departures for next year to be able to fully explore and experience the grandeur of the Great Bear Rainforest during this wonderful time of year.
Our Gwaii Haanas season, from June through mid-August, was filled with our favourite expedition expectations of the immense marine and terrestrial biodiversity that these ‘islands on the edge’ are famed for. Some of our wildlife highlights this year include beach-foraging taan (Haida Gwaii black bear), a vast array of seabirds including tufted puffins, rhinoceros auklets, ancient murrelets, sooty shearwaters, and an amazing encounter with approximately 30 black-footed albatrosses off the west coast of Kunghit Island.
On the marine mammal front, we witnessed the arrival of new-born Steller sea lion pups, had numerous encounters with mammal-eating (transient) killer whales, spotted several elephant seals, and in August both humpback and fin whales arrived en masse, which was truly a sight to behold.
Other Gwaii Haanas highlights include seeing a giant ocean sunfish (Mola mola), and we were amazed anew by the “Seussian-esque” underwater world of brilliantly coloured marine invertebrates and seaweeds in Burnaby Narrows.
But what really makes our experiences in Gwaii Haanas complete are our visits with the extraordinary Haida Gwaii Watchmen who welcome us to the ancient Haida village sites, serve as cultural ambassadors, and have been stewards of this mystical place since time immemorial.
Our annual crossings of Hecate Strait between the mainland and the Haida Gwaii Archipelago are always a highlight for our crew, and this year was no exception. The Passing Cloud and crew made this ~18-hour and 120 nautical mile journey on August 14th and enjoyed light winds, calm seas, and several sightings of salmon sharks, humpbacks, and fin whales. Now that we’ve returned to the Central Coast, our fall expedition season in the Great Bear Rainforest has officially begun.
Contrary to the start of our very dry 2018 season – one of the worst years on record for forest fires in BC – we were excitedly welcomed to the rainforest this year with, you guessed it, rain! As we write this, wild Pacific salmon are pouring into the rivers and streams of the Great Bear Rainforest, making this a very exciting time for bears, whales, wolves, and other carnivores and scavengers fuelling up for winter. We’re looking forward to the next six weeks of exploring the estuaries, inlets, and waterways of this remarkable region, and enjoying the memorable encounters with whatever wildlife may come our way!