One of my favourite tourist activities in port cities and towns is whale watching. I love the ocean. I love getting out on a boat, smelling the salt in the air and scanning the horizon for a glimpse of sea creatures.
This Fall we took a day trip to Victoria and went whale watching with Springtide Whale Watching and Eco Tours. We were on one of their 60 foot motor yachts, the Marauder IV. The boot can accommodate 84 passengers plus crew. It was a pretty comfortable boat with a few options for sitting or standing on multiple decks. Susannah and I went immediately up to the bow to get a good photography spot where we’d be easily able to see over both sides of the boat.
We cruised out of Victoria Harbour and once out into open water the captain sped the boat up and away we went. Up at the bow, it got pretty bumpy so we sat down on the deck for awhile. It also got really cold and although we had brought extra layers we were very grateful for the jackets that the crew offered to everybody.
It wasn’t long before we spotted our first whale – a humpback. We tracked it for awhile and watched it arch and dive, sending water cascading over its beautiful tail.
It’s amazing how a whale can be identified by its unique colouring and markings with scratches and nicks accumulated over its lifetime.
Watching closely we realised our humpback was not alone – there were two! In the next couple of photos, you can see them together.
It seems like the whale watching companies have pretty good peer relationships so there was no competition to get closer than each other or to do anything that might harm the whales. That’s very important to us and why we select “Eco” tours. This boat looks super close but they weren’t moving and also the photo is taken with a very long lens which compresses distance.
The next photo shows you the size of a humpback whale compared to a tanker. It may also give you an idea of how busy shipping lanes could negatively impact whales.
We traveled around in search of more marine wildlife but failed to find any other cetaceans. We were taken to a little island with hopes to see seals, otters or maybe even an Orca. Our trip took place near the end of the massive BC forest fires which meant that the sky was very smoky and hazy. It was kind of eerie.
We saw harbour seals sunning themselves on the rocks.
There was some nice birdlife as well.
Our onboard naturalist gave an interesting talk about kelp and its uses and we even got to taste some freshly cut. Then we motored back to port to end our trip.
Whale watching is always unpredictable as you never know what you are going to see. Although there were no Orcas for us this time around, we did enjoy the majesty of the humpbacks.
We coupled this excursion with a morning visit to Victoria Butterfly Gardens. Together with our lovely afternoon out on the water, thismade a great day trip from Vancouver. As always, Victoria did not disappoint.
We’ve been very lucky. I know that. We have had the most beautiful, loving, entertaining black cats in the world. Until recently, when we lost one, and my heart was broken.
Rewind to 2005
Free to a good home: Susannah found our two cats listed on Craigslist. The ad described them as large, black and friendly; indoor boys who would love to be out. They were about 14 months old, neutered and up to date on all shots. We had just moved to a slightly unkempt, pet-friendly, heritage townhouse in East Van and we were looking for some furry friends to share it with so we arranged to meet them. Right away both cats came over to inspect us and let us pet them. This was unusual for one of them their owner said. For her, I think that sealed the deal. She dropped them off to us a few days later and they were ours!
They came pre-named as White Spot and Runti (the runt of the litter). We wanted to rename them but White Spot had a certain ring to it and we couldn’t find anything with the same tone, so it kind of stuck. Whitey for short. Runti became Rudi.
Rudi hid under the sofa for about a week, sneaking out to eat or to do his business when we weren’t around. Whitey was friendlier and after a very short time he appeared at the top of the stairs to say hello. Rudi eventually followed and we quickly became a happy foursome.
After a couple of weeks, we let the boys outside. They had new collars with ID tags and we had begun rattling a metal cookie tin with kibble inside at meal times so we hoped they would associate that sound with home. They did and we could open the door, rattle the tin and see our two boys run down the street towards us. Although they would roam, they always came home for food and cuddles.
These cats were awesome! They were the size of dogs, very confident, friendly to all, and very affectionate to us. They followed us everywhere. If we were going for a walk we’d have to run down the street in order to leave them behind. They were curious, adventurous and provided hours of entertainment.
In the 12 years since we got the cats, we have lived in 5 different spaces. Each move has been stressful but each time we have all settled in and made the space our home. Through ups and downs, it’s all been ok as we’ve been a unit of 4.
There have been many adventures along the way.
Whitey once got stuck on a neighbour’s roof and had to be rescued. He also got trapped in our landlord’s storage basement below our house – we could hear him meowing pitifully through the floorboards. In one apartment he snuggled into an open chest of drawers where we kept blankets and lovely warm fabrics and got stuck inside the chest. Eventually, we had to take the back off the chest to rescue him. Silly kitty.
One winter Whitey went missing. We were very worried. We made posters and distributed them everywhere. We cried and cried but refused to give up and for three weeks we wandered the neighbourhood in ever increasing circles, rattling the tin and calling for him. I’m pretty sure people thought we were mad. Then early one morning we opened the door, and there he was – a super skinny version of himself, but our Whitey was home!
Rudi also disappeared once. Only for 3 nights, but it was enough to make us go out searching. He turned up at 3 am yelling at the door. Susannah rushed downstairs and let him in and he collapsed exhaustedly on the floor. He was covered in dirt and his tail was a little bent. It is still crooked but we’ll never know what happened.
Talk about 9 lives!
In 2013 we moved to a really nice apartment in East Van with a lovely patio. It’s sunny and comfortable with lots of spots a cat might like. The boys became indoor cats again. They settled here well and as they were aging and slowing down a bit, we felt it much safer for them to be inside.
Our unit of 4 continued on. Then suddenly, a few weeks ago Whitey started dropping weight. It was quite rapid but the weather had improved and he had quickly dropped winter weight the year before so we weren’t too worried. But then he stopped eating. He appeared at mealtimes, looked at his food and then walked away. We tried to tempt him with treats and delicious smells which worked for a couple of days. After that, he refused food entirely and went and lay in a space in the wardrobe. Always a social cat, this was unusual so we made an appointment with our vet.
The vet couldn’t see anything immediately wrong. Whitey was alert, social, and didn’t seem to be in obvious distress. He did react a little when she felt his belly so she decided to do some blood tests. The results came back the next day. Whitey had pancreatitis and fatty liver disease. In order to assess his case, the vet recommended an ultrasound. We booked him in. As he was still not eating and drinking they hooked him up to a fluid IV so he wouldn’t get too dehydrated. In the evening we went to collect him and were told that he had a tumour which had started on his spleen and had now spread to his pancreas and liver. The vet had given him painkillers which she said seemed to make him more comfortable. We opted to have the tumour tested before deciding the next move and took Whitey home.
We hoped that he might respond to encouragement to eat if he was in less pain but unfortunately he immediately retreated back to the wardrobe. He would let us pet him and he would try to eat and drink, but only a nibble or a small lick of water – not a sustainable amount. He looked awful. His eyes were glazed and distant and he’d lost his spunk.
The next day there was no improvement and we began to talk about the “what ifs”. We agreed that the aim was to keep him as comfortable as possible. This conversation was very hard. We were only just beginning to realise that we might lose him.
That evening Susannah administered his pain medication while I was on the patio. Whitey heard us talking and looked up. I waved his brush at him and he responded by coming out to the patio to say hello. I brushed him lightly for awhile then stroked him gently. He stayed very close to us for about an hour or so and then once again retreated to the wardrobe. We felt hope that he had rallied a little.
The next morning we got a call from the vet with the worst news. Whitey’s tumour was cancerous and as it had spread to two other organs it was not operable. She said we could try medications to shrink the tumour and to increase his appetite but Susannah and I both knew that it would be merely postponing the inevitable. For what quality of life? Whitey had become a wardrobe-cat, drugged up on pain meds. That was just not him. We tearfully made the decision to euthanize him and took him in for one last trip to the vets.
The procedure was made bearable by the staff at the Vancouver Veterinary Hospital who were very understanding and let us have whatever time we needed with Whitey, both before and after. Dr. Cheung explained every step and was very gentle. Whitey did not suffer. He was not scared. He just put his tired head down and went to sleep. Our unit of 4 was broken.
I have cried pretty much every day since he died. At first it was the pain of losing him and the guilt of having made the decision to end his life. Even though I know we made the right decision for him, to end his pain, I still questioned myself. Could he have recovered? Did we move too quickly?
I work a lot from home so I have always had the cats around me, keeping me company or “supervising” activities. In part that’s what makes it so hard. Firstly there were the everyday things. Cuddles in bed with only one cat, not two. Packing up the second food bowl and the blanket he used to lie on. Seeing movement out of the corner of my eye and thinking it was him. Then there were the unexpected things. I shared an elevator ride with a couple in my building last week. We chatted about the weather etc and just as we reached our floor one of them said: “By the way, what are your cats’ names?” I replied “White Spot and Rudi but unfortunately, White Spot passed away this week”. Then I burst into tears and hurriedly retreated to my apartment. Unexpected. Wasn’t prepared for that. Too raw.
Rudi is having a tough time. He’s always been with his brother. Sometimes they wrestled and fought, sometimes they napped together. They were never far from each other. Rudi has been a little limpet, staying very close to me, both giving and requiring a little extra love and reassurance. He is confused.
We’ll adapt. People do. Animals do. Over time we will become a seamless unit of 3. But it will take time. Whitey was a big cat, both in stature and in love. I believe that the last night on the patio was his way of saying goodbye. White Spot was a smart cat, a thinking cat, who spoke very little but communicated in volumes. He knew he was loved and he knew we would never do anything to hurt him. To have that trust and love from an animal is a special thing and it should be honoured.
We are lucky. We had a wonderful cat named White Spot to share part of life’s journey with.
Ok I won’t lie. When we decided to go up North I knew that the bear watching excursion was going to be the highlight of my trip. Coming from New Zealand where there are NO BEARS (actually there are NO predatory animals PERIOD), even the thought of encountering a bear scares the bejeezes out of me. Yet as a photographer I am in awe of them and definitely wanted to see them in their natural environment.
On our trip to Prince Rupert, we were fortunate enough to be hosted by Prince Rupert Adventure Tours for our bear watching excursion. As our awesome B&B was right on the water’s edge, we were able to walk down to the dock after breakfast to check in and board. The vessel is able to accommodate 100 passengers and despite being fully booked, including a large boisterous school group, I have to say that it did not seem too crowded and everyone was able to get a good viewing spot. Everyone was very accommodating and looked out for each other despite language and age barriers so that was pretty cool.
The Grizzly Bear Tour motors through the Chatham Sound for about 1.5 hours in order to reach the Khutzeymateen Valley, which is not reachable by land. On the way we saw some fantastic scenery and plenty of wildlife to look for. We saw lots of seabirds and a cluster of seals sunning themselves on some rocks.
Once in the Khutzeymateen area the Captain and crew use binoculars to look out for bears. Patience and complete silence is the key to good viewing as the Captain will pilot the vessel up as close as he/she can without disturbing the animals. The schoolkids turned their volume right down and everyone was very respectful. There were about 3-4 kids who stayed out on deck the entire time, pointing out wildlife and speaking in whispers. Can anyone say “Future Marine Scientists”?
I loved that this was an eco tour and that the impact on the bears was minimal. There was one occasion on our trip where we saw a young bear and approached but the Captain chose to pull away and move on as the bear seemed agitated, perhaps sensing our presence. As much as I wanted some bear shots, I am happy that the correct ethical decision was made for the animal. We remained a reasonable distance from the shore at all times – all of the shots here are taken with a telephoto lens.
We saw several bears and were able to observe them for some time. They were much skinnier than I had imagined they would be. As it was Spring they would have only recently woken from hibernation. Once awake they move down to the coastline to feast on the lush green grasses that grow near the water’s edge, giving them the vitamins and nutrients they need to kick-start their metabolisms.
Check out the claws on this one! Very glad I was on a boat and well off-shore.
To be able to view an animal in nature without negatively impacting on it’s environment is simply awesome! The excursion was, as expected, an amazing highlight of our trip and an adventure that I would totally recommend. It was also a very long day (6 hours) and many of us were dozing inside on the way back to Prince Rupert, myself included. Once we neared the port the Captain and crew had another treat for us. They threw animal fat high into the air at each side of the boat and within minutes we were surrounded by about 30 eagles diving and grabbing the food with their talons. They were fantastic to watch and an exciting end to a great day.