Julien, Orcalab volunteer
I'm writing to you from Hanson Island, a place far removed from civilization in British Columbia (Canada), where Paul Pong and his family have lived since 1972, between Vancouver Island and the Canadian mainland, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and centuries-old trees (there's one that's a thousand years old!).
I decided to volunteer to study orcas for over two months. We've all come from far-flung places: Mexico, Japan, Europe, the USA, Australia and Canada, with the same goal in mind: to work on orcas in the wild. Our work consists of taking turns in groups of 2 to 4 people (every 4 hours, 24 hours a day) to listen to and record the orcas' "songs". Five hydrophones are installed on the island and on other nearby islands, and connected to Paul Spong's laboratory.
We see killer whales practically every day. Photo-identification makes it easy to identify each resident killer whale in the North Vancouver community by its dorsal fin. As each sub-group has its own call, it's also easy to identify them.
It's a magical place of tranquility, far from any habitation, where orcas have lived for generations.
The memory I have in my head is of seeing orcas leaping out of the water, or spy hopping (head out of the water to look) and orcas blowing at night, in incredible silence, lit by the full moon and passing 10 meters from the laboratory.
Seeing seals, bears, gray and humpback whales or fin whales for the first time, this is nature at its purest. I haven't even finished the season yet, and already the memories abound.
Anyone interested in finding out more about the study I carried out in Canada, or in working at Orcalab, can write to me.
Hanson Island, British Columbia, Canada
Réseau-Cétacés n°24, p 26, Oct - Dec 1997
by Julien Marchal