Waking up to a calm morning among the rainforest, there was a quiet luminescence to the overcast, and we picked up our anchors with swift expertise. Embarking on our 32 nautical mile journey today, it seemed as though with each turn through Princess Royal Reach, the sun was able to squeeze through the clouds just a bit more than the last. With Princess Royal Island off our port side, our eyes were scanning the remote coastlines feverously, as these 896 square miles are known for being home to extraordinary Spirit Bears.
Princess Royal Island is the largest island on the North Coast of British Columbia and is traditional territory of Tsimshian First Nations communities. Once inhabiting this remote island, their villages were built along the island’s coastlines. However, even with their coastal residence, nearly no one has entered the inland rainforest. In 2015, the 254,200 acre Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy was put into place to act as a means of protecting and conserving both the bears and the island’s rare and special ecosystems to the furthest extent. With Spirit Bears making up just 10% of the black bear population, there is a major need to keep these incredible animals both protected and respected.
In 2001 it was found that the Spirit Bear differs from the common black bear by a single genetic base-pair that is specifically unique to the Spirit Bear, as this type of particular variation is also found in humans with red hair and yellow Labrador Retrievers. In Kitasoo First Nation’s legends, Raven, the creator of all, made one in every ten black bears white to remind Man of the harsh times when the world was covered in ice.
Rounding the east side of Princess Royal Island, we tucked into a small outcropping by the name of Butedale. We poked our heads into the ghost town to snap some crew shots in front of the waterfall that cascaded so beautifully down from Butedale Lake. Founded in 1911 by John Wallace, this town was once a bustling fishing, mining, and logging camp. You can still see the building remains, structures, and wharves. Due to the multi-purpose fish plant, Butedale was able to obtain year-round operating status and holds historic significance as part of the northern Canada canneries. And hey, they still have their ice-cream shop!
Although we had said hello to a few passing humpbacks by this point in our travels, we were all amazed to throttle back and spend some time with a very active juvenile humpback traveling north up Graham Reach. It was hard to say just how old this humpback was, but by the looks of their size as they breached the water, they seemed to be only a few years old. Nevertheless, at birth, a humpback calf is an average of 15 feet long and weighs 1.5 tons. Even with these numbers being large, next to their 40 foot long and 40-ton mothers, these animals can look quite small. Young humpbacks are weaned from their mothers around 6 to 10 months but will stay alongside each other for around 1 year before they officially separate, sharing one of the strongest bonds a mother and child can have during that time.
We spent about an hour with this young whale, floating in place and watching them play around us. From breaching to lunging through the water, it was quite fun to watch the animal exist so energetically in their environment. There are a few existing theories as to why these large marine mammals leap out of the water, but across the board, it seems to be quite situational. Some scientists believe that they use the force of their bodies hitting the surface of the water to dislodge organisms living on their skin, like dead barnacles and irritating whale lice. These free loaders take advantage of the humpback’s slow-moving pace and take up residence on their bodies to feed more extensively in the water column. Another hypothesis is that this display acts as a form of communication. As sound travels four times faster in the water than in air, researchers think that when background noises are high, their impressive contact with the surface of the water could possibly result in an acoustic signal that travels better than a vocal signal would.
Pulling into Bishop Bay Hot Springs we tied up our largest raft yet and everyone was looking forward to spending some time in the springs. The hot springs are part of Bishop Bay’s Monkey Beach Conservancy, protecting an area of cultural and historical significance for the Haisla, Gitga’at and Gitxaala Nations, alongside old-growth forests of red cedar and hemlock. Established in 2006, the hot springs gained rapid popularity as a boat anchorage site and the BC Parks project invested in the production of their hot springs bath house and the site’s camping plots. Alongside these amenities, three cabins were built by the Haisla Nation for public use, and welcome visitors with a safe space and memorable stop along their journey thorough the inside passage.
The evening rain lulled us all to sleep, thankful for today’s adventures and looking forward to tomorrow’s 46 nautical mile journey into Lowe Inlet.
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