After our visit to the Indian villages that are disappearing into the landscape, we anchored on Hanson Island. This island has been officially incorporated as the southern-most extent of the “Great Bear Rainforest” which names protected coastal rainforest from here all the way north and almost to the Alaskan border. We hope to see much more of this after we get north of Cape Caution. After a magenta sunset, the morning dawned and we walked in a second growth forest, noting strange fungi and the huge stumps remaining from logging many years ago.
Around on the south end of Hanson Island we visited Paul Spong and Helena Symonds at their OrcaLab, an off-the-grid field station, now in its 46th year of operation, that listens to whales day and night from multiple hydrophones linked together now by modern Ubiquity long-range wireless repeaters. Helena took us on a walk to their “mother” tree a half-mile or so up in the woods. It is appropriately called “mother” because it is old, old, old and it is theirs, in a way, because they saved it from the logging concessionaire.
Helena told us a story. Some 20 years ago, the Forestry Department sold a concession for the wood on this part of Hanson Island. Paul and Helena wrote letters and went to meetings and eventually got the concessionaire bosses to come and walk on Hanson. They took them up hill and down, here and there, and after an appropriate level of tiredness, they came to this gigantic fir. The company men had been softened up to the degree that one declaimed, “We have to save this tree!” And so it stands – 1000 years so far, and many more to come, until some super southeaster sends it down, down, down. Thank you, Paul and Helena!
Paul and Helena have Deb as the first of their summer interns with more en route. Helena made a lovely lunch of delicious squash soup, cheeses, hearty bread and fresh lettuce and tomatoes. Yum! And this was followed by an afternoon of excellent conversation circling in and out of orcas and humpbacks and Brexit and Trump. We finished this afternoon of feasting with Paul’s favorite – fresh strawberries from the garden and ice cream.
Now, to work. One of the hydrophone signal relay stations had lost power, so Paul, Deb and Val set off to get things running again. We zoomed a couple of miles in Paul’s unique, tiny power boat and Deb kept if off the rocks, while Paul and Val carried gasoline up a 300 foot cliff and refilled a generator that runs to keep batteries charged. Solar panels are supposed to do this but, as happens, a solar voltage controller had blown up and needed to be replaced. Not something easy to do this far from the ‘civilized’ world……
That evening we motored over to Freshwater Bay and tucked in behind Flower Island and tied ourselves between our anchor and a huge beach log. This form of anchoring, termed ‘stern-tie’, is more than handy when the water gets quickly deep near the shore. We set an anchor on the sloping sea floor, backed the boat toward the beach, and then pulled up hill toward the shore with a long, floating rope. A full moon rose up over the mountains.
The next morning, Paul appeared and we removed a hydrophone that had failed last winter and started the steps toward getting this site running again. This involved straightening out 50 meters or so of garden hose with cable inside, attaching a new cable to the old one and then carefully using the old cable to pull the new cable through the hose which will then protect the hydrophone cable from storms, etc. Once this was done, we soldered a replacement hydrophone on to the cable, tested it, and started the process of waterproofing it. This latter task takes 12 hours or so as a waterproofing coating is applied, let dry, covered with special tape and then the process is repeated three times.
While we were working on this project, Leslie saw the spray of a whale’s exhalation coming up from behind the rocks at the mouth of Freshwater Bay a few hundred meters away. It surfaced near Cat’s Cradle as we all stood in awed silence.
Prior to this, we had seen lots of fish jumping in this clear, green water and eagles swooping and gulls worrying about all this, so we knew that there were lots of herring around. We guessed that this humpback was foraging on these small silver fish. Paul told us that he has seen humpbacks lying at the surface with their mouths open just waiting for the herring to swim in, and then – an appetizer!