I'm on the deck of the Maple Leaf-- a 92-foot schooner sailing near Campania Island, British Columbia, about 400 miles north of Vancouver as the eagle flies, off the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest.
I clutch the mast to steady myself against the rolls of the mighty Pacific. It’s raining and windy on this late September day, but I have no desire to go down below deck into the warmth and security of the galley.
Because we're surrounded by whales.
A huge fin whale -- the second largest mammal on earth -- floats just to starboard. Four or five humpbacks dine nearby -- their tails making graceful splashes as they dive. Our captain, Kevin Smith, has put a hydrophone in the water. And suddenly the air around us is blasted with deep, alien voices—the whales are talking to each other. As humans we can only marvel at the beauty of their mysterious conversations.
"The humpbacks go to Hawaii to mate," Kevin explains. "But they have been proven to practice their mating songs here, off the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest. They try them out and perfect them before they take them to Hawaii." I wonder if that’s what we’re hearing now, or if the humpbacks are chatting with the fin whales about all the abundant fish they have found here. Do the fin whales, humpbacks, and porpoises speak the same language? I don't have the answers to these questions: I just know that the whales have to keep singing. And if Canadian Big Oil giant Enbridge and its allies in Canada’s Federal Government have their way, and the massive Northern Gateway pipeline/tanker route proposal is approved, the whales may leave this place forever. They'd be driven away by the abrasive sound of huge tar sands oil tankers bound for China coursing through the narrow channels of their pristine habitat several times a week. Or even worse, there could be an oil spill.
I know one thing for sure: I don't want the happy, healthy, talkative whales we're looking at now...
...to be silenced forever. To end up looking like this whale -- a victim of the B.P. oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.