THE VISION OF PACIFIC WHALE SOCIETY
Within the traditional territory of the Gitga’at First Nation, the non-profit ‘Pacific Whale Society’ conducts land based acoustic and visual whale research from its base camp on Gil Island. Known locally as ‘Whale Point’, the research lab is the only year-round whale observation facility along the north coast of British Columbia.
The work is based on the philosophy to study different whale species with the least possible impact on their habitat.
Guided by a board of directors who are members of the Gitga’at First Nation, we strive to combine western science with local First Nations knowledge and expertise. With that, we aim to research and protect local Fin Whale, Humpback Whale and Killer Whale populations in important habitat surrounding Gil Island and Gribbel Island. Long term observations and data sets will help the Gitga’at First Nation make important decisions regarding marine use planning within their territory.
Along with the important whale research work, it is hoped that Whale Point can serve as an important cultural location for Gitga’at members, assisting them in accessing their traditional territory and to harvest their traditional foods.
It started with a dream to study Killer Whales in an area of the BC coast, where no long-term whale research had been done before and two people being determined to find such a wild, untouched place.
The dream became reality in the early 2000s, when, after travelling the coast in a slow, wooden boat, the territory of the Gitga’at First Nation was identified as the perfect location. Their territory is located within the borders of the Great Bear Rainforest, stretching from Douglas Channel in the north to Caamano Sound in the south.
The village of Hartley Bay, a small boardwalk community, with a population of about 140 people is the only settlement in the area, with no road access.
The hereditary chief Johnny Clifton and his wife Helen, agreed to meet with us in early 2001 and after listening to our whale research idea, they gave us permission to start a long-term whale study within their territory. Johnny told us to look at the south side of Gil Island, specifically Taylor Bight and search for a suitable spot to settle.
To build what is now known as ‘Whalepoint’, Hermann Meuter needed help from his friends in Germany. It took almost the entire summer of 2002 to build a cabin that could withstand harsh winter conditions of the northern BC coast, but in the end we were spending our first winter on Gil Island that year.
Right from the start we realized that we were not only in important killer whale habitat, but our arrival also coincided with the comeback of the majestic humpback whales. In addition, we were able to witness the comeback of Fin whales to Gitga’at territory. In fact, the inside fjord system of Whale Channel and Squally Channel are the only areas where Fin Whales can be watched from land in BC.
We now have extensive knowledge of cetacean distributions in Gitga’at territory and will continue to collect acoustic and visual data way into the future to help the Gitga’at First Nation make important decisions towards their own marine use plan.