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Tourists migrate to whale-watching Coast

En route to see the giant mammals, MacPherson enlightened his guests about the areas’ rich maritime heritage.
Wildlife watchers spotted a grey whale at the north end of the Broken Group Islands on March 16. Happy whale watchers have filled the Coast for the ongoing Pac. Rim Whale Festival.

Nora O’Malley

Americans Gail and Larry Miesner made the journey north to Vancouver Island from their home in Sebring, Florida, to escape the crowds brought on by their county’s annual motor race month.

While they considered staying around Victoria or venturing to Whistler for a couple days, the allure of seeing grey whales was enough to spark their enthusiasm to do the extra five-hour drive cross Island.

“It was a long drive, but it was worth it. And that was even before the whale tour. We haven’t met one person who wasn’t just really gracious, very nice people. That’s a treat,” said Mr. Miesner who saw his first whale by happenstance on a halibut fishing tour in Alaska.

The couple opted to book with Beachcombers Ocean Tours, a smaller tour operator captained by Ucluelet’s Cam MacPherson.

MacPherson, who has been a whale watching and wildlife guide since 1999, took the Americans up the Ucluelet inlet to marvel at an eagle’s nest and a colony of sunbathing sea lions before zipping out towards the Broken Group Islands.

Prior to leaving the dock, MacPherson had checked-in with other local wildlife guides via the radio to find out where the whales were situated.

“We all help each other because the more eyes on the water the better. We know as the seasons repeat themselves where they are going to be this time of year,” he said.

En route to see the giant mammals, MacPherson enlightened his guests about the areas’ rich maritime heritage.

“It’s nice to tell them about the Japanese fishing industry, a bit about the First Nations, pioneer history, and a little bit about the geology,” MacPherson said.

As luck would have it, Mr. and Mrs. Miesner were able to watch a humpback whale and several grey whales while onboard MacPherson’s 28-foot Lynwood Bertram boat.

Mrs. Miesner remarked in jest that it felt like they were on a whale hunt, but MacPherson said Beachcombers, along with the other established whale watching companies in Tofino-Ucluelet, operate under a strict code of conduct.

“Just like your family and children, we want the animals to rest and play and do all their normal activities without being herded along the beach by a boat. We try not to stress them out,” he said.

“We like to get all the boats on one side so the whales don’t feel like they are being surrounded. We must stay 100-metres away from the whales. If they are travelling we cannot get in front and cut them off. That’s wrong. We must not approach them directly from behind, like we are following them. We’ve got to stay on the sidelines and watch them from a distance.”

MacPherson said on some days, if the operators feel the whales are stressed out, they back away.

After their Canadian whale watching adventure, the Miesner’s went off to feast on local seafood.

“The food is great in this area. You’re fortunate to live here. This is beautiful. And again the people are wonderful. That’s probably the coolest thing,” said Mrs. Miesner.

And if Trump becomes President elect?

“We’re gonna move out here and move in with y’all,” they said.