A short bio about photographer Jenn Dickie, who shoots wildlife and nature photography on British Columbia's west coast.

Alone in the Wild

Oct 5, 2017

It is now day 14 and I now find myself as the sole inhabitant of Gil Island, which will be the case for the next 6 days.  I have all the luxuries of modern living (internet, flush toilet, hot shower and red wine) in one of the most remote and stunning places on the planet. The view from my bed in the lab is a 180 degree view of ocean, and wild coastline.  This place is frequented by whales, sea lions, ravens, the occasional wolf or bear and many other creatures.  All of which i have the potential to see while lying in bed.  To top it off I am listening to the sounds of the underwater world, which include humpback whale feeding calls and the occasional pod of passing orca from the hydrophones throughout the area that are broadcast into the lab.  The weather tonight has taken a turn from glorious sunshine to howling winds, and I am now waiting for the rain to begin.  

My trip thus far has been action packed, full of amazing wildlife encounters and wonderful people.  We spend the first week at the new cabin on Fin Island (no internet, no shower and bucket for a toilet, but we did have red wine :).  I awoke on my first morning to a gasp from Janie as a Humpback breached a mere 20 meters from the cabin and sat up just in time see the giant splash that is created when a 30 tonne mammal thrusts is body out of the water then comes crashing back down.  Our first 24 hours were full of activity, that put even my most lofty hopes for the new research cabin to shame (breaching. bubble net feeding, tail slapping, sea lions, seals, sandhill cranes, and even a lone sea otter who stopped by for a moment), I had lost count of the number of breaching whales had seen by the second day.   

On Saturday we moved down to Whale Point, which is the original research station I have been to many times.  There is a film crew here working on a documentary called The Whale and the Raven about the research that Janie and Hermann having been doing which I have now become a part of.   We spent from dawn to dusk on the boat yesterday doing a whale survey and where all blown away by the sheer number of whales and the types of encounters we experienced.  Between the group of us the day was well documented by a professional videographer, sound technician, drone pilot, whale researcher and myself as the photographer on the boat.  We must have encountered 40 individual humpback whales followed by a pod of orca, breaching in the setting sun on our way home. Even i was shocked my the number of photographs I managed to take in one day, and plan to spend the rainy day expected tomorrow sifting threw them all.  

Oct 20, 2107

When I left you it was my first night alone on Gil island… and just to be clear this is a very big island to have all to yourself (231km2).  Not to mention all the surrounding islands with no one on them either.  I ended up spending a very nervous night listening to the wind howling outside.  A sail boat captain who was anchored nearby told me a couple days later he had clocked the wind speed at over 60 nM (111km/hr)…almost twice the forecasted speed, so it turns out it was not just me being dramatic.  Both the lab and I survived unscathed.  I very much enjoyed the rest of the week and though the whale activity in Taylor Bight was quieter than it had been previously, there were still lots of creatures to keep me entertained, such as; seals, sea lions, ravens, black turnstones and a little mouse who first appeared on the pillow next to my head.  I spent my days wandering the shore line and forests edge taking photographs of all the things I found.  Even on the rainy days when I was trying to get caught up on some editing, the water dripping from the mossy roof caught my eye and 2 hours later I had yet another 100 photos to sort through.  

I had visits from 3 ecotourism boats over the week and got to give my first whale talks to their guests, which would include the following...  “I first came to Cetacea Lab in 2002, the year the first structure was built here, with my guests from a high end fishing lodge nearby where I worked as an adventure guide.  Jannie and Hermann would tell us about the research there were doing in the area and types of whales found here… now 15 years later on my 9th trip here I find myself the one giving the talk.  Our newest project is in conjunction with the Gitga’at People who have built a research cabin on Fin Island (where I spent my first week this trip).  This cabin is located on the tanker route proposed by Enbridge and the LNG project in Kitimat currently under consideration.  It is tasked with creating a understanding of the whale activity in the area so that the impact of ships and possible tankers in the area can be studied.  The project combines 4 hydrophones set up around the area which give us the ability to triangulate the exact position of whales based of the acoustic data being collected.  It also has a visual component, where a scope, camera, magnometer and computer program are combined to attain an exact GPS location for a whale spotted visually.  This will allow us to study the behaviour of the whales if large boat traffic such as tankers are permitted into this region and to warn vessels of the location of whales in the area to help reduce potential ship strikes."

The week disappeared quickly and when everyone arrived back, while I was happy to see them all, I would have also been content to have the place to myself a little longer.   The upcoming weather forecast was such that I would have to leave a couple days early so Janie could beach the boat at the last high tide before the storm and I could ensure I was out in time to make my flight home.  I spent the final days in the canoe and exploring Gil Creek, a salmon creek nearby.  The boat ride back to Prince Rupert involves a 1 ride in a small boat up to Hartley Bay, then a 4 hr private ferry back to Rupert.  The sunrise, glassy calm seas and sleeping whales at the south end of Squally Channel made for a lovely goodbye, but once we were exposed the icy cold outflow winds of Douglas Channel I had the feeling I had timed my trip just right.  The pouring rain of the past week, has further confirmed this feeling.  

While I do appreciate being home and not having to go outside to pee in the middle of the night, I miss this beautiful piece of paradise and am already looking forward to my next trip.