March 30, 2011

Pacific Rim Whale Fest

I just came back after attending a whale festival on Vancouver island and figured that this might be a good place to tell my friends and family what I got up to.

The Pacific Rim Whale Festival is an annual festival taking place in Ucluelet and Tofino, BC, Canada that celebrates everything whale. Well actually it's more like "everything Pacific coast". The focus is on the gray whale migration that passes along the coast every March as the gray whales head up from the warm waters of Mexico to the feeding gold mine that is the Pacific Alaskan coast. Several hundred whales pass by each year and as such it's one of the best times to go whale watching.

This year was the 25th Anniversary of the festival and was my first time heading up. I got a chance to do an educational talk about my thesis work on the filtration mechanics of lunge-feeding baleen whales, but my wife and I made a vacation out of it and stuck around for a few festival events too.

Anyways, let's make this easy and just run thru the day-to-day fun that my wife and I got up to.

Check out some of my pictures here.

We took off for Vancouver Island the day before the festival got started and actually got an early jump as my wife was home sick that day. It was an easy traveling day though, so I managed to get her in the car and we took off for Port Alberni where my in-laws live. The drive is always incredible on the way to Port Alberni and this relaxed drive finally gave us the opportunity to stop at Cathedral Grove. I highly recommend stopping there if you pass by. The temperate rainforest that surrounds you is simply magnificent.

We spent the day in Port Alberni and ended up going on a little nature walk here as well. The walk was actually pretty amazing considering we were within the city (town?) limits and yet felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. (Check out the pictures) In the late afternoon we made our way over to Ucluelet and checked into our hotel. And what a hotel! (Again, see the pictures) The Waters Edge Resort in Ucluelet was perfect. We had a one bedroom suite on the third floor overlooking the dock and the town. At night I took advantage of our brand new tripod and my new camera lens to capture some pictures that I never thought I could do! And while I took pictures of the port, my wife took in the private balcony jacuzzi that comes with each suite. Ya, pretty sweet deal.

A perfect, blue sky on a spectacular March day. We really couldn't have asked for better weather on this trip. The west coast is renowned for it endless cloudiness and frequent rain. We, however, got very little of that. After taking in a late breakfast we thought we should take advantage of this weather (it might not last long!) and do some outdoor activities. It started with some kayaking around the straight. The kayaks were free courtesy of the hotel so we did a little bit of island hopping and sea lion spotting. Hanging out on the water and just sitting still is a feeling that us city folk don't really get to experience much. The extent of silence that you can get when you're out on the water always impresses me. There's no background noise. No cars. No rumbling generators. No humming street lights. Nothing. Just silence. Ahhhhh....

Anyways, back to the adventure. We then headed off on some whale watching. Having studied the feeding mechanisms of whales for the last couple years, I had yet to see a free, live baleen whale. So this was the perfect chance. And sure enough we spotted a couple whales. We saw about 4-6 grey whales and 2 humpbacks. Plus some stellar and California sea lions. All in all a pretty jam packed 2.5 hour boat ride. We went with Jamie's Whaling and I would highly recommend it. Our guide, Scott, knew a fair amount about the whales and the coast in general. I like it when guides don't have to be prompted to give you information. Scott would just bring up interesting facts without prompting, but would still leave some times of quiet and peace.

So, alas I had seen some live whales!! I didn't manage to get any great pics, the whales were not to obliging on showing their backs let alone their whale tails or a full breach. Never the less, it still counts as a whale sighting if all you really see is the mist from the blow hole! The boat ride itself was worth the trip. We were on a small 20 foot zodiac, but man, that thing could really cook it. At some points we were just skimming the water and the guy behind me's clam chowder just wouldn't stay down. He was quick enough to hurl over the side though, so I stayed clean.

We took an early night as I wanted to get ready for my talk the next day. Just another evening of jacuzzi tubbing and fishing boat photographing.

The big day! I gave my talk at the Wickannish Interpretive Centre in Pacific Rim National Park. Almost half way between Ucluelet and Tofino. It was a beautiful setting with the interpretive centre sitting right on the beach (the southern tip of the famous Long Beach). At first it looked like my 11:30am Monday morning time-slot might have dissuaded anybody for coming, but by the time I started there were about 30 people in the crowd.

My talk seemed to go over well. I had a lot of questions at the end of it so that's always a good sign. The questions I got ranged from a 4 yr old getting her mum to ask whether Nemo really could have come out of the spout of a whale to someone (who must have been an engineer) commenting on pressure differentials and laminar versus turbulent flow. Thankfully I think my background abled me to address both questions. :)

After my talk we met up with some of Alys' relatives and had lunch at the beautiful Black Rock Resort in Ucluelet. Considering how posh the resort is, the restaurant was pretty reasonably priced (lunch anyways) and pretty tasty too.

The evening gave us the chance to attend Sweet Indulgence, the Whale Festival's all you can eat dessert event. It was held at the Ukee community centre and had a couple hundred people show up. And the desserts were tasty too! The people of Ucluelet really put a lot of effort into making tons of homemade desserts and we were able to eat until we couldn't take any more. There were also about 50 door prizes too, of which we won one (2 for 1 dessert!) and a pretty good live acoustic duo playing some original and some acoustic covers the whole evening.

Guess what we did later in the evening? That's right....jacuzzi and pictures! I guess it looks like I'm really into photography now! And my wife must be really into jacuzzis...

Our first rainy day. We woke up to rain and it didn't want to let up. So unfortunately we had to skip the last event we had planned to attend (a nature walk led by a professional photographer) and headed back up thru Port Alberni and back to Vancouver.

All-in-all this was an amazing trip and I definitely hope to be back to Ucluelet and Tofino for the Pacific Rim Whale Festival! Next time we'll have to do some surfing and some more hiking if we get weather like that again. If you ever get a chance to hit up the Whale Festival, don't pass it up. I guarantee it'll be worth it!


  1. Great pix Shel! Congrats on the talk too. Wish we were able to catch you in action. ahhhhh...Tofino...felt like I was there...great blog.

  2. Great pictures Sheldon! We all just love the pictures, wish we were there too. BTW - love the hair! There has been a lot of WHALErs spotting in the NHL these days - the CANES are flying

  3. Wish we could have been there, Mr Sheldon. You know how much we love the Tofino and Ucluet! We really enjoyed the PPT presentation .... we are so proud of you!
    Great photos of your vacation, Alys and Sheldon!! That Water's Edge Resort looks fabulous .... we'll have to check it out some time!
    Savio ..... the hair definitely caught our attention too!
    Love ya!
    Ma and Pa

  4. Nice blog! Loved the pics! I can't wait to get my own DSLR! Congrats on the presentation!