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If you head north of Vancouver Island, just off Canada’s western coast, you’ll venture into the Great Bear Sea, adjacent to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest. Visitors travel long distances to this wild place for the chance to witness pristine nature and wildlife. They revel in the sight of whales hunting for prey, or frolicking, in such a vast ecological paradise.
Come August, Outer Shores Expeditions dispatches its stylish 70-foot wooden schooner Passing Cloud to observe the colossal creatures swimming just beneath the surface of the Great Bear Sea. While enjoying excellent wines and great hospitality, nature enthusiasts can view recovering whale populations — including fin whales, humpback whales, and killer whales (orcas) — in their natural habitat.
When humpbacks decide it’s time for some chow, they engage in a mesmerizing behavior called “bubble net feeding.” In essence, the massive mammals surround a large school of fish and swim in circles, decreasing the diameter of their circles with every pass, while blowing bubbles beneath and around their prey. The circular bubble column presses in on the shoal, forcing the fish to bunch together closer to the surface. Once the protein snacks have been herded, the humpbacks, mouths wide open, burst through the center of the unlucky school of fish and swallow their meal in one gigantic gulp.
“I keep thinking back to evenings out on the ship’s deck, guests enjoying a glass of wine, using our underwater hydrophone to listen to humpback whales singing, and hearing that unmistakable sound of whales trumpeting across otherwise silent fjords, echoing back and forth in stereo all around you,” Russell Markel, marine biologist and founder of Outer Shores Expeditions, explains. “And when the bubble net feeding begins, there is absolutely nothing like it.”
Apart from hitching a ride on a luxurious sailing vessel, and gazing awestruck at the bounty of dolphins and whales, a nine-day excursion through the Great Bear Sea offers guests the chance to chat with researchers studying various whale populations. They are also introduced to the abundant fauna living on or near the coast, from bears and wolves to sea lions and sea otters.
The ancient coastal forest, filled with moisture and mossy flora, is teeming with life. Passing Cloud affords nature lovers the opportunity to take in this temperate rainforest up close while sailing through impressive fjords and past snowy mountains at the same time.
Several trips are scheduled for August this year, taking small groups (6 to 8 guests) on an adventure to the heart of the natural world. Passing Cloud, captained by Russell Markel, is equipped with four private staterooms and a lovely main salon, and crewed by “professional mariners and expert naturalists.” Beauty and knowledge, and the prospect of becoming immersed in the complicated lives of whales (if only from the deck of the boat) and other creatures await anyone who books passage and sails out into the Great Bear Sea.■