Getting Ready for Adventure
Living in the Pacific Northwest, whales are a big part of our natural world; however, many girls never get the chance to actually see whales. Thanks to the generosity of Captain Terry Buzzard of Island Mariner Cruises and the Everett O. Williams Foundation, our girls in the Bellingham area were able to enter a drawing where they could win a trip on a whale watching tour. Girls from five troops were selected in the drawing and won tickets for the trip: Troop #43653, Troop #42988, Troop #43525, Troop #52016 and Troop #42579! This week the winners got to claim their prize and more than 70 girls, parents, volunteers and staff headed to the San Juan Islands to try their luck at spotting whales!
Everyone gathered bright and early, making sure they had their sunscreen, jacket, boat-safe shoes and water bottle. Once they went over basic boating safety rules, everyone climbed aboard and got ready for the trip. Onboard, the girls met Rusty, the captain’s “co-captain” dog who was very friendly and loves hot dogs. On the way out to the islands, the girls could see many hawks and eagles, as well as harbor seals and harbor porpoises. With their little dorsal fins, the harbor porpoises looks like mini-whales and gave the girls a chance to practice spotting ocean creatures. The girls soaked up the rare day of sunshine and were excited to see the snow-capped Olympic Mountains, as well at Mt. Baker and even Mt. Rainier!
Face-Painting, Whale Poop and Waiting for Whales
Like any wild animal-viewing, whale watching takes patience. The naturalist on board, Victoria Souze, helped the girls understand that the Orca whales in our area mostly eat salmon, so they have to go where the salmon are. This means that sometimes you have to wait a long time to find the whales. While they waited, the girls practiced their face-painting talents and made different art projects like watercolor painting, bracelets, key chains, bookmarks and lanyards.
Victoria also taught the girls that there are lots of rules about how boats and people can interact with whales, to make sure the animals are protected. One of the most interesting things the girls learned is that there are research boats in the area that can get up close to whales, because they’re trying to learn more about the Orcas. Later on the girls saw a research boat that was carrying a very special dog. This dog helps the researchers because it’s trained to be able to go on the boat and smell around the water until it can identify whale poop. By studying the whale’s poop, the researchers can see what kind of fish they’ve been eating and can even tell what rivers those fish were from! The researchers also study the Orcas’ toxin levels – toxins are fat-soluble and so when they get eaten by a whale they stay in the whales’ blubber forever. This information helps the researchers figure out what we can all do to help protect our whales.
Singing for the Orcas
Out on the deck, the girls scanned the horizon looking for whale fins and taking pictures of the beautiful islands. To help pass the time (and hopefully catch the whales’ attention), the girls sang many classic Girl Scout songs and helped teach each other new songs. In fact, the girls made up their own whale calling song! This is the song the girls created:
The Whale Call SongWe are whales / Whales ones and all And when we get together /Hear our whale call: ¡Ballena! ¡Ballena! / ¡Pero ven acá ballena! ¡Ballena! ¡Ballena! / ¡Pero ven acá ballena! ¡Ballena! ¡Ballena! / ¡Pero ven acá ballena!
Almost like the Orcas heard the girls’ song, the first whale was spotted! All around the boat, the girls saw Orcas from both the J pod and the L pod. Victoria helped identify the whales and was even able to tell the girls the whales’ names and where they were born. On the southwest side of San Juan Island the girls saw at least six Orcas, including a female with her calf (a baby whale) and a large male whose dorsal fin was over five feet tall! The girls saw Racer (L72), Fluke (L105), Mike (J26) and several others. The wait was worth it and every girl got to see several Orcas, snapping pictures and peering through binoculars for a closer look.
Cleaning Up, Heading Home and Saying Thanks
After a successful day of whale spotting, it was time to come back to shore. Heidi Fish, the Community Development Manager who organized such a wonderful day, made sure to remind the girls about GSGG – Girl Scouts Grab Garbage! Together, the girls made sure the boat was as tidy when they left as it had been when they got on board.
But the fun wasn’t over yet! On the way back every girl got the chance to sit in the Captain’s chair in the pilot house and see how the captain navigates the ship, plus they earned an honorary captain certificate. Then the girls got a very special opportunity to go below deck and see the engine room of the ship – that’s something most people don’t get to do!
Before they left, the girls made sure to give a special thanks to the boat’s staff including John Wiffler, Jen Hunter, Captain Terry, Naturalist Victoria and Rusty the dog. The staff and parents also gave a big thanks to Heidi Fish and the rest of the Marysville area staff, as well as to the Everett O. Williams foundation for helping create such a special day. It was a perfect day and everyone was eager to go home and share tales with their family and friends about the adventure!