Volunteering for SoundWatch

Through Beam Reach’s Sustainability portion of the program, we (the students) get to choose projects to either educate the public or volunteer our time. One of the projects we all agreed on and decided we must do is volunteer for SoundWatch. SoundWatch is the boat that follows the orcas around and educates the public about the laws pertaining to them.

David scoping for whales

All four of us got our own day to volunteer for SoundWatch. I was the third one to go, and I was ecstatic because I had never experienced the orcas from a boat yet! A man named David Howitt picked me up, and we drove to the other side of the Island to Snug Harbor to meet Tyler, another volunteer. After getting my paperwork all squared away, I hopped in the boat with my mustang suite on (these huge orange suites that are very warm PFDs) and we went down to Eagle Point (south of the lighthouse) and found the orcas right away! It was incredibly calm. I was amazed at the amount of fishing boats that were out; I counted 60 from where we were at, and the orcas were right in the middle of them. It was insane! Right away it would’ve already been crazy to try to coax the boaters away from the pod’s path, so we just made sure everyone was stopped so that the orcas could go through. Thankfully they made it out of that mob of vessels safely. Wow, just hearing them breath all around you is breathtaking. It was incredible being out there.

Every half hour it was my job to record where we were (latitude and longitude), how many boats (and types of boats) were present, what the whale’s behavior was, and which pods we were following. Weather was also noted. I was also in charge of giving people a copy of the regulations with this long stick with a little clip. We were lucky, everyone was grateful that we were out there, and treated us well. I guess that doesn’t always happen.

Near the end of the day the whales moved further west, the crowd of boats surrounding them died down. I saw some bull kelp in the water and I thought “I want to try playing one of those…” I’d heard of people being able to play bull kelp, and some even do it to summon the orcas. I’m a music minor, so the idea was hard to pass up! David let me stop for some bull kelp and he cut the end off and made it into a horn! Bull kelp is a long hollow tube that slowly narrows as it gets longer, and it was surprisingly slimy! First David had a go, and being a past horn player himself, I would believe that he could summon the orcas with that sound. Then he let me try, and now I can honestly say I played kelp! Like any brass instrument, I could get a few notes out of the one piece of kelp, and we’d cut it to different sizes to get different sounds.








Not long after that there were only about 3 boats left out there. We did our count, and said goodbye to our black and white friends and called it a day.

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