A Whale Named Terry

Blog written by MERS team member – Jackie Hildering
Education and Communications Director, Humpback Researcher, MERS Co-Founder 


Try to stop the tears from welling up in your eyes.
I couldn’t.
Because this is where hope, whales, and children intersect. 

Terry Fox during the “Marathon of Hope” 1980. Photo from © Gail Harvey, United Press Canada from the Royal BC Museum website.

Hope

If you were in Canada in 1980 and of an age to understand the magnitude of what Terry Fox was striving to do, just an image of him will already make you emotional. 

Terry Fox was a beacon of hope, courage, integrity, positivity, strength and defiance of cancer. He was only 18 when he lost most of his right leg to bone cancer. 

He was 21 when he dipped his artificial leg into the Atlantic Ocean and began his “Marathon of Hope” on April 12, 1980. He planned to run across Canada, from Newfoundland back to his home in British Columbia, to raise money for cancer research

He ran for 143 days, covering 5,373 kilometres and then Terry had to stop. The cancer had spread to his lung. He had run as far as Thunder Bay, Ontario. 

He was one month short of turning 23 when he died on June 28th, 1981.

Whales

BCX1100 is a Humpback Whale. This is one of the Humpbacks that has been seen this year near Port Alice on NW Vancouver Island.  The whale was documented travelling with Humpback “Whiskers” and her 2019 calf by photographer Darrell McIntosh. As is the case for so many areas off British Columbia’s coast, we have a second chance with these giants. The whales off Port Alice are part of a Humpback comeback to where they used to be whaled (up to 1966). 

BCX1100 with damaged right fluke. Photo by Darrell McIntosh, September 2, 2019.

Note in the photo above that Humpback BCX100 has an injured fluke. The right side is limped over. We do not know the cause. The injury dates back to before 2010 and possible causes include vessel strike and entanglement. 

“Whiskers” is the nickname for Humpback BCZ0200 (photo below). Catalogue designations like “BCZ0200” are difficult to remember so we nickname the Humpbacks for distinctive features. See what looks like a cat face on Whiskers’ tail?

Sure you do!

Marine Education and Research Society catalogue photo for Whiskers, BCX0200 by Jared Towers, MERS, MML-42. For more on the cataloguing and nicknaming of Humpbacks please see this link.

These nicknames allow for the potential for greater public engagement and thereby, conservation. The nicknames also really, really help us recognize the whales which is the foundation of all our other research. 

Children

When we learned that Whiskers had a calf this year and had been sighted outside Port Alice, we of course wanted local children to suggest nicknames. Then Darrell also documented the other whale with mom and calf, whereby we asked the children to suggest a nickname for both Whiskers’ calf and BCX1100.

Students of Sea View School, Port Alice. They can see often see the Humpbacks from the school playground. Photo: Natalie Stewart.

There are just 37 students at Sea View School in Port Alice. I had a video call with them while we were on the water on the other side of Vancouver Island doing Humpback research. In the call I helped explain how the nicknames were like a clue for who the whale was. We discussed the most identifiable features of the two whales and they asked questions that reflected concern for the whales and how the whale with the injury  might not be able to swim as well as other Humpbacks. 

And then it came – the message that the students had come up with their suggestions. They thought that BCX1100, the whale with the injured right fluke who was able to make it all the way to Port Alice from Hawaii or Mexico despite a handicap, should be nicknamed . .  “Terry”. 

The tears. Oh the tears. To get personal here, I was 16 when Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope. I graduated from high school shortly after he died. His life ended. My adult life was just beginning.

To this day, at age 56, I have the paper on which my 16-year-old hand wrote this quote from Terry:


“How many people do something they believe in? I just wish people would realize that anything’s possible if you try – dreams are made if people try”. Terrence Stanley Fox.


He had an undefinable yet undeniably large impact on who I am and the strength for which I strive to stand for what I believe in: nature, whales  . . . children. For me it is always about the best chances of lives of hope and meaning for children. 

Tomorrow, on September 26th, the children in Port Alice and across Canada will participate in the 38th annual Terry Fox School Run.

From the Terry Fox Foundation webpage: “Terry showed us all that the impossible is possible. He reminded us all that we can make a difference in the world and change people’s lives for the better.”  

The children of Port Alice are certainly making a difference. 

They have also become a force in educating adults about the whales and safe and responsible boat operation around them (see www.SeeABlowGoSlow.org).  

They give us something to believe in. 

#BeLikeTerry

Some of the adults who made this all possible:

  • Friend, school secretary and driving force – Natalie Stewart.
    We are hoping there will be media interest in this story.
    Please contact Natalie at nstewart@sd85.bc.ca, (250) 284-3315.
  • Photographers – Darrell McIntosh, David Love, Douglas Bradshaw
  • Principal of Sea View School – Gloria Gadacz
  • Teachers:
    • Heather Jack – Grades K/1
    • Rebecca Herbert – Grades 2/3/4
    • Brenda Karch and Rhiannon Heim – Grades 5/6/7 & 10
  • Kathleen O’Reilly – North Island Eagle
  • Many other Port Alice community members:

And what was the nickname chosen by the students for Whiskers’ 2019 calf? Poseidon!

Notice the distinctive white lines on the calf’s tail that look like Poseidon’s trident? The students understood that this was the most distinctive marking that would likely still be discernable as the calf aged. The light white colouration on the tail will likely fade. 

Whiskers’ 2019 calf now nicknamed Poseidon. The calf will stay with Whiskers for a year and then may come back to the very spot where s/he learned to feed with mother. That would be right outside Port Alice.

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