The passion behind Wild Waterways Adventures

Wild Waterways Adventures officially launched last year but for Jenefer Smalley it is part of a lifelong pursuit.

“My whole entire life, I’ve had an affinity and a connection with wildlife. I thought I would go to college to become a wildlife biologist or a fisheries biologist. Then when I finally went to college, I realized I wasn’t really into running statistics and mathematical models, I wanted to be out in the field with wildlife. So when I graduated, just on a whim, I got a job in the field of ecotourism out of Campbell River,” explained Smalley.

All photos courtesy Wild Waterways Adventures

That was sixteen years ago. She went on to become a guide in Haida Gwaii, and found it difficult to leave that electric beauty.

“I remember people saying ‘you’re going to Campbell River, that’s not a very nice place.’ Then when I got here, I was just absolutely blown away. I’m like, ‘Well, these people don’t know what they’re talking about. They’d obviously never been in the Discovery Islands.’  

Smalley and her partner Reuben Buerge met in Campbell River five years ago.

“We actually met at the fuel dock in Campbell River. He had one Zodiac for one company and I had a Zodiac for another company,” she said.

They were contracting a boat out to other tourism companies in 2018/19, when they decided it was time to start their own business. 

The North Island Employment Foundation Society (NIEFS) helped them bring this dream into fruition. 

“They work with you from your initial vision and your ideas all the way through to launch and they give you a little bit of funding. It’s not much, but they give you funding so that you can support yourself and pay your bills while you’re in the program,” explained Smalley. 

She and Buerge originally intended to launch Wild Waterways Adventures in 2020, but waited another year because of the pandemic.

Five tours are described on the Wild Waterways Adventures website.

All photos courtesy Wild Waterways Adventures

One of her favourite experiences is what some people call the ‘Eagle show’ during the hake run, between June and August every year. Hundreds of eagles dive bomb the fish when they are exposed in the rapids around Sonora and Stuart Islands. 

“We literally sit in the Zodiacs and bop around in the rapids, while these beautiful bald eagles are diving for these hake all around us, all around the boat, they’re all over the trees,” said Smalley. “Then when the tide switches to an app or a slack tide, the eagles disappear. You might see one or two.”

The show comes to an end in August, when the eagles start moving up salmon bearing rivers and streams.

The herring runs start in late February and early March. Sea lions and salmon follow the herring, and are in turn pursued by orca.

“It’s like a potlatch for the Biggs Orca. There is an abundance of food. Some days we saw like 30 to 40 whales, that was just a couple of weeks ago. We never see Biggs Orca in these large numbers during the summer. It’s just during this late winter, spring time,” explained Smalley. 

“When we ID’d them we realized that a lot of them were actually siblings and sisters and cousins. They’re very vocal this time of year as well. If you drop the hydrophone to listen to their acoustics, they are chatting up a storm and it is absolutely phenomenal. It literally sounds like you’re on another planet when the Biggs are vocalizing. It’s very metallic, very strange, so other worldly.”

In the podcast she talks about following orcas into Gorge Harbour, where they were hunting harbour seal.

Smalley and Buerge were not working last summer when some Biggs Orcas penned a pod of dolphins within Heriot Bay for five hours. The eldest dolphins were at the front of the pod at dusk, when they finally made their break. Smalley said you can recognize them by their curved dorsal fins. Some of them perished in the thrashing waters close to where the Cortes Island ferry docks, but their sacrifice opened the way for the rest of the pod to escape out past Rebecca Spit. 

All photos courtesy Wild Waterways Adventures

The humpbacks arrive in the Discovery Islands around June. 

“They generally dive deep and we believe that they’re feeding on a lot of krill down to the deep waters. There are different pods, or groups of whales that will come through, but they do it in small groups,” she said.

“We saw them bubble feeding along the Read Island shoreline a couple of years ago.  In the Northern great bear rainforest, they’re big dramatic groups bubble feeding, but here it’ll be two to three whales.” 

One of Wild Waterways Adventures tours was delayed off Mink Island for 45 minutes last Fall, after a couple of humpbacks rose up to ‘say hello.’ 

“When you see them up that close, it really puts things into perspective.  They’re so gentle and sweet. Yeah. That was probably the most beautiful experience I’ve ever had in a ‘mugging’ and the longest one,” said Smalley. 

“I’ve been guiding in this area for seven years now and every year we’ve had an increase in the Biggs Orca and in the humpbacks.” 

This program has focused on experiences with eagles and whales, but some of the tours at Wild Water Adventures feature hiking, swimming and/or forest bathing. There are also sightings of Black Bears, Grizzly Bears, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dalls Porpoise, Stellar Sea Lions, Harbour Seals and Marine Birds.

“This place is really, really special and it has a lot of unique natural phenomenons. The whales, the wildlife are really moving back in here now. It’s really become a safe haven for them.”

There is much more in the podcast above.

Some short videos

All photos and YouTube videos courtesy Wild Waterways Adventures

To find out more:

Sign-up for Cortes Currents email-out:

To receive an emailed catalogue of articles on Cortes Currents, send a (blank) email to subscribe to your desired frequency: