Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.


[Note the following is aimed at those with an association with Telegraph Cove, British Columbia. There have been developments whereby I am being asked many questions and have chosen this as a way to answer and to bundle information. If you do not have an association with Telegraph Cove, this blog item may not have interest for you.]

The emotion:

Yes, I am heartbroken.

It’s the heartbreak that comes when decisions made by people you care about, hurt other people you care about.

It’s the hurt that comes from loving a place and the community associated with it.

It’s about an ending that did not need to be.

It’s about whale watching from Telegraph Cove, British Columbia.

I am sharing this information because of the number of questions I am being asked about what happened. I am being seen as a source of information because of my attachment to Telegraph Cove and my involvement with both parties – Telegraph Cove Resorts and Stubbs Island Whale Watching. I believe this necessitates my explaining my association with them.

Also, candidly, the writing of this is also likely to help me process what has happened. I have only recently learned of the developments myself.

My background in Telegraph Cove: 

For almost 20 years, I have been involved with Stubbs Island Whale Watching which has operated out of Telegraph Cove since 1980. Telegraph Cove is a historic boardwalk community on NE Vancouver Island. For many years it has been owned and cared for by Telegraph Cove Resort Ltd.

It was a whale watching trip with Stubbs Island Whale Watching in 1998 that was the catalyst for my returning to British Columbia after having taught in the Netherlands. I wanted to learn from Nature and, having experienced firsthand the understanding that came from the power of seeing whales in the wild, I hoped I could apply my skills as an educator to contribute more directly to conservation.

In 1999, I began as a Naturalist with the company. I became Head Naturalist and, since 2011, I have served as an advisor to the new ownership for issues related to conservation and education. These roles were aimed at helping to make the experience of seeing marine wildlife count for the sake of conservation because  . . . not all whale watching companies are created equal.

The environmental ethics and contributions of Stubbs Island Whale Watching’s founders (Mackays and Borrowmans) were world renown and tied directly to whale research, and their location and use of larger boats meant that noise and fossil fuels could be better managed.

The aim was to enhance and ensure delivery of a program that could maximize meaningful messaging that might help people undertake life changes for the health of the whales (and future generations). The value of the experience, in terms of potential conservation outcomes, had to be so good that it could make the carbon and noise worth it. The aim was to continue the company’s ethics of being anything BUT about “getting up close and personal”. It was to try really hard to make the privileged experience of seeing whales in the wild count, tangibly.

The education delivered on the boats was a big part of this as was my hiring and training the biologists that had the depth of dedication and ethics to carry out this program. It has been such a source of joy to see how these team members have carried the experience of working from Telegraph Cove, and learning from wildlife, into their careers in conservation-related fields.

My being a co-founder of the Marine Education and Research Society is directly linked to Telegraph Cove and Stubbs Island Whale Watching. It was from their boats that we first documented the return of Humpback Whales and, since 2004, they have been our greatest data contributor as well as providing support in many other ways.

The kindness, generosity and support of Telegraph Cove Resort Ltd. has also played a major role in my life regarding diving, education and research. My boat is moored there. I dive from there. My footsteps have stomped on that boardwalk thousands and thousands of times.

Maintaining the historical flavour of Telegraph Cove is clearly a labour of love and the Whale Interpretive Centre (WIC) could not succeed without the involvement and support of Telegraph Cove Resorts. I am a past director, manager and chair of the society behind the WIC and still provide tours there when asked.

I will say it again, there are many people I really care about whose lives are connected to the beautiful place that is, Telegraph Cove.

The facts: 

So what has happened?

Autumn 2018

  • Stubbs Island Whale Watching was put up for sale by the three owners for a variety of personal reasons.

December 2018

  • Telegraph Cove Resorts Ltd. informed Stubbs Island Whale Watching they would not be renewing their lease.

January 22, 2019

  • Telegraph Cove Resorts announces that another whale watching company will now be operating out of Telegraph Cove.
  • Stubbs Island Whale Watching makes an announcement about the repercussions. There is no more Stubbs Island Whale Watching.

The announcements: 

Media release Stubbs Island Whale Watching – January 22, 2019 

Stubbs Island Whale Watching is closing its doors after 38 years

BC’s first whale watching company, Stubbs Island Whale Watching, is
closing its doors after 38 years in business.  Renowned for its dedication
to ethical wildlife viewing, education and conservation, the company has
welcomed nearly half a million visitors to the North Island experience
since it was established in 1980.

The closure comes following an unexpected change in the company’s office
space lease agreement with Telegraph Cove Resort after more than three
decades operating from that location. Our lease agreement will end on
January 31, 2019.  Stubbs Island Whale Watching was put up for sale at the
end of the 2018 season, but we planned to continue operating the company
until a purchaser was found. The changes to the lease agreement came as a

Guests from all over the world come to experience whales in the wild and
the company’s ethical whale viewing practices have been part of what made
us so renowned. Stubbs Island Whale Watching is informing reservations
holders of the change and attempting to shift reservations to Discovery
Marine Safaris in Campbell River, a smaller company owned by one of the
three owners of Stubbs Island Whale Watching.

For information call: 1-250-928-3185.

Thank you for your years of support.

The owners of Stubbs Island Charters Ltd. Heike Wieske, Geord Dunstan, Roger McDonell” 

Telegraph Cove Resort – January 22, 2019

The following is from the January 22nd article in the Campbell River Mirror with quotes from Telegraph Cove Resort.

“Stubbs Island’s announcement today was quickly followed by an announcement by Telegraph Cove Resort that it was teaming up with Victoria-based Prince of Whales Whale & Marine Wildlife Adventures “to enhance marine wildlife habitat and research while providing greater opportunities for outstanding eco-tourism.”

Resort owners Gordie and Marilyn Graham said they are pleased to welcome one of the province’s “largest and most-respected whale watching and eco-adventure companies” to their recreational seaside haven. The release made no mention of their relationship with Stubbs Island.

“I’ve always been impressed by the Prince of Whales’ work in marine conservation and academic research,” Gordie said. “Their principled approach dovetails perfectly with our continuing efforts to protect marine wildlife while delighting and educating visitors with awe-inspiring experiences in nature.

The Grahams established a campground and marina at Telegraph Cove in 1979, drawing enthusiasts to the great recreational ocean fishing. Over 40 years, their work restoring original buildings for tourist accommodation has brought life back to the former sawmill town. Today, the resort, which can accommodate up to 500 guests, also includes a restaurant and pub, general store, small hotel and Telegraph Cove’s Whale Interpretative Centre.

One of the last boardwalk settlements left on Vancouver Island, Telegraph Cove attracts thousands of whale watchers, fishermen, boaters, campers and kayakers every year.

As well as building a tourist mecca, 210 km northwest of Campbell River, the Grahams have invested in marine life protection and education, donating more than $150,000 to salmon enhancement projects.

Meanwhile, Stubbs Island Whale Watching is informing reservations holders of the change and attempting to shift reservations to Discovery Marine Safaris in Campbell River, a smaller company owned by one of the three owners of Stubbs Island Whale Watching. Guests looking for information can call: 1-250-928-3185

Stubbs Island Charters Ltd. started whale watching in 1980 out of Telegraph Cove and has worked to establish a reputation as a company that puts the wildlife first. The company supported research and education efforts, providing meaningful education to guests, modeling best practices, and sharing expertise to help build a community now known as the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association. For the past six years it has received a “Certificate of Excellence” from Trip Advisor for its many five-star reviews.”

There you have it.

Any further factual developments will be added to the content here.

My deep empathy to those for whom this news is difficult too.

Onward, facing reality and being guided by what is best for the whales and what they reveal of human value systems and the state of the environment  . . . upon which our lives depend.


Telegraph Cove in 2008. ©Jackie Hildering.

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18 Responses to “Heartbreak”

  1. Carol

    OMG. Stunned and saddened. Thank you for sharing the details. I am also heartbroken for you and all involved.

  2. Raiza Ruiz-Kline

    My relationship with Stubbs Island Whale Watching began in 2001 at the ripe old age of four. It was that summer that I first met Jackie in her capacity as a naturalist for SIWW and I can very comfortably say I developed all the passions and values that have shaped my professional, academic, and personal values that I strive to follow today.

    These people, and this place, have always literally and figuratively been my port in the storm. It is here that my parents took me after we went to SeaWorld in my toddler years and I said, “Dad, no, I want to see killer whales where they really live.” This is the place and these are the people who connected me first to our ocean planet, who taught me the minutiae of nicks and scars in dorsal fins and flukes, who took me in two weeks after I graduated from high school to learn the ins and outs of communicating the beauty and significance of the ocean and its inhabitants, who set me on the whirlwind, kelp-scented path I still travel. The Canadian flag that flew off Lukwa’s stern that summer still hangs in my room.

    I bid farewell to Stubbs Island Whale Watching with an unmatched depth of gratitude to everyone there because everyone there taught me something invaluable about what it means to make it count in the one wild, fleeting life we are gifted as bipedal terrestrial mammals inhabiting an ocean world.

  3. Potatoes of Defiance

    As someone who’s had a lengthy association with both Telegraph Cove and Stubbs, this announcement raises a lot of troubling questions. I will be very interested in additional information as it becomes available.

  4. Kesh

    This is only my 2nd blog rcv via email, so not having followed it for long I’m sure I don’t get the depth of your heartbreak & the impact of this development. But it sounds like Stubbs Whale Watching was not treated properly & business again overruled sensibity & the heart. We can only hope that the resort maintains the high ethical practices that Stubbs did. May your future continue to serve our oceans, our freedoms & the our marine brothers & sisters. Our world needs so much healing.
    Thank you, dear Marine detective, for all you & your good comrads do.
    P.s.: I love your green tutu! Brilliant!
    Pps: What ever concluded on the fate of Faith & Ruffles of L pod?

  5. Anonymous

    Gob-smacked Jackie. Hugs. I love that place and all that it entails. Doesn’t sound right😔

  6. Robbie Boyes

    Sad to hear of this conflict in what has been a pleasure to watch as the Borrowmans and the McKays built up a successful and responsible business and kept locals employed and probably some spin off results. I used to buy lumber from Fred Wastell’s sawmill and always loved a trip to Telegraph Cove. I can only hope that differences can be resolved.

  7. Sea4otter

    This is not right!! I am choked up. The relationship you, and Stubbs have had with 18 years of Comox Valley students has been exceptional and has changed lives. The changes in how the public views marine mammal watching, use of the waters of the North Island, and so much more have all come about by people being touched by this group . No one can do better. Thank you. This will need some processing….

  8. Alicia

    Thanks for sharing the facts, as always, Jackie.
    I am heartbroken to know that Stubbs will no longer be operating from Telegraph Cove. All of the research and combined energies working together will surely now not benefit the whales as they have in the past- I can only hope that those who have dedicated their lives to the work will continue in their own way, somehow. I am sad for myself too. Many amazing life memories occurred as part of our annual trip to Telegraph Cove and Stubbs including getting engaged on the bow of the Lukwa. Please pass along our love and strength to those who need it most there as I know that many will be affected by these changes to come. Thanks for your continued dedication to the facts and education. Much love.

  9. Marlene Smith

    This is a heartbreaking and gut wrenching story! I know how hard it is to run a business nowadays and I know how hard Stubbs Island owner(s) have worked! It feels like an evil black cloud is now hanging over Telegraph Cove. It will be a while before I step foot on that board walk again! It is a sad and dark Karma casted over this area and the whale watching business. Thank you for sharing this information!

  10. Bonnie Gretz

    I am so sorry to hear this. As a naturalist myself, I was very impressed by how caring and professional and well-informed the captain and crew were when I went out with Stubbs twice in September 2018. I was looking forward to going again on another trip to Canada. I hope Stubbs’ high standards are applied to Prince of Whales’ boats, and that there are not an excessive amount of boats. One of the lovely parts of whale watching from Telegraph Cove/Pt. McNeil was that there have been far fewer boats than here in Puget Sound. Please convey my best wishes to all the Stubbs personnel, and huge thanks for all the amazing work they’ve done over so many years.

  11. Cheryl

    This is terribly disappointing. Casts a dark suspicion for sure. Actually I’m disgusted and angry, and will watch for good news, something along the lines of people working together, because we’re all in this together. Anything else is intolerable.

  12. Grancy Bain

    I had just seen Jackies disturbing news when I went to a ladies luncheon, was introduced to a new member and I mentioned having come from Port McNeill. She said “We love Port McNeill because our boat always breaks down there. and we particularly love Stubbs Island and all they do.” When I told her the news she burst into tears in the middle of lunch in Victoria. The ripples go far.

  13. Sarah

    I had to pull over on my way to school the other day listening to the interview on CBC. Many fond memories of Stubbs, Jim and Bill to our family and our time on the North Island. Last night, as I wrote email after email regarding the lack of preservation of a land trust in Comox, I am reminded that little is held sacred these days. We can do better, we HAVE to do better.
    Thanks for you Jackie, always.


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