The Pacific Rim Whale Festival is readying its triumphant return after a two-year hiatus.
Every March, tens of thousands of grey whales splash through the Tofino-Ucluelet region during their roughly 16,000 kilometre migration from Mexico to the Arctic. To celebrate the annual phenomenal spectacle that migration brings to local waters, the West Coast launched the Pacific Rim Whale Festival in 1987 and the event brought an educational extravaganza to the town’s spring calendar for several decades.
In 2019 however, a perceived lack of volunteer support led organizers to cancel what would have been the festival’s 33rd appearance and, just a week prior to the festival’s anticipated return in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a lockdown that forced the event to be cancelled for a second time.
This year’s festival coordinator Sarah Watt told the Westerly News on Sunday that Whale Fest is breaching to make its 33rd appearance this spring, though it will require an outside-the-box creative approach due to the ongoing pandemic-related restrictions.
“Obviously, because of the current regulations in place, we’re not going to be putting out any events which encourage crowding of any type or outside visitors to the West Coast, so we’re putting the majority of the events online so everybody can be involved from the safety of their own homes,” Watt said.
The festival is scheduled to run from March 15-21 and a calendar of events is expected to be posted to the festival’s website— pacificrimwhalefestival.com—in the coming weeks.
Watt suggested there will be some public festivities during the week targeting solo revellers and small groups, like potential art features, public displays and scavenger hunts.
She added that many of the West Coast’s local organizations are onboard with the online-based format and have all become well-adapted to online presentations during the pandemic.
She also noted that hosting inspiring talks and presentations online could open the festival up to a much broader audience as marine life lovers across the globe will be able to tune in.
“I definitely think that’s a plus. In future years, when it’s safer to travel, if it reaches people who may never have heard about the Whale Festival before or know the beauty of all the nature along our coastline here, hopefully it can plant the seed in their minds and it will inspire them to come visit us,” she said adding she’s excited to showcase the West Coast’s abundant research groups and organizations.
“It would be a great way to get it out there and reach potential crowds that maybe we’ve never targeted before and also give them an idea of all the great organizations based on this coast and what they’re doing to help conserve our ecosystem.”
She said that while the festival is focused on grey whales, there’s no shortage of wonders to celebrate locally.
“It’s a great way to get the community together and feeling inspired about what is along our coastline,” she said. “The main focus is on the grey whale migration, it’s an epic migration, the grey whales return to us every year and whale watching is one of the core activities in our communities, but also we just have so much great nature and wildlife and all the organizations in the area who celebrate it and put so much time and effort into serving our marine ecosystems as well.”
She said there will also be a keen focus put on the region’s arts community and how the ocean connects with all West Coasts residents.
“As much as it’s about the wildlife, I think it’s a way to celebrate the people along this coastline and what they’re doing for the wildlife,” she said.
She added migrating the festival over to an online format has been challenging, but she’s confident it will be a blast.
“I’m definitely excited, but it is also nerve wracking…You want to make sure that it’s engaging as well and it’s keeping people interested,” she said. “People maybe think that it would be easier to go online, but I would say there is probably just as much work, if not more, involved because we’re exploring a new area. We’re definitely excited for it and we’re not putting any pressure on this year’s festival for it to include everything previous years have had, that’s impossible, especially while trying to keep it safe, considering COVID-19, so it will just be a nice reintroduction back to our community and whoever else wants to be involved.”
She said the popular buttons designed by local students that have traditionally been used for entry to many of the festival’s public events will still happen this year and strategies for displaying them and making them available to purchase as souvenirs are being worked out.
Information for how to participate in the festival will be posted to the festival’s website at www.pacificrimwhalefestival.com as well as on its Instagram and Facebook pages over the next several weeks.
“We will be doing a call out for volunteers and I’ve actually already had some people contact me, which is great,” Watt said, adding she’s also hoping to engage local businesses in adding to the pulse of the festival by decorating their storefronts and engaging with the week’s events.
Anyone interested in reaching out, getting involved or sharing ideas is encouraged to reach out to watt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The dates are fast approaching,” she said. “As much as this is for national and international visitors, we also just want it to be a celebration between our communities along the West Coast here.”