Campbell River resident Roger McDonell and his partners in Stubbs Island Whale Watching, Heike Wieske and Geord Dunstan, have announced that the company will be closing its doors after 38 years of conducting marine wildlife tours out of Telegraph Cove. Stubbs Island Whale Watching photo.

Pioneering Telegraph Cove whale watching company cast adrift after 38 years

Stubbs Island Whale Watching announced it is ceasing operation

BC’s first whale watching company, Stubbs Island Whale Watching, is closing its doors after 38 years in business.

Known for its ethical wildlife viewing, education and conservation, the Telegraph Cove company has welcomed nearly half a million visitors to the North Island experience since it was established in 1980.

“We have enjoyed sharing the unique experience of seeing whales in the wild with visitors from all over the world,” Heike Wieske, president, Stubbs Island Whale Watching, said in a press release. “It is with heavy hearts that we are forced to cancel our 2019 season.”

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. The lease agreement will end on Jan. 31. Stubbs Island Whale Watching was put up for sale at the end of the 2018 season, but Wieske, along with co-owners Geord Dunstan and Roger McDonell, planned to continue operating the company until a purchaser was found. The changes to the lease agreement came as a surprise.

“Our 2018 season was the best season to date and we had significant growth in early pre-bookings for 2019,” said Wieske. “We are working to inform all of our booked guests as quickly as possible.”

RELATED: Island whale watching firms lead by example

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.”

RELATED: B.C. whale-watching group uses surcharge to boost salmon, science for killer whales

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.

RELATED: Explore Telegraph Cove, Sointula and Alert Bay with the Museum at Campbell River

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.

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