One of Vancouver Island’s most prominent eco-tourism companies is taking the rest of the year off.
Jamie’s Whaling Station will not re-open for the 2020 season, with the intention of starting strong in March of 2021. The 2020 summer closure applies to the Tofino centre, which operates adventure tours out of Clayoquot Sound and to the Ucluelet office, which takes guests out in Barkley Sound. About 15 staff are impacted as result of this temporary closure.
“This decision was not easily made but after much deliberation, Jamie, myself, and our management team believe it is the best choice for our operation during these uncertain times,” said Jamie’s general manager Ryan Teremy.
“We tried to consider all the implications this might have on our team, on the community, and on our partners. We graciously operate within Nuu-chah-nulth Hahuuli, and value all the voices that helped guide our decision. We hope that by making this difficult choice we will help our staff remain safe, help reduce the strain on our limited community resources, and help the smaller operators in our sector by spreading out the limited business from interested domestic travellers. We absolutely support the efforts of other operators in taking all steps necessary to reduce the risks to their teams and visitors. We are all in this together,” said Teremy.
Jamie’s Whaling opened on March 1, 2020 for the season, but swiftly shuttered its doors by mid-march to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Established in 1982 by Jamie Bray, Jamie’s Whaling is one of the region’s largest whale watching companies, boasting a fleet of 10 vessels. Teremy, who is also on Tofino’s COVID-19 Community Recovery Task Force, has been with the company for the better part of a decade.
“Our international travel makes up the bulk of our visitors. Without the borders being open it creates a huge question of ‘what is the appetite of domestic travellers’, especially with Hot Springs Cove [being temporarily closed]. Whale watching and bear watching, most people in British Columbia see bears all the time,” said Teremy.
The Tofino and Ucluelet whale watching company is in a unique position because Jamie Bray has owned the properties for a long time, notes Teremy.
“I will be working with a small team from our Tofino office through this extended closure. Our adventure partners, Paddle West Kayaking, and Clayoquot Connections water taxi are working hard to reopen independently this season due to our closure, and we will still be providing private moorage. Of course there are still a lot of details to be worked out, but I’m going to stay positive and work hard to reorganize for next season,” he said.
Jen Dart, executive director at Tofino Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged Jamie’s decision to take a season off.
“I think each individual business has had to make difficult choices throughout the COVID-19 situation. Jamie’s has been a mainstay in Tofino and Ucluelet for decades and will be greatly missed this year. I know it must have been a tough decision but obviously it’s the best one for the business this year given their individual circumstances. I know both Jamie (Bray) and general manager Ryan Teremy are extremely supportive of the local whale watching industry and all the efforts they are making to operate safely. We look forward to 2021 when they will be able to open their doors again,” said Dart via email.
Marine researchers and many local non-profits will feel the ripple effects from Jamie’s 2020 closure.
“There won’t be as many eyes [on the water], and that’s one of the hardest parts is contacting our research partners and letting them know unfortunately without operating this year our ability to support them is going to be drastically reduced,” Teremy said.
What’s more, the $100,000 Jamie’s Whaling Station usually gifts annually to ocean-minded non-profits working in the region just won’t be available as the donated funds are collected through the company’s ‘Research, Rescue and Education’ fee, a $3 surcharge that is tacked on to each passengers’ adventure tour fare.
“Those are some of the hardest emails to write to let [the non-profits] know we are not going to be able to provide the same funding that we normally do. They’ve been really supported and they understand what is going on,” said Teremy.