A chance encounter on a whale-watching trip off northern Vancouver Island drastically altered the life plans of Jackie Hildering.
After years of teaching science in the Netherlands, the 1981 graduate of Howe Sound Secondary School said coming back to her home province and experiencing the wonder of nature firsthand opened her eyes.
“That whale watching trip gave me a slap upside the head about how much I had drifted off my path,” she said. “I was talking about nature and how it existed somewhere else in my classes, but I decided I wanted to get back in touch with nature. What evolved was a way for me to get people's heads out of their bottoms when it comes to looking at the environment.”
Hildering, who is now known as “The Marine Detective,” will host talks at the Brackendale Art Gallery (BAG) on Sunday and Monday (Jan. 13 and 14) on humpback whales and sea slugs, respectively. She told The Chief it's been an interesting ride since she left Squamish in the 1980s.
After completing a Bachelor of Science at UBC in 1985, Hildering went across the ocean to the Netherlands with hopes of getting into veterinary school in that country. Her parents both came from the Netherlands and Hildering had dual citizenship. However, on the same day she was accepted into veterinary school, she was offered a teaching position and she went the teaching route.
She continued as a teacher in the Netherlands until that fateful whale-watching trip in 1999 and has re-committed herself to being a local environmental educator ever since. “The whale-watching experience made me realize I had drifted off my path,” she said. “I wanted to get refuelled and understand what I was talking about.”
Hildering has done a number of different things since becoming “The Marine Detective,” including being the education coordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the director of communication for the Save our Salmon Marine Conservation Foundation and a researcher for the Marine Education and Research Society.
She also runs a popular blog and hosts discussions all over the province. Hildering, who now makes her home in Port McNeill, has also been recognized numerous times for her work. She won the Vancouver Aquarium's Murray A. Newman Award for excellence in aquatic conservation in 2011, received recognition from the DFO for her contributions in 2010 and won the Port McNeill Chamber of Commerce's Green Award in 2011.
As for the two talks, Hildering said both the humpback whales and sea slugs hold a special place in her heart.
“Humpback whales came back on my watch and it's been a truly remarkable opportunity for me to learn about them as they return to our coast,” she said. “It's going to be a general talk on the history of them in our area, how they've come back and what we can do to continue helping them out.”
She said getting interest in sea slugs can be a little more difficult but called them fascinating creatures.
“Sea slugs help people get a better understanding of how rich our ecosystem is,” she said. “It's mythology that dark waters have no life — the reason they're dark and you can't see the bottom is because there is so much life.”
The two talks are schedule for 8 p.m. and admission is by donation. For more information on Hildering, visit www.themarinedetective.com.