Breaking through a cover of mist and clouds, the small plane starts its descent into Bella Bella, revealing for the first time a sight almost too beautiful for words. Seemingly endless stretches of unspoiled forest extend along the waters of the Pacific Ocean, and distant mountaintops hint at the vast landscape of the Great Bear Rainforest.
Having grown up in Germany – where the thought of encountering a bear while strolling through the woods is the stuff of fairy tales – true wilderness has never been part of my reality. When the time came to find a summer placement as part of my studies in Conservation, my goal was clear: I wanted to experience the North American wilderness, and to do my part to advance conservation research and education benefitting these precious wild places and their peoples.
That being the case, I was thrilled when I was accepted as a summer intern at the Pacific Wild headquarters on Denny Island in Heiltsuk First Nation territory. Here, I am working with Great Bear LIVE, a program monitoring and researching coastal life throughout the Great Bear Rainforest. Great Bear LIVE uses cutting-edge, non-intrusive technology to monitor cetaceans and other marine life along the central coast. Underwater microphones, known as “hydrophones”, and remote video cameras are set up at key observation sites, transmitting audio and video feeds back to the Pacific Wild lab.
Two weeks into my internship, the jet-lag is gone and I am settled into my new routine. To some, early morning starts and sitting in front of a computer screen for hours on end may not sound unique, but this isn’t your typical nine-to-five. My morning “commute” is a two minute stroll to a floating lab overlooking the blues and greens of the Great Bear Sea, and my “cubicle” a lounge chair in front of four massive screens of sea life.
Our day-to-day operations are dedicated to researching marine life to establish habitat protection standards for species and places threatened by energy development projects, climate change, and more, as well as to inform and support marine planning efforts of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department. Beyond research, the footage and recordings from Great Bear LIVE are used in a variety of public education efforts. These activities range from secondary and elementary school presentations and field trips, practicum placements for local youth, and additional work with the SEAS initiative. For people beyond the Central Coast, live feeds on Pacific Wild’s website give people a front seat to this wild place.
With every day, I am learning more and more about the Great Bear Rainforest, its natural history, and the work being done to combat the threats this unique place faces. At once investigative and applied, Great Bear LIVE is exactly the type of work an aspiring conservationist dreams of supporting.
Arne Loth is a summer intern with Pacific Wild and a Master’s student in Conservation at Bournemouth University. You can connect with Arne directly on Twitter at @ArneLoth.
Keep up with Great Bear LIVE. To receive email or text alerts when killer whales, seals, and other marine life are on the Great Bear LIVE feeds, click here.
Volunteer. Every year, Pacific Wild hosts a limited number of volunteers and interns at their headquarters in Denny Island. To learn about future volunteer and internship opportunities, check this page regularly.
My family and I recently sailed up to Eucott Bay, a popular hot spring halfway between Bella Coola and Bella Bella B.C., near to where we live. Shortly after we arrived, a party of camouflaged people set out from their anchored boat for the shore of the bay opposite the hot spring. It was a beautiful warm spring day. A huge black bear emerged within our sight while the party waited a few hundred yards down the beach. As the horrific reality of what was about to happen became clearer to us, I decided to row our skiff across the bay to try to persuade them not to shoot the bear in front of my husband, our 4-year-old son and I.
It turned out to be Shannon Lansdowne, daughter of former Bella Coola-based guide-outfitter Leonard Ellis with a film crew from Remington Country TV, including trophy hunting guide and show co-host Dan Harrison. During our brief conversation, they warned me that I could be charged with interfering with the hunt for coming between them and the bear. As I walked away from them they fired off a shot, walked into the bush in the other direction, and then left shortly afterwards without killing the bear.
I lodged a complaint with the local conservation officer. I was told that the Ellis-Remington group was acting well within the law and that I may be charged with interference. Hunting is considered a recreational activity in B.C.; the province allows hunting in many provincial parks and protected areas, including here in the Great Bear Rainforest, despite a ban on all trophy bear hunting imposed by nine First Nations in 2012.
Eucott Bay is a safe harbour for boaters along the Dean Channel. It is within the Cascade-Sutslem Conservancy, with the exception of a small crescent of Crown land opposite the hot spring, where the Ellis-Remington group was stationed in the intertidal zone. Its wild hot spring must be one of the most spectacular in B.C., surrounded by glacier-topped mountains, waterfalls and salt meadows and shouldered by giant moss-covered boulders fallen from the cliffs above. The next day we soaked and splashed in the odourless hot waters of the spring and watched another big black bear feeding on sedges. Later on we saw a small grizzly frolicking on the opposite shore. I had been dreaming of travelling to this spot on our sailboat for many years. In spite of the tense conflict, it was a trip I will always treasure, made even more perfect by a long encounter with a pod of over 100 playful white-sided dolphins on the return voyage.
I think there are certain places that should be left for people and wildlife to simply enjoy. Hot springs are places of healing and spiritual cleansing. On this part of the coast they are few and far between; Nascall, the nearest hot spring to Eucott, is on private land and is not open to the public.
Regardless of where one stands on the science and ethics of bear hunting and trophy hunting, or on the relative value of different types of park use, the safety of all park visitors should be a foremost consideration. The hunters we encountered intended to shoot a habituated bear from the intertidal zone on a beach continuous with and in sight of where we sat, unarmed (and undressed). What if a bear was shot and wounded?
Bear-viewing in the Great Bear Rainforest generated 12 times more in visitor spending than bear hunting and employed over 500 people in 2012, compared with just 11 workers employed by the guide outfitting industry (Center for Responsible Travel and Stanford University, 2014). It’s time for the province to ban trophy hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest, and to stop allowing bears and other wildlife to be hunted for sport in recreational areas like Eucott Bay, where tourism and hunting are clearly in conflict.
If you agree, please write to provincial politicians to voice your support for a ban on hunting at Eucott Bay. For more information on what you can do to stop the grizzly bear trophy hunt in B.C., visit Pacific Wild’s Take Action page.
Please copy your letters to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and to Bella Coola Tourism at email@example.com.
BC Premier Christy Clark: firstname.lastname@example.org
Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson (responsible for Crown lands): email@example.com
Minister of Environment Mary Polak (responsible for parks and protected areas and wildlife management): ENV.Minister@gov.bc.ca
Written by Krista Roessingh. All photos by Ingmar Lee, 2015.
BC Government Commits to Killing 180 Wolves
– Declining caribou population blamed –
January 15th, 2015
Pacific Wild is condemning today’s announcement by the B.C. government to slaughter over 180 wolves by aerial shooting.
“After decades of destroying critical caribou habitat, dismantling the Forest Practices Code and gutting environmental oversight and protection, the BC government in a final desperate act of cruelty has declared a war on wolves.” said Ian McAllister, Conservation Director for Pacific Wild. “When will this government learn that killing wolves will not bring endangered caribou back in the absence of habitat protection.” he further stated.
An unprecedented amount of submissions were made in response to the B.C. governments draft Wolf Management Plan in 2013 with the overwhelming majority opposed to government sponsored wolf killing.
Wolves are highly social and intelligent animals and research shows that predator kill programs increase reproductive rates in wolves and destabilizes pack structure causing more predation of livestock and other non-native prey. It is the view of Pacific Wild that this announcement is scientifically unsound and that wolves are being used as a scapegoat to divert attention from the fundamental problem of ongoing habitat destruction and displacement caused by human encroachment.
“This is not management, it’s a tax-payer funded kill program of one of our most iconic species.” he further stated. “This is not only a horrific day for wolves in British Columbia but a sad day for public engagement and policy that will surely bring international condemnation to our borders.”
Ian McAllister, Conservation Director – Pacific Wild
Contact Pacific Wild: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pacific Wild is a BC based non-profit wildlife conservation organization and a leading advocate for changes to wolf management in British Columbia. www.pacificwild.org
Maureen Vo is a volunteer for the Great Bear LIVE project.
Sounds of the Ocean
You can research everything there is to know about the area and Google the breathtaking images, but nothing can truly prepare you for the incredible connection and admiration you will feel once you arrive in a place like the Great Bear Rainforest.
A passion for conservation and a desire to protect British Columbia’s coastal environment brought me to Pacific Wild headquarters in the heart of the GBR. My goal was to learn as much as I could about their work, the research, and the non-intrusive technology they are using to study wildlife.
One particular technology I was curious to learn about was their system of hydrophones, which have been set up at several sites along the central coast of B.C. The hydrophones allow for live acoustic monitoring year-round in order to better understand how a variety of marine mammal species utilize the waters along the coast of the GBR.
Diana, the resident conservation biologist and systems guru, already introduced me to how the systems work and how the hydrophone spectrographs show contrasting pink spikes or ripples against the blue background when sounds have been detected. I was excited to get started as I sat there in the floating lab and started my first acoustic monitoring session.
The hydrophones are recorded in 15-minute intervals, and you go through each session to search for any interesting sounds. For the most part, the ocean is pretty quiet with the occasional sound of random things bumping or brushing up against the hydrophones. As I opened a new recording, I noticed there was a large pink area indicating a lot of sound activity. My excitement was building as I thought about high-pitched dolphin squeals or glorious whale songs. As I listened intently, I could hear the noise getting louder and louder, but this was no whale. My hopes quickly faded as I realized this was simply a boat passing by. Patience is a virtue, and I realized it may take a while before activity might occur.
I eventually came upon a session with sounds from the phenomenon of humpback bubble net feeding, which was incredible to hear and made all the sifting through silence that much more rewarding.
by April Bencze
The boat engine roars to life as Diana and I untie from the dock this misty morning. Clay the dog is curled up in the only wind-free spot on the boat as we make the short passage to Bella Bella from Denny Island. Leandrea, a Pacific Wild intern, greets us at the dock on the other side. With tool kits in hand and gumboots on foot, we climb in the truck and head up the mountain to perform some electrical maintenance to keep the hydrophones and remote cameras operating smoothly.
Steadily the truck climbs the inclining path, peeling apart the overgrown branches on either side of the road as we pass by. It is a soggy morning atop the mountain. Although we cannot see it, we know a spectacular view must sit beneath the blankets of thick mist hanging over the surrounding islands and waterways below.
We arrive at the relay station where solar panels face the sky, a wind turbine spins and satellite dishes high atop a mast connect with the cameras and hydrophones dotted around the coast. Diana unlocks the control boxes containing batteries and wiring, and the team gets to work replacing temporary switches and improving the flow of wires.
The mist begins to lift, slowly uncovering the spattering of islands surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. Once finished with the maintenance, Diana and Leandrea pull out the netbook to test the improved system. After flicking the switch back on, lights illuminate and Diana sounds pleasantly surprised as she informs us that everything is working smoothly, on the first try! The bugs who kept close company, borrowing some blood as we worked, must have been a motivating factor to do it right initially. So we label the reconfigured wires in the electrical box, top up the water in the batteries and close up the relay station for the day. Down the mountain we go, stopping for deer on the overgrown roadway. The boat ride back to Pacific Wild headquarters is a dry one as the soggy morning begins to evaporate.
After lunch we attend an Enbridge Opposition strategy meeting put on by the Heiltsuk Nation at the Community Hall in Bella Bella. We brainstorm ideas to halt the pipeline project in its oily tracks. The sense of community and connection with the land and ocean is alive in the hall as we put pen to paper, letting ideas flow to protect British Columbia’s natural coastline from pipeline and tanker threats.
We are now in the floatlab for the rest of the afternoon, Diana and the interns closely monitor the hydrophones as orcas sing into the microphones, and porpoises surface outside the window of the lab. One of the remote cameras is trained on the sea lion haul-out on the outer coast as they enjoy an afternoon nap. It is another great day at Pacific Wild headquarters.
GreatBearLIVE – View sea birds and marine mammal interactions on this sea lion haul out on the Great Bear’s rugged outer coast. Press play to view the underwater camera in the seal garden – a nearby kelp forest and eelgrass bed. Sign up for Great Bear LIVE Alerts to stay up-to-date on the latest action and watch highlights here.
Spring in the Rainforest – By April Bencze
It is difficult to understand a place you have never been before. Pacific Wild introduced me to the ecosystems thriving in the Great Bear Rainforest on British Columbia’s wild coast long before I came here. They have unveiled the behaviours and interactions of wildlife using non-invasive, high-quality camera systems streaming live from remote locations, bringing you a piece of the Rainforest, wherever you may be in the world. Before I ever set foot here, Pacific Wild brought me face to face with wolves, bears and marine life with still images that captivated, inspired and introduced me to the many faces of this place.
I first met the wolves of this coast through Ian McAllister’s photography and conservation efforts. Then I met the bears, followed by the inhabitants of the underwater world. Ian’s images and those from the remote cameras brought me into the heart of a place I had never been, uncovering the lives of creatures I would not have known existed, like the spirit bear. I felt connected and driven to protect the Great Bear Rainforest, and all those who call it home. As a diver and wildlife photographer, I knew my future would be tied to British Columbia’s central coast, due to the strength with which it affected me. So here I am, at Pacific Wild headquarters operating the remote cameras from the Float Lab.
I was born and raised in Campbell River, on the east coast of Vancouver Island in Southern British Columbia. I spent a year scuba diving in Australia and Indonesia, before returning to my home waters to dive my days away. Photography slipped itself into my life through an urge to share the underwater world with the people around me. It quickly became much more and I find myself in the pursuit of a life dedicated to conservation of the natural world through photography. There is a responsibility to the subject after the shutter is pressed and an image is created. It is an obligation to share their story, and unfortunately many of the lives I am photographing are threatened.
This is what brings me to the Great Bear Rainforest, to do what I can to help protect the wildlife from the many threats they are facing. Pacific Wild has been an inspiration and I am thrilled to be volunteering my time to aid in their conservation efforts. Three weeks ago, I loaded up my touring bicycle with my camping equipment, camera gear and a cooler of food. Six days of riding from Campbell River brought me to Port Hardy, where I jumped on a short flight to Bella Bella.
I am blown away by the diverse habitats and life seen in my short time exploring this coast. I have traveled to many corners of the world, yet nothing can compare to the natural beauty I have witnessed in my time here. After the past few weeks of listening to whale song on the hydrophones and observing the wildlife in the Great Bear Rainforest, I am beginning to understand just how devastating supertankers in these waters would be. It would be destructive for the people, the land, the wild and marine life of the most untouched place I have ever seen. I’m incredibly thankful to the First Nations people and conservation groups who are working, and will continue to work, tirelessly to stand up for our coast.
Yesterday, Ian and I left Pacific Wild headquarters to do some camera maintenance. We headed out by boat during calm seas. As we passed numerous small, rocky islands, it was apparent that it was June in the Great Bear Rainforest. Harbour seals with newborn pups dotted the shorelines, sea otters bobbed in the kelp, and Oystercatchers trilled from their nests. New life was buzzing all around us as we cleaned the camera housings and completed some electrical maintenance.
The remote camera systems are proving to be a powerful tool in telling the story of this coast. Right now, one of the cameras is trained on a Steller sea lion rookery on the outer coast. It is capturing the birthing and nursing of this year’s pups on the live feed and distributing it to the world. I am in awe recording the intimate daily behaviors of the sea lions, in a way I have never been able to when out photographing them in the field. Please watch a compilation of sea lion and bird footage I pieced together in the weeks I have been here. The stories of the numerous species of wildlife continue to unfold before my eyes with these cameras. I hope you are watching the live cameras and meeting the local wildlife who call this coast home as well!
Help support our Digital Technitian Geoff Campbell and his friend Mikhayla’s “Ride for the Wild” Indiegogo campaign. Geoff and Mikhayla are undertaking a A2,500km bike expedition down the Pacific Coast to raise money to fight pipeline development & increased tanker traffic in British Columbia.
The first herring spawn began today in the Great Bear Rainforest. A keystone ritual that has provided a foundation of life, so revered over the last ten thousand years that the Heiltsuk new year is marked by the miracle of the herring spawn.
Like a gathering shadow, herring have been filling the bays and inlets of the central coast these past weeks while salmon, wolves, bears and whales close in on the herring spawning grounds ready for the first big feast of the year. Normally this would be a cause of celebration and renewal for the Heiltsuk people, but these days this spawning event seems more like a lament fuelled by anger and controversy.
Against all principles of precaution and conservation, the Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea chose to open the corporate-controlled industrial kill fishery that will target these fragile remnant stocks. By doing this she is ignoring the pleas of First Nations while also overruling her very own scientists who recommended a closure in 2014.
The Minister is also jeopardizing the Heiltsuk traditional spawn on kelp fishery that collects a small amount of the eggs but allows the adults to live and spawn in future years. By all accounts the Heiltsuk fishery is a sustainable, community-based alternative to the DFO-supported fishery that indiscriminately kills both male and female herring of all sizes. The DFO model strips the females of eggs and the rest ends up as pet food or fishing bait.
And for what? The fishing fleet that has arrived here has a 750-tonne harvest quota valued at around $200 per tonne. Most of these boats have already incurred over $20,000 in expenses, when fuel, crew and licenses are added up – before a single fish is caught.
So no one is making money on this fishery. In days gone by 30,000 or 40,000 tonnes were taken by the fleet here, and a big year was 60,000 tonnes. DFO states they are only taking ten or twenty percent of the fish biomass. But that is ten or twenty percent of
a stock that is on the verge of collapse.
Another hallmark of the herring season is the heavy-handed presence of RCMP officers that arrive with the fleet. There have been six RCMP boats stationed here on Denny Island along with two-dozen officers ready to enforce this desperate fishery. A needless waste of public money is being used to intimidate a small community that is simply fighting for the future of herring.
The ecological tragedy that this coast suffers because of the unsustainable herring kill fishery is made even worse when DFO knows there is a sustainable solution. They should be supporting the Heiltsuk in rebuilding herring stocks while practicing sustainable harvest methods such as the spawn on kelp fishery.
For twenty-five years I have watched the Heiltsuk fight for sustainable management of their local stocks, sacrificing their own economic interests in favour of conservation. They have done everything possible from the courts to the frontlines of the herring grounds to convince the federal government to simply back off and give the stocks a chance to rebuild.
For a community that right up until the industrial fishing began here can show ten thousand years of documented and uninterrupted history with herring, perhaps it is time that DFO came to Bella Bella and listened.
Canadians should do everything possible to support this community in their fight to protect a species that has built and sustained so many for so long.