Archive for September, 2011

Pacific Wild Remote Sensing Project

A note from Diana.

Since early September, when the first pinks and chums entered this natal stream, we have been captivated by the unfolding cycle of salmon dying and giving life to so many others.

This season we have added an underwater camera to document the spawning cycle while a parallel pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera overhead watches the terrestrial species dining on the strong run of salmon. This collaboration between Pacific Wild and the Heiltsuk community allows us the unique opportunity to study wildlife in a non-invasive manner.

Each morning when daylight breaks the ravens begin croaking, seagulls are calling and more mornings than not a pack of wolves emerges out of the rainforest to take their fill of salmon. This live footage streams into the Bella Bella Community School and the Pacific Wild office. There we’re able to remotely operate the camera from miles distant, all powered by an innovative and cutting edge technological advance of a fuel cell. No more changing batteries, no more disturbance, no more hassle. This is technology that is opening up the secret lives of the creatures of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Or, at least until last week. That’s when torrential rains and more than a couple hurricane force storms battered the coast. Not too surprisingly, we temporarily lost the camera signal. The intrepid Becca made two trips up the mountain to our relay station above Bella Bella and scaled the wind generator pole that holds the transmitters. A bit of fiddling and just like that we were back in business! Well, kind of. The underwater camera had gotten knocked down by the rushing water so all we could see was gravel, and for some reason the PTZ was non-responsive. A bit more fiddling was needed.

I bombed over to the camera site on Friday afternoon, fearing the worst – that I might find the PTZ had fallen out of the tree and shattered into a million pieces. Not to worry though, it was all in one piece and all I had to do was a simple restart and that was back online too! I made a mental note to return to the camera site bringing the proper tools to trim back some of the branches from our makeshift camera shelter to provide a better field of view. I think knowing that I had to go back anyways made it less frustrating when I returned home and learned that the underwater camera had become disconnected.

The next afternoon I picked up Jeff, a volunteer for Pacific Wild, and we headed back to the cameras. Thankfully the downpour had subsided, so we only had to work in a light rain. I got the underwater camera back online while Jeff cleared the fallen branches from around the PTZ. Within minutes we had completed two of the three tasks for the day. All that was left was the fun part: repositioning the underwater camera.

I took off my gumboots and raingear, rolled up my pants legs, and waded into the river. I was in just over my knees when I realized that this was not going to work. I knew approximately where the camera was, and with the tide high like it was I would have to go in a lot deeper than my knees. Not to mention that I couldn’t see anything underwater since the river was so dark with tannins from all the rain. And then there was the pesky issue of the icy gravel daggers digging into my feet with every step. I got out of the water and told Jeff that the job might have to wait. As I walked back to my raingear I weighed both sides of the issue.

Just do it – there’s not really a better time to come back anytime soon. The low tides are all at prime times for us to get wolf footage. Don’t do it – it’s really cold…But really my feet are the worst part. I could just put my gumboots on and let them get flooded….But then they won’t be dry for days. Gross. I don’t think anyone would blame me if I put this off…but I don’t want to have to come back later.

So I did it. I put my boots on and got back in the water. I waded around up to my chest with my face pressed against the surface of the water so I could see. I fumbled around for what felt like quite awhile with Jeff providing lots of moral support. Finally I spotted the camera! I reached down and grabbed…a dead fish. Seriously?! I composed myself and tried again, this time successfully picking up the camera. I brought it to shallower water and repositioned it, holding it in place with rocks.

We went back to the office, crossed our fingers, and flipped on the computer. We watched pink and the occasional chum salmon swimming by in a choreographed circle and we zoomed in on a bald eagle and murder of crows feeding on salmon with the PTZ. Talk about satisfaction!

Now we’re back in business with the cameras streaming live to the school classrooms and to our office. We’ve already had several more wolf sightings!

We’d like to extend a sincere thank you to Jeff for all of work help these past couple of weeks. Thanks to his help we’ve been able to make camera repairs in inclement weather, capture some great footage of wolves, and winterize our office, among other things.

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