Archive for February, 2012

Hydrophone Sounds

It’s a great day here at Pacific Wild. We have heard many sounds come from our hydrophones in their various stages of construction, but after lots of tooling with the tech and knob turning, this is the first clear audio that we have received. This short clip is from our latest hydrophone deployment on Dearth Island, just at the mouth of Spiller Channel, which is approximately 15k from Bella Bella. It is transmitted using microwave antennas to our mountain top relay station and then down to the Bella Bella School where the feed is saved on a network and monitored by students, staff and volunteers.

So sit back and enjoy a small sample of what the Great Bear Rainforest’s underwater environment sounds like. We have sent this and other clips to scientists to confirm what animals we are listening to. What do you think it is?

Thanks so much to everyone involved in making this first of many recordings possible. Our hats are off to you.

John Guillote, Becca Chandler, Diana Chan & Richard Wilson-Hall
Remote Sensing Project crew

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Mountain Surf Adventures: Bella Bella Board Builders

A blog from Norm Hann


Teacher Chris Williamson’s Mini Mal

A couple of weeks ago I went to Bella Bella to work on a new website for the SEAS (Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards) program that I work for in Hartley Bay. I always enjoy visiting Bella Bella; it’s a beautiful place with great people. I was staying with Ian and Karen McAllister and I was really excited to drop into Chris Williamson’s wood working class up at the high school to check out the new wooden SUP’s the students are building. Last year Chris and his class built 10 wooden SUP’s and afterwards I had the chance to do a Paddle Canada Intro to SUP course for them. You can check that out from my previous blog here.

Last year’s class with the boards they made

This year there are 7 students building boards so I stopped in to the class to say hi and see what stage they were at in the building process. The students were just getting started with the forms for their boards to be built on which can be a slow process and not the most rewarding part of the board building process. I had a good conversation with the class about boards, designs and paddleboarding. Chris and his class had chosen a great design this year going with an 11-foot board that will be over 30 inches wide. These boards will be great all around boards and great on the flat-water with enough rocker to charge some outer islands reefs and beach breaks. Local artist Ian Reid has offered his skills to design the native logo to be incorporated into each board. The class then watched the Standup4Greatbear documentary and it was the first time that I had brought the film to the community so the students were pretty stoked, especially once they saw me paddling into Heiltsuk territory and finally ending the paddle on the shores of Waglisla (Bella Bella). Chris and his class have been so inspiring for me and I know for a lot of others who have followed this story. Filmmakers Anthony Bonello and Nicolas Teichrob have already been up here documenting the class’s story. They will be part of a bigger film project we are working on called StandFilm. I have seen the rough trailer for the film and it looks amazing. I am really excited that these students will be showcased in the film.

Heiltsuk Youth watching StandUp4Greatbear

Once the students complete their boards Ian McAllister has offered to take us down to one of the outer central coast islands where we will spend three days in early June teaching these new students how to standup paddleboard. This remote island has stunning white sand beaches and beautiful surf so we are hoping there will be a nice swell hitting the coast so I can also teach the students how to paddle surf. I have never been to this particular island and i am really excited to get there. This is going to be a great opportunity to test out some new inflatable boards, the SHUBU and the Badfish MVP by Boardworkssurf Canada.

The Bella Bella Boardworks Crew

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Drums of the Great Bear

Damien Gillis has created a powerful video from the recent Prince Rupert rally, published on

The beating of drums echoed throughout the seaside community of Prince Rupert, BC, on February 4 as thousands of First Nations and BC citizens banded together to express their opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway twin pipelines from the Alberta Tar Sands to nearby Kitimat on BC’s central coast. Watch this exclusive documentary video report on the historic gathering – featuring the Gitga’at drummers and dancers of Hartley Bay, young aboriginal signer-songwriter Ta’kaiya Blaney, local political leaders, and a number of powerful First Nations speakers.

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Parts of a hydrophone installation

Our remote hydrophone field sites are comprised of lots of little devices and wires, each performing a crucial function to make the whole system work. These bits and pieces fall under one of three major components.

The Hydrophone

A hydrophone is a highly sensitive microphone, about the size of a Gerkin pickle that, when placed underwater at a certain depth, can detect the most minute sounds from miles away. They can make a Coonstripe Shrimp Illustration of Coonstripe or Dock Shrimp that happens to wander by sound like Godzilla. The signal from the hydrophone runs through specialized cable and into a “brain box”, where it is connected to a device that isolates it from any electrical interference.  These microphones are so sensitive that they cannot be plugged into the same power source as another piece of equipment, or we will hear static.

Whales have an incredible vocal range, “singing” in pitches both higher and lower than what the human ear can translate unaided. Because of this range, the sound coming from the hydrophone must travel through an amplifier to boost the power of the signal to a suitable level.


Pacific Wild uses two methods to transmit the hydrophone’s audio to our office and into Bella Bella, which are kilometers apart. The first is FM transmission. One of our hydrophones is connected to an FM transmitter, providing instant access to anybody in the area with an FM radio. If you’re near Bella Bella, tune in to 92.3FM for a live underwater orchestra!

The second is through microwave antennas, which wirelessly transmit the audio feed through a central relay hub and then to our server in the Bella Bella Community School. This allows us to remotely monitor all of our hydrophones on one computer.


And just like any other electronics, all of these systems require electricity. Our sites tend to be located off of uninhabited islands where electrical sockets are scarce, to say the least. We use a variety of forms of alternative energy, primarily solar and wind. At each hydrophone site, we strategically place solar panels and a wind generator. This sustainable energy charges a small battery bank and will ideally keep these hydrophone sites running for years to come.

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Hydrophone installation, by John

Richard and I had spent the last two days suffering through frigid temperatures, pouring rain, and a fierce wind, which kept the safety of our nearby skiff- our lifeline to safety- in the front of our minds.  We were making the final connections to complete our first self-energized hydrophone field site.

Matt Arnold, Suiting up to place the hydrophone

Just a week earlier, our good friend and extremely talented dive instructor Matt Arnold, from Green Sea Diving anchored our hydrophone in about 80 feet (27 meters) of water, 100 feet (33 meters) offshore. From the anchor, the weighted hydrophone cable snakes along the sea floor and into a 2” flexible sheathing before running through the tidal zone. This sheathing protects the delicate cable from crashing waves and heavy driftwood as it runs along the rocks. The cable terminates in a homemade controller box located several meters higher than the highest high tide line.

Flipping the hydrophone on!


We were rushing to get the final wires spliced and battery terminals crimped. 45 minutes before the sun hit the horizon, I carefully inserted the last wire, connecting the solar panel to its charge controller. I held my breath, flipped the breaker on, and toggled the hydrophone switch. All at once, small LED lights began to light up the box. We had done it; all of the equipment was powered. Time to get home! As the final affirmation that all was well, as our tiny aluminum boat rounded the  southern tip of the island,  we were greeted by a small pod of resident Orcas heading up Spiller Channel, what a perfect way to end a hard day!

Written by John Guillote
Photography by John Guillote and Becca Chandler

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