Watching Wolves on Remote Cameras

A guest blog post by Emma Hume

After a few days working in the float lab where the Pacific Wild team sets up and monitors its cameras and hydrophones, Max and Diana were ready to install a pair of remote cameras. On a river a short boat ride away from Pacific Wild headquarters, one underwater camera would monitor salmon and below the surface happenings, while the other would provide an eagle eye view of the entire estuary.

When we arrived, salmon schooled at the mouth of the river, jumped sporadically and swam in circles, their shark-like dorsal fins making it clear they were waiting for something. But where the ocean met the river, the fresh and salt water mixed to created an underwater sheen, and only a few salmon could be seen. Though they weren’t ready to spawn, the long grasses in the estuary were strewn with salmon carcasses – some half eaten, others missing only their heads or eyes.

Even further upriver fresh bear scat was full of berries, and the huckleberry bushes along the bank missing half their leaves suggested bears were still choosing to fill their bellies with berries rather than fish. With the salmon spawn less than a full moon away, it was the perfect time to install the cameras.

A day was spent up a tall and branchy old growth sitka spruce testing for the radio signal needed to connect the cameras to the float lab. Unfortunately even the top of this spruce couldn’t get us signal up river, so we decided to return the next day to try a spot further downstream on a tree overhanging the river.

Once we had radio single it was smooth sailing. An unwieldy cable that would transmit video captured by the cameras to the radio, and back to the float lab, was strung along the river bank and up into the trees. There it was connected to a box containing a fuel cell, batteries, and the various electronics necessary to transmit the signal. The team built a rock house for the underwater camera on the side of a gravel bar. The other camera, which looked more like a bulging frog eye than a camera, was installed on a tree overlooking the estuary. The two cameras were connected into the whole system with more snaking black cord.

All of a sudden, by connecting a small laptop to the cords wiggling out of the box, we could see the tall grasses of the estuary blowing in the wind behind us, only this time on the computer screen. The river continued gurgling towards the sea and a raven croaked in the distance. It was all recorded. We left as the rain began to fall. The salmon were still swimming circles at the mouth of the river, silver from their years at sea, and the schools were thicker than the day before.

Less than a week later the cameras caught a pack of wolves eating salmon, playing, scratching and doing their best to tolerate pesky ravens. As we watched, this time from the float lab, we talked about how magical it was to watch life on a salmon river unfold from afar.

Photos by Emma Hume

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