Archive for category Conservation Internship Program

Great Bear LIVE – advancing conservation research and education

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.

Arne Loth, Pacific Wild Intern, on board the S.V. Habitat in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Arne Loth, Pacific Wild Intern, on board the S.V. Habitat in 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.

Pacific Wild field technician, Max Bakken, setting up the King Island Hydrophone Station. (Image by Peter Thicke for Pacific Wild.)

Pacific Wild field technician, Max Bakken, setting up the King Island Hydrophone Station. (Image by Peter Thicke for Pacific Wild.)

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.

Now what?

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.

Talk to us. Find us on social media – Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram – and tell us what you think about Arne’s post, ask us about Great Bear Live, or just keep up with our work.


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Mountain Maintenance

July, 2014

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.

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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.



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Spring in the Rainforest

Spring in the Rainforest – By April Bencze

June 2014

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!


Follow Pacific Wild on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @pacificwild

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.






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From D.C. to B.C. Part IV

There is an epic struggle between the playful wolf pups’ love of chewing and Pacific Wild’s desire to have a functioning camera in the estuary where they fish. In my last post I wrote about how Rob and I went out to repair the camera feed and the next day we were all rewarded with watching 5 wolves all morning via the Pacific Wild website. Unfortunately, that was short lived. Two days after we fixed the cables the first time, we awoke to a lack of camera feed and, to our dismay, saw that they had discovered our cable once again and chewed right through it.

We decided it was time for a new approach, so Rob, Diana and I went out with some new supplies, namely metal pipes, that we hoped would keep them away from the wires. Like most of the BC coast, it’s been incredibly foggy the past few days, so daylight was a huge factor and it started getting very dark very early. While the fog would’ve made for a stunning photograph, it wasn’t great for actually getting the task at hand completed. So we laid new pipes, rewired new cable, and tried securing it all as quickly as possible before it got too dark to see anything. We finished up just in time, and had our fingers crossed for a working camera feed the next morning.

No such luck: the camera was down and we could only assume the pups had gone straight for the cable again overnight. When we went back out to see what had happened, we discovered that the silly wolf pups had seemed to enjoy the new pipes even more than our previous set up, to the point that it looked like they had participated in an epic tug-of-war game.

Loren and Diana expressing their feelings about the cables becoming chew toys

Loren and Diana expressing their feelings about the cables becoming chew toys

So we tried yet again! It was a gorgeous day, so we had no trouble with the amount of daylight and it was nice and warm. But the pretty weather didn’t help another factor: the smell of hundreds and hundreds of rotting salmon carcasses. It’s all part of the great cycle of life up here, but my goodness does it make for some strong smells! Another fun factor, as you all have probably noticed when watching the camera feed, is that the tide comes in and out pretty dramatically in the estuary. Though the tide was pretty low when we first got there, after a few hours our work area started flooding as the tide came in, making it trickier to keep the equipment and ourselves dry. (***thank goodness for gum boots***)

Flooded estuary/workspace

Flooded estuary/workspace

While ignoring the smell and avoiding the flood, we set out yet again to get the cables out of the reach of the chew-crazy wolf pups. As I mentioned in my first post on the Great Bear Blog, I work for the U.S. government, which spends a lot of time thinking about national security. In my job, we talk a lot about building a “layered approach” to security, as any one method has vulnerabilities and cannot be relied upon 100%. I started to think this might be applicable to the security of Pacific Wild’s cable and that if we could add multiple layers of protection so the mischievous wolf pups weren’t immediately rewarded with yummy cable goodness, we might have a chance. So Rob got everything rewired, Diana relaid the piping and buried the cables deeper, and I tried to be helpful wherever possible! Those two make it look easy day by day, but the fieldwork Rob and Diana are doing is not easy; it involves a lot of mud, problem solving, power tools, patience,and rain gear to get it all done!

Thursday Oct. 22nd: The camera is working! But no sight of the wolves this morning, so we’re not sure if we successfully defended the cable from them overnight, or if they just weren’t in the mood to try.

Friday Oct. 23rd: Camera is down. In show business they always say never work with kids and dogs, as they upstage you every time, and the wolf pups win yet again. But Rob and Diana now seem determined to bring this chew toy game to its end as quickly as possible and has a solution he thinks will work.

Monday Oct. 28th: The camera has been up for 3 mornings straight and we’ve seen wolves fishing non-stop! I’m currently so worried about jinxing it, that I’m not even gonna say what the solution ended up being, for fear the conniving wolf pups will somehow manage to read this blog and discover the secret! But it works! Hope everyone is watching!  Here is clip of some the highlights!

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From D.C. to B.C. Part III

by Loren Clark-Moe

Hi everyone! October in the Great Bear Rainforest continues to be amazing!

One of the first things I heard about Pacific Wild was their Great Bear LIVE program, and in particular, their camera along a riverbed where we can watch live footage of wolves and their pups feeding on salmon. It’s amazing footage, but this camera has a unique challenge: just like their domesticated distant cousins, wolf pups love finding things to chew on, and they keep finding the cable that runs from the Great Bear LIVE camera to the power supply. The cable can’t hurt the wolf pups, but the wolf pups can definitely cut out the camera feed!

We awoke on Wednesday to find that the pups had once again found the cable, so Rob and I took the boat out to the riverbed to make some repairs. Rob knows everything about cables and wiring, but it’s slightly different when the cable you want to work on has been knawed through in the middle of a river. So, while standing in knee-deep water, I held all the wires out of the water while Rob meticulously wound and sealed them all back together. We checked the systems and the camera was back up, so all we needed now was for the wolves to come visit again!

Loren investigating the cable that connects the remote camera to its' power supply.  It turns out that wolf pups had gnawed right through the cable!

Loren investigating the cable that connects the remote camera to its’ power supply. It turns out that wolf pups had gnawed right through the cable!

On Thursday morning, I heard a happy yell from Diana, announcing that the wolves were back on camera! We spent the morning watching 5 wolves lounging, eating and playing together; I hope you got to see it too! If you haven’t yet, be sure to sign up for Pacific Wild’s Great Bear LIVE Alerts so you’ll know when we’ve caught something on camera. We were all really happy to be able to watch these beautiful animals for such a long time; even Diana’s puppy Clay was excited!

Clay the dog, intently watching a pack of wolf pups on the live camera feed.

Clay the dog, intently watching a pack of wolf pups on the live camera feed.

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From D.C. to B.C. Part II

By Loren Clark-Moe

Hello again! This is Loren, back again to share some of my experiences up here with Pacific Wild. So far, so great!

Day 4: Well today was the first day where I officially got very wet, and very cold! Last night the team agreed to meet on the dock at 8am to try to get to a camera station that wasn’t working properly, but the weather had other ideas and I was quickly informed that it was way too rough to go out there today. Instead, we changed course and went to check in on another radio receiver that seemed to have some power issues overnight.

Once again, there was no shore to pull up to for the boat, so we were jumping on to the little island but instead of riding a wave into a big rock we were pretty much faced with a large rock face that went straight up. But we all managed and Max and Rob were able to fix the power and signal issues pretty quickly. So, all around good news and I assumed we were headed back to the lab.

Pictographs in Heiltsuk traditional territory.

Pictographs in Heiltsuk traditional territory.

But then, Max mentioned that there were some amazing pictographs close by. So we jumped in the boat, took a few turns and then approached another little island with huge rock faces jutting up. We could spot amazing red paintings along the cliffs with beautifully clear pictures of some traditional symbols, a pod of killer whales, jelly fish and figures we lovingly referred to as “little lizard dudes”. These spectacular images were a powerful reminder that humans have been here and have loved, respected and depended upon this amazing region for a long long time.

As we were walking along a ledge (with extreme caution and good sense, Mom, I promise) to get a good view of another image, the wind and rain picked up quite a bit and it was definitely time to head back. Of course, the problem with cold, wet weather is that you want to get out of it as fast as possible. But the faster the boat goes, the colder and wetter you become. So it was quite the ride back, bouncing around, getting pelted with rain and I reconsidered my earlier assertion that this was “perfect” weather but still, it wasn’t terrible!

Max and Rob are headed out later this afternoon to work on a windmill on another island, so they’ve only got a few minutes

to spend by the fire. I, on the other hand, have some writing to do, so I’m now curled up by the fire, appreciating the warm indoors.

Until next time!

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From D.C. to B.C.

By Loren Clark-Moe

My name is Loren and I first met Ian and Karen McAllister, the founders of Pacific Wild, in September and absolutely fell in love with the Great Bear Rainforest and the work Pacific Wild is doing to protect it. But one visit up here is never long enough, and in a bizarre turn of events, I’ve gotten the chance to come back to the Great Bear Rainforest.

Loren learning to drive the boat!

Loren learning to drive the boat!

I’m a federal employee of the U.S. government, which means, I am not allowed to work until our Congress passes a budget.  As I sat at home on the first day of the U.S. government shutdown I realized that I’d go crazy without something to do, so I sent a note to the Pacific Wild team asking if I could come work with them for a bit and they said yes!

Now… let’s be clear: I have no experience in the field when it comes to conservation work, so I’ve been crossing my fingers and hoping that I can add some value of my own while also doing whatever heavy lifting, errand running, or being the extra set of hands the team needs! I’ll be keeping a running blog while I’m here with Pacific Wild, working on whatever needs work!  I hope you enjoy it!

Day 1: I arrived at Bella Bella around 10am after spending the night in the Vancouver airport.  It was exactly the weather I was told to expect: 45 degrees and raining!  I think most would consider this bad weather, but I was just so excited to see an non-tourist perspective of this area and Pacific Wild, that I thought the weather was perfect!  It was wonderful to hug everyone again that I had met only 4 weeks ago and we wasted no time jumping into a discussion of some projects I could work on while I was here. I started learning all about Pacific Wild’s non-invasive camera network and some of their plans to expand the initiative for all of our viewing pleasures!  Securing funding for the advanced equipment is essential and I started working on a draft video fundraising pitch that will be published onto Indiegogo!  More on that in a bit…

Day 2:  After finding a cup of coffee, I linked back up with the Pacific Wild team at Diana, Rob and Max’s house to finish the script for the fundraising video.  After we finalized the script, it was time for some fieldwork.  One of the hydrophones that you can listen to on Pacific Wild’s website wasn’t functioning correctly, so Diana, Max, Rob and I all loaded up the boat and took off to try to fix the problem. I had two goals for the day: 1) don’t make their jobs harder (ie: don’t get in their way or break any of the equipment) and 2) try not to fall into the very chilly water.

Adjusting a transmitter, a vital part of of the Great Bear LIVE technology

Adjusting a transmitter, a vital part of of the Great Bear LIVE technology

My goals became quite relevant almost immediately as we couldn’t actually pull the boat up to the shore because the shoreline was all jagged rocks!  This meant we had to quickly pass equipment off the boat on to the rock and then jump out of the boat ourselves.  Though I played a very limited role, I am pleased to say that the team was able to get the hydrophone system back up and running!  It took a bit of doing, as the radio receiver was out of position to line up with the signal on the neighboring mountain, so we had to reposition it on a higher point of the island.  In addition, the solar panel also had to be disassembled and remounted higher up the island, as it kept getting hit by waves.

In a moment of instant gratification, as we docked back at Pacific Wild’s floating lab, the computers started playing live killer whale vocalizations from the hydrophone that we had just repaired!  That, I’ll have you know, made my day!  Well, that, and the fact that they let me drive the boat all the way back to Pacific Wild!

That’s it for now, I’ll check in again soon!

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