Posts Tagged great bear sea
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.
Our volunteer copywriter Danielle explains how a Lake Louise wildlife centre and a search on Google led her to the Great Bear Rainforest.
Three months ago, I’d never even heard of the Great Bear Rainforest. Now, here I am, living in the thick of it.
I came to Canada in April last year, an English woman hankering after the outdoors. The real outdoors. Open horizons, epic mountains, space. I came looking for forests and rich-hued lakes, for the great mammals, for a life lived in closer connection with the Earth. I came in search of the wilds that in my so-called ‘old’ country no longer exist. I found all of this, and it put me on a path that led to Denny Island, and Pacific Wild HQ.
My epiphany happened back in August, during a trip to the Canadian Rockies. At a wildlife interpretive centre in Lake Louise, I was sadden to learn that the majority of recorded bear deaths in the Rocky Mountain parks are a direct result of human activity. Behind the bear-wary precautions we took as tourists out on the hiking trails – singing, jangling bells, scrutinizing scat – and behind our half-nervous jokes about ending up as a bear snack, a real irony lay. As much as we were sensible to give Canada’s great iconic mammal a wide berth, the truth is that we have far less reason to fear it than it does to be terrified of us.
Once I’d seen wild Black bears with my own eyes, that was it. I couldn’t get those beautiful bears, or their breathtaking habitat, out of my head. My growing concern for a world of shrinking forests and melting ice caps, and my growing love for Canada – the real, wild Canada – spurred me into action. I wanted to experience the wilderness, and I wanted to make my own contribution towards protecting it.
Unearthing the Great Bear
After some rummaging around on Google, I found Pacific Wild. I learned that there was a Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. I learned that Black bears could be white, and that it’s legal to shoot grizzlies for no other reason than a warped and marginally held concept of ‘sport’. I learned just how willfully governments, conventional energy corporations and a tiny minority of B.C.’s citizens are ignoring the astonishing, life-affirming natural wealth that’s been gifted to them. One of the last untouched stretches of our blue marble planet. A place I traveled seven and a half thousand kilometres to discover.
My role in the all-new Pacific Wild website!
So here I am on Denny Island. I’m thrilled that my skills in charity comms and Web writing are being put to good use in the development of Pacific Wild’s brand new site. I can’t wait to see it launched! It’s going to be visually stunning, informative and easy to navigate – a showcase for the world-class photography, Great Bear LIVE footage and audio that will have the natural world leaping off your screens and into your homes, wherever you may be.
I hope that the new pacificwild.org will aid your own discoveries of this ancient coastal forest, its waterways and ocean – all teeming with life. May it bring a touch of wild beauty to your day. And may that experience inspire you to take action in whatever small way you can. It’s your little act, added to the little acts of many others, that in the end will add up to a big force for change.
We’ll be announcing the launch date of the new pacificwild.org on our social media sites in the coming weeks, so make sure you follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @pacificwild to stay up to date!
It’s not normally recommended to expose yourself so entirely; out here storms from the southeast can churn up the seas before you can say ‘purple ringed top snail’. Bobbing over the remnant swells from the last blow, we look back at the mainland before it blurs into a darkened silhouette of peaks and valleys that make up the coast mountain range. With anchor secured, we are visited by a gang of Steller sea lions, a family of river otters and the bulbous heads and watchful eyes of harbour seals in every quiet cove.
As the western sun dips below the horizon, leaving its imprint of amber and crimson light, we soak in the panorama atop a rock nearby our lonely anchorage. We hear the squeals of a sea otter pup before it comes into view, riding on its mother’s furry stomach. A curiously placed snowy owl lands on an islet nearby as we savor the experiences of another wonderfully rich and diverse day.
Extra preparation was required for today: extra paddles, air tanks, VHF radios and a sat phone, in addition to a pre-departure agreement on emergency hand signals. Rising up the steep swells in our trusty dinghy, the three of us hunkered down as white foam whipped across us. I was jealous of Ian and Tav’s dry suits. After thirty dives this past week, the divers have fallen into a familiar rhythm, and as they drop to the bottom I could see the waves of mysids flowing over them. Later they would tell me that these tiny shrimp were so thick that they blocked out the sun.
In mixed seas like this it was hopeless to keep track of their bubbles, so I relied on the strobe from Ian’s flash to monitor their positions. So much shrimp biomass ensured the surface lens was covered in sea birds and plenty of fish below.
The third dive of the day was chosen up a quiet pass, protected from the ocean swell but with lots of tidal current pushing late season bull kelp forests. I could see dozens of harbour seals swimming below in the crystal clear water weaving back and forth as they curiously watched on.
Tuning into the weather channel brings news of storm conditions descending on our rocky perch, so we make a late departure for the safety of the mainland; now instead of big swells and surfing pescavores the tannin waters of the mainland bring brilliant orange sea pens, fields of nudibranchs and a travelling group of transient orcas. After breakfast, Ian admits he’s behind on some paperwork (some excuse about due dates for a book) and sits out the morning’s dive, so Tav had the pleasure of yours truly filling in as his dive partner – what a wonderful treat to see it first hand!
The days have gone too quickly and we have only explored a tiny fragment of the Great Bear Sea, but bearing witness to this rarely-observed world has been a gift. It’s not just the magnificent combination of flora, fauna and geology that faces such an uncertain future, it’s also the human communities that rely on the health of these systems. The continuing fight against oil tankers is found in the unity of all nations, in the unprecedented alliance of the walkers and swimmers, of the slimy and spiny. And perhaps if you experience a moment of despair for this coast, know that there are thousands and millions of creatures still blowing bubbles for the Great Bear Sea!
Thanks for reading!
Ian, Tavish and Ashley
Ashley Stocks is on a Pacific Wild diving expedition through the Great Bear Sea and will be uploading a three part blog series with new images and footage.
A twice daily flushing and filling of lagoons creates the dynamic environment that supports diversity, strengthening the fabric of the natural world here and the main ingredient that Ian and Tavish are searching for – strong tidal current! We anchored up shortly before dark and Tavish was eager to get in the water. Ian fielded media calls from the Habitat while I cooked up some dinner; back at Pacific Wild headquarters, international media are reporting on the amazing fishing wolf coverage their remote cameras are getting. Tav emerged with stories of an overly curious octopus – apparently he’s a sucker for a good close up.
There’s a special time when ebb turns to flood and the only indication of current is the twisted up bull kelp laying battered on the surface. This time of year you’re lucky if you have two slack tides in daylight, but we missed it. Our first dive was about 0900, two hours before low slack, so Ian and Tav ducked into eddies out of the 12 knots of white water that was pouring out of the lagoon. I tied the tender to an overhanging tree, finding solace in the low boughs like the belted kingfishers. Peering over the side of the dinghy I got a taste of the beauty below, I could see green surf and plumose anemones and a few schooling striped sea perch, anticipating what Ian and Tav had captured in this challenging environment.
The following day, low slack was timed well; midday it was supposed to turn. With enough time for a morning dive to get the kinks worked out, I drop the divers on the edge of the raging current. It was a stunner of a morning: clear sky, great blue herons fishing the shore, cormorants and grebes pursuing the swift water, and a sea lion, investigative of the dual streams of bubbles rising up from below.
Back on Habitat, the crew busily set up for our window of stillness, lights were charged and air tanks were filled. Ian and Tav donned their suits in giddy anticipation of such ideal conditions – slack tide, excellent visibility, no wind, a reliable tender to fetch them, and sunshine!
We arrived on scene with water still draining from the lagoon. With each diver set up in his chosen spot, I fastened the boat to a few stipes of kelp. Above the water, everything went quiet and the stillness was enchanting. It took only a minute for my kelp hitching post to go slack and slowly bow in the opposite direction, indicating the flood was on the way. Below the water, all types of fish came up from their bunkers and swam about freely, enjoying the brief relief from their windy existence.
Our time was spent well in the protection of these tidal lagoons and the divers’ spectacular images and footage will surely become part of the conservation agenda in the coming months, but for now it’s time to move on. The tender is hauled out and lashed in its cradle, air tanks are tied down, and the galley’s contents are stowed securely away as we work our way to the wave-beaten outer coast.
Ashley Stocks is on a Pacific Wild diving expedition through the Great Bear Sea and will be uploading a three part blog series with new images and footage.
A quick remedy of tape around the neck cuff of Ian’s loaned oversized drysuit made the seal watertight against the numbing North Pacific. Equipped with lead weights, air tank, and gauges dragging along the bottom of our dinghy, I eagerly tied the bow line to the bough of a fallen cedar. In my bold reach and instability, I fell right out of the boat onto the rocks. My mask could not find a seal against my face and my feet had slipped out of the suit feet, leaving my flippers limply clinging to empty rubber. But eventually I descended, all sounds fell away into silence and I entered another world… through my blurry mask were thousands of hooded nudibranchs clinging to giant kelp, waiting for zooplankton to enter their fleshy nets. Only moments ago, a group of mammal-eating orcas, celebrating a recent meal, glided under the twin hulls of our sailing vessel, slapping tail flukes and showing their white bellies as they vanished into the misty distance.
* * * *
It’s always exciting when seasons change on the coast, deciduous trees drop their leaves, the air cools and adopts the comforting scent of fir fire smoke, and humpback whales start their southbound migration. But perhaps most noticeably, salmon carcasses remain in rivers as essential nutrients, while fertilized eggs are left to over-winter in their frigid watery baths – the promise of a future for all species. Most of the larger predators have moved out of the valley bottoms and onto winter living, fat with salmon omegas, onto a life of minimal daylight and ruthless coastal storms. But today the coast is cold and quiet as we get ready to cast off on this underwater exploration.
There are always a few things to work through on the days leading up to a trip and this time our sailing vessel Habitat required minimal attention before charging into heavy seas and gleaming bays. More dire pre-departure agendas, at least for the Denny Island kids, were the Sunday soccer game and helping neighbours move engine blocks up a flight of stairs.
Through these dive surveys, Tavish and Ian hope to document in video and still imagery, the delicate workings of the seascape that are so rarely seen and reported. The aim is to collect unique observations, accounts, and behaviours of submarine creatures during a season that is largely unvisited along this highly threatened coastline.
I am closing in on my fifth year crewing on boats on the coast of B.C. now, and on this expedition, I’ve been tasked with keeping track of things on the surface: looking after the tender, crew nutrition, and watching the diver’s exhalations – boils and bubbles indicating their positions below.
* * * *
Launching our first dive at King Island, we get into the routine and testing of equipment. From my vantage point, I spot a belted kingfisher perched low over the water darting about and following Ian’s bubbles while Tavish brings up his first footage from depth, a psychedelic box crab, cruising the ocean bottom.
We continue south to Namu; a once thriving and bustling cannery (B.C. Packers) is now abandoned and vacant of a responsible land-owner. Perhaps a fault of the economy, or bad parenting, there is lacking desire to clean up the mess after boom and bust, and now Namu crumbles iconically leaching harmful waste into the mouth of a salmon bearing stream. The concern here is not the retroaction of the parties responsible, it is the adequacy in coping with modern messes, say, a V.L.C.C. gushing out barrels of bitumen into critical fin whale habitat and river estuaries.
A few miles down Fitz Hugh Sound, we set the hook at the mouth of the Koeye River. The clarity of the water here shows the divers’ bubbles climbing emerald green through the water column. I find comfort knowing they’re snapping away while I bravely keep guard, paddling around in the tender left to my thoughts –
An adventure but surely with a purpose – an expose of sub-tidal Great Bear Sea! Perhaps we do this for our children who will strive to make a life on this coast, or for the folks in Washington, D.C. who listen to the live feed of the audio from Pacific Wild’s remote cameras so they too can enjoy howling wolves from their office chairs. Or it’s because salmon swim every inch of the coastline feeding all nations – the towering spruce of valley bottoms and scarlet anemones.
* * * *
Casting my gaze towards Hakai Pass, a few remaining humpback whale spouts are spotted against the darkened shore, and a quick snorkel trip up the river reveals two juvenile grizzlies, searching for the last of the pinks in a late pulse up their natal stream.
Out here, the most influential agent of landscape change is fluids. Water carving and dissolving, wind throwing up great stands of forest and soil, and ice sculpting peaks and fjords, defining the geography of this coastline. The great mass of ice, 10,000 years ago, causing areas to bulge up, while others only miles away, were pushed deep into the ocean resulting in a staggering variability of sea level. You could imagine then, there might be a place where the land wasn’t depressed nor bulged (like that of the fulcrum of a teeter-totter), a unique attribute of the coast where sea level has been relatively constant.
Knowing this might change the way you look at the landscape. Ecological communities could be much older than once perceived and perhaps a more refined use of the coastal zone, would be common among all species that have resided here since the last glacial maximum. Perhaps Ian and Tavish are documenting ancient adaptations of the creatures here, in their quest for survival in the Great Bear Sea.