Posts Tagged marine life
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.