Posts Tagged remote camera

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.

April

 

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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 NYC to the GBR

by Elliot Bok

As the New York City skyline faded in the distance, I closed the airplane window cover over the reddening sunset in favor of a nap on my way to Vancouver. Upon landing, I rode on a couple of increasingly tiny planes, going farther and farther into the Great Bear Rainforest, a wilderness oasis that few people know exist. The plane pulled into the tiny Bella Bella airport, and Diana and Max, two people on the team I would be working with for my time in the Great Bear, greeted me.

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They got me settled in and quickly set me up looking over spectrograms for whale and dolphin sounds. Those hazy, blue graphs along with a range of other tasks became my life here. The work was satisfying, and I enjoyed the frequent spurts of wildlife action – from eagles to orca whales – that come with living here.

The local community was also a source of fascination for me. The small town experience was brand new, and it held much more appeal than I ever would have imagined. Despite the intrigue that I found during my first week of life in the Great Bear Rainforest, however, it was not until our trip to the outer coast that I began to understand the value of my adventure.

A boat ride of a few hours brought Ian McAllister and me to a small island on the edge of the Pacific with only one other sailboat resting in one of the beautiful lagoons. We dropped anchor and prepared for our mission the next day when the rest of the crew would join us to plant a hydrophone deep in the water and build infrastructure for wind mills, solar panels and a host of other equipment.

Later that day, I had the opportunity to take a canoe around the many beaches that glittered in the afternoon sunshine. The water was remarkably clear, and the pristine beauty of my surroundings truly struck me. I have always given the required “wow” at a beautiful sunset, but this island was the first time that I ever felt truly taken aback by scenery. I landed on the beach and walked through some woods to the other side. I reached a beach and, dipping my feet in the water, brushed a couple tiny pebbles off a big rock so that I might sit. It took a few minutes before I realized that these were not pebbles, but baby snails.

Suddenly, my surroundings seemed to come to life; fish swam through the water around my feet, and I finally noticed the crabs that I’m sure had always been running about the beach. Eventually, it became time for me to return to the boat, and, following my footprints back to the area in the woods I had come through, I realized that I had stepped over almost a dozen clear trails of wolf tracks. I returned to my canoe, and, after venturing among the tall reeds for another half hour, I made my way back to Ian. Those few hours gave me a new perspective to all of our work. My life trajectory may not have changed all that much because of this afternoon, but I am sure that on the plane ride home I will not close my window to the sunset.

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Setting Up the Herring Cam

By Claire Hume, Pacific Wild Intern

Photo by Max Bakken

Photo by Max Bakken

En route to set up the remote camera for the herring spawn, I quickly forgot about my cold fingers and toes when Max spotted a dolphin porpoising nearby. I struggled to count the fins as they briefly broke the surface. “Seven!” I shouted, there were at least seven. Starting my count again I adjusted that estimate to twenty-five. Then fifty. And, upon realizing the pod of dolphins had us surrounded, my excitement reached an all time manic high and I abandoned the count altogether. Max, who had remained calm and collected, later informed me there were at least a hundred and fifty white-sided dolphins in the group, probably more.

As the dolphins cut gracefully through our waves, there was one who was much smaller than all the rest, who flung himself clear out of the water in a spectacular jump. I could practically hear him saying “weeeeeeeee!” as he flew through the air. Eventually the dolphins headed on their way, off to search for herring I suppose, and we carried on ours – off to install a camera that would monitor the behaviour of animals feeding on the herring spawn.

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Photo by Max Bakken

After scouting for the perfect camera spot on various beaches and points, we found one that we thought might work. The criteria, though simple, were proving quite difficult to fulfill. The camera needed to be mounted in a stable location, such as up a tree, that gave an unobstructed view of the beach and intertidal zone while receiving transmission signal that would allow us to send the video back to Pacific Wild headquarters via our mountaintop relay site. Max clambered up countless trees, reporting spectacular views from each, but none of them were receiving strong enough signals from our radio tower to justify its use.

Eventually we found a spot that seemed to work and Max and Diana unloaded the boat – a feat in itself as we were anchored on a patch of steep and seaweed-covered rocks. The rest of the afternoon was spent installing the camera and wiring it to send its footage in the right direction. We’re hoping the camera will allow us to watch wolves, bears, whales, and birds as they feast on herring and their eggs. We are streaming this footage live into the local school to help give youth a view into their surrounding environment. If all goes well, everyone will be able to watch the herring spawn excitement from miles away! For now, it’s a waiting game to see if the herring will decide to spawn in this location – which was teeming with life last year – again this season.

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It’s That Time of Year Again

Sun, snow, rain, hail, repeat. All within an hour.

This is the “herring weather” that greeted the rest of our field crew when they arrived last week and began readying boats and testing equipment for our work to document the herring spawn.

This incredible natural history event has sustained wildlife and First Nations communities alike for millennia. As humpback whales complete their migration and black bears begin stirring after a long winter, herring and their eggs are a welcome source of nourishment.

After years of an unsustainable commercial fishery, the herring stocks collapsed and have yet to fully recover on the central coast. Each year, people in Bella Bella wonder if they will be able to harvest enough of the herring spawn on kelp (SOK) to feed their families.

The Hakai Network has developed the Herring School to study the ecological and socio-cultural impacts of herring and their decline. Similarly, Pacific Wild is working to highlight the importance of this foundation species.

This spring we are working with an international film crew to create a documentary on the herring spawn. We are also bringing the spawn into the Bella Bella Community School through our remote wildlife cameras, and we are taking students out into the field with us.  Our new HD pan-tilt-zoom camera will bring live footage of the spawn happening miles away into the classrooms at a stunning quality that we have not been able to achieve until now.

These past few days, the weather has calmed and the spawn has started. The VHF is crackling with chatter on hot spots, Heiltsuk fishermen have begun setting lines in the water for SOK, and we have our first camera in place.

Stay tuned as we post updates during this exciting time of year!

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  Photo by Ian McAllister                     

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Hydrophone Scouting in the Great Bear

by Claire Hume, Pacific Wild intern

With herring season upon us, a small group of us here at Pacific Wild took advantage of a break in the weather and took a trip along the outside of the Great Bear.  Our mission was to identify new locations on the windswept and rugged outer coast for the next hydrophone and remote wildlife camera installations planned for Heiltsuk territory.

Little did I know that this one trip would introduce me to sea otters, humpback whales, signs of an outer coastal wolf pack, and the incredible sight of a group of transient whales surfing through breaking swells as they preyed on Stellar sea lions.

As we crossed miles of open ocean swells and entered a rocky outcropping of islets downwind, I was hit with the smell of 500 Stellar sea lions. They watched us curiously as we pulled the boat along shore. As we slowed to a stop, Ian and Tavish slipped into their diving gear, grabbed underwater cameras, and hopped into the water.  Finding a suitable underwater crack in the rock to lay the hydrophone cable is essential if we expect to keep the cable intact through the winter. The sea lions, comically sluggish and clumsy on land, clambered over their sleeping neighbours and grunted in each other’s faces. But the moment they hit the water, after dragging and wobbling their way to the rock’s edge, they moved easily with an incredible combination of power and grace. I wondered, as we bobbed around in the sunshine, what, exactly, our plan of action would be if the divers were met with a less than friendly response from the giant creatures swirling below. With no way of knowing how the underwater world was treating them, we just continued to bob and hope for the best.

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A short while later the divers resurfaced, all smiles. Swimming with the sea lions, they informed us, didn’t make them nervous at all. They compared it to visiting a gang of playful, albeit massive, dogs. It wasn’t until I saw their footage later that day that I really appreciated their analogy. The sea lions kept their distance as they calmly circled the divers, curious to see these strange new beings from all angles. Occasionally coming closer to blow bubbles at their masks or to look at their reflections in the camera, the sea lions came across as beautiful and inquisitive animals.

On our way back from diving, Max thought he spotted something up ahead. Eagerly scanning the horizon for a dorsal fin or spout, our concentration was interrupted by a killer whale breaching clear out of the water. A group of transient mammal-hunting whales was heading right for the sea lion rock.

We dropped the hydrophone overboard and listened as they called to one another and then fell silent, a sign that they were going into hunting mode. Turning the boat around, we raced back to the sea lion rock and waited, with a quiet engine and cameras ready, for the killer whales to come our way. Minutes later they arrived, six adults plus two calves, and began tearing back and forth through the surf as sea lions barked and bawled. The tension was incredible both on the island and on board as everyone scrambled to get ID photos and footage.

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Then, just as quickly as it had started, they were gone, moving south, most likely to the next sea lion haul out.

Back on solid ground we compared our whale pictures to DFO’s killer whale catalogue and identified the individuals we saw as members of the T55 Group. The largest male in the pod was born in 1972 and goes by the ID label of T54. Clearly the next location for a hydrophone station had been found – now it’s just a matter of waiting for the right weather window.

When the hydrophones and camera are installed this summer, Pacific Wild will transmit the audio and video streams live through their website, allowing people all over the world to monitor the behaviour of the animals in this incredible ecosystem and appreciate what a spectacular place this really is.

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