Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Posts by The Marine Detective

Abseiling Sea Snail

Go ahead, say that 5 times “abseiling sea snail, abseiling sea snail, abseiling sea snail . . .”

Now that you’ve warmed up and possibly developed a lisp, here are some details about a marine snail species that can climb, has an incredible sense of smell, and can deter much bigger predators.

Meet the Wrinkled Amphissia. No, I do not make up these names.

Amphissa columbiana can be up to 3 cm long, and is also known as the “Wrinkled Dove Snail”. 

 

Climbing

In this species, a gland near the foot secretes thick mucus that allows them to climb up and down and suspend themselves in the sea.

See the two photos below. I know it is so difficult to see the mucus strand.

Scavenging

Where are they abseiling to?

These marine snails are big time scavengers and are very active, using their long siphon to smell out the dead (photo below shows the siphon well).

It appears they can detect the chemicals of decay incredibly well in the water. Often a pile of them are scavenging together.

Wrinkled Amphissa amid Fringed Filament-Worms. If you look really closely you can even see some of the snail’s eggs attached the shell of the snail in the foreground. ©Jackie Hildering.

 

From Braidwaithe et al 2017 regarding feeding. “They appear to locate food resources primarily through chemosensory cues, often following conspecific mucus trails and sometimes congregating around actively feeding sea stars. The chemical cues that draw A. columbiana to food act as feeding stimulants; the addition of scent from a damaged animal induced the snails to feed on healthy prey. The ability to sense chemical cues from damaged animals, including those being consumed by feeding sea stars, creates scavenging opportunities other gastropods may be unable to exploit.”

 

Wrinkled Amphissa aggregation scavenging on a dead Rat Fish. The much larger snails feeding here are Oregon Tritons (Fusitron oregonensis to 13 cm long).The Tritons might follow the scent trails of the Amphissas to the food!

 

Photo above and below. Wrinkled Amphissas and Oregon Tritons snacking on a dead Lingcod. Nothing is wasted in the wild. ©Jackie Hildering.

Biting

They also have a wicked defense against sea stars where they insert their mouth parts (proboscis) into one of the grooves on the underside of the arms of predatory sea stars, biting a nerve.

From Braidwaithe et al  2010″The injury, which generally repelled the attacking sea star, immobilized the affected arm, rendering it useless for several days. The biting defense appears to be effective against several sea star species and may reduce predation on A. columbiana.” Some crab species do feed on them. 

Such remarkable adaptations in a sea of remarkable organisms which means I will be writing blogs and allotting abundant alliteration for a long, long time to come.


Adapting over thousands of years

I am sharing the photo below to give a sense of the diversity in the mollusc phylum to which snails belong.

“Mollis” means soft in Latin and the molluscs are our soft-bodied terrestrial and marine invertebrate neighbours. Their phylum is the second largest (the insects take first place). Note that all the organisms in this photo start off as larvae in the planktonic soup of the Ocean.

You can imagine how excited I was to chance upon  5 highly diverse marine mollusc species in one small area.

 

Details about the species in the photo:

– To the left of the Wrinkled Amphissa is a Keyhole Limpet who makes its own hat-like shell and grazes on rocks (preferred diet is bryozoans). Limpet species need to suction down hard on a flat surface because they do not have a shell to cover its underside. The individual here is in a risky position as a predator could easily flip and consume limpet. Too cool not to share with you is that engineers have found that the “teeth”  of limpets (the radula) are made of the strongest biological material ever tested (and the teeth are less than a millimetre long)! Note that marine snails like the Wrinkled Amphissa are protected not only by a shell, but they have an operculum which serves like a door to close the entrance to the shell when the snails withdrawn into its shell.

– Below the Wrinkled Amphissa, a Blue-Lined Chiton. Chitons make 8 plates to protect themselves. They are grazers like limpets. They too need to be able to suction down to protect themselves but do not need to be on a flat surface since the plates allow them to “contour” onto the surface.

– To the right of the Wrinkled Amphissa is a species of sea slug known as the Pomegranate Aeolid. It has “naked gills” and is therefore in the group of sea slugs known as “nudibranchs”. Sea slugs are marine mollusc without ANY shell or plates for protection. They are protected by feeding on animals with stinging cells (nematocysts) which become incorporated into those structures on its back (they are called cerata and also function as the naked gills for respiration). Specifically, Pomegranate Aeolids feed on Raspberry Hydroids which were only acknowledged as a new species in 2013. Scientific name is “Zyzzyzus rubusidaeus” and again, I do NOT make up these names. 🙂 See photo below.

– Below the chiton, if you look very carefully, is a very tiny sea slug species. I believe this is a Sea Cherub – a type of sea slug that swims and does not have naked gills (and therefore is not a nudibranch).

Not in the photo but to be considered too in the incredible diversity among marine molluscs is – octopuses!

Pomegranate Aeolid feeding on Raspberry Hydroids. ©Jackie Hildering.


Sources:

Anita Brinckmann-Voss & Dale R. Calder (2013). Zyzzyzus rubusidaeus (Cnidaria, Hydrozoa, Tubulariidae), a new species of anthoathecate hydroid from the coast of British Columbia, Canada” (PDF). Zootaxa. 3666 (3): 389–397.

Lee F. Braithwaite, Anthony Rodríguez-Vargas, Miles Borgen, Brian L. Bingham  (2017).”Feeding Behavior of the Wrinkled Dove Snail Amphissa columbiana,” Northwest Science, 91(4), 356-366.

Lee F. Braithwaite, Bruce Stone, Brian L. Bingham (2010). “Defensive Behaviors of the Gastropod Amphissa columbiana,” Journal of Shellfish Research, 29(1), 217-222.

Whales that Were

Whales that  . . . were.

I stumbled across this photo today and it made me take pause.

It dates back to 2009 and is of members of the threatened population of Northern Residents – mother Tsitika (A30, born ~1947) and one of her sons, Pointer (A39, born 1975). Both whales are now dead.

 

Tsitika died in 2013 and Plumper died in 2014. It’s known that they are dead because inshore fish-eating populations of Orca (known as the Northern and Southern “Residents”) stay with their families (matrilines) their entire lives. So, when truly missing from their family, they are known to be dead. (There are two notable exceptions – the calves Springer and Luna). The daughters do sometimes split off with their offspring and this appears to be related to availability of Chinook i.e. reduced prey availability appears to be a catalyst for matriline splitting (Stredulinsky, 2016).

Below is a photo of my beat-up old catalogue showing the A30 family composition back in 1999. This version of the ID catalogue was by Dr. John Ford, Graeme Ellis and Ken Balcomb who continued the work begun by the late Dr. Michael Bigg in 1973 to study Orca as individuals. That work continues to this day, whereby the Orca off the coast of British Columbia have been studied as individuals longer than any other whale populations.

My having the privilege to learn from Orca began in 1999 as a naturalist, and so much was learned from the A30s.

 

I share the image of the tattered page to give a sense of how often I used this resource because this family was so frequently in the Johnstone Strait area – A30, her sons, daughters and grand-calves – always together. They are “the A30s”.

The families are named for the eldest female*. Orca females can live well beyond their reproductive years e.g. A30 lived to approximately age 64 but she was only reproductive to age ~40.  It is believed the post-reproductive females are the teachers and decision-makers and hence, this is why the families are named for them. The rationale is that, if females live longer than they can have babies (thereby no longer directly contributing to the bank of their family’s DNA), they must be doing something so important that they are indirectly benefitting the DNA of their kin e.g. teaching mothering skills and how and where to hunt. They also share food with their family. These activities would be of benefit by ensuring that the offspring are better able to survive and mate, thereby passing on the family’s genes.

Mothers sharing food with their sons in particular would enhance the chances of the family’s DNA getting passed on i.e. big, strong boys might have more luck with the ladies (Wright et al, 2016).

The sons’ reliance on their mothers appears to be so strong, that research has found that they have a greater chance of dying if their mother dies. From Foster, 2012: “For a male whale over 30, a mother’s death meant he was 14 times more likely to die within the year. For his female counterparts, a mother’s death only boosted the risk of death by just under three-fold. And daughters under 30 saw no change to their survival rate when they lost their moms.”

Indeed, Pointer died within the year after Tsitika died. His older brother Blackney (A38) died ~4 years after she died. Big brother “Strider” had already gone missing in 1999.

 

Mother and son, Tsitika and Pointer in 1999. ©Jackie Hildering. 

 

What made me take pause today however was not this science, at least not directly.

That image of mother of son, of Tsitika and Pointer, so often side-by-side for those many years, it triggered in me the knowledge that it is through these whales that I have come to a much deeper understanding of the interconnectedness and fragility of this coast. It has been pivotal in how I live my life and essential in my evolution into becoming a Humpback researcher.

Through the extraordinary privilege of learning to recognize whales as individuals, I have broken free of thinking of whales as populations; as numbers of animals. Whales are not randomly moving / blundering along our coast. Their culture has been passed on through generations.

A30’s ancestors would have pursued the same runs of salmon (and rubbed on the rocks of the same beaches). Let me emphasize this. The same lineages of Orca have been following the same runs of salmon spawning in the rivers of their birth . . . generation . . . upon generation . . . upon generation . . . upon generation.

A30 came here as a calf with her mother, A2 (Nicola). Her daughters A50 (Clio) and A54 (Blinkhorn) continue to come into the area with their offspring and grand-offspring, in search of salmon (with their greatest reliance being on Chinook). Once the salmon have spawned, they are far less likely to be in the area.

A30 and A34 matrilines near the Bere Point rubbing beaches in 2016. In the foreground, Cedar (A75, born in 2002). She is A30’s granddaughter and a mother herself. ©Jackie Hildering. 

 

I have come to better understand the longevity of these lineages. Not all rivers are the same to salmon. Not all salmon are the same to Orca. And not all Orca should be perceived to be the same by we humans.

Too many of us don’t even know that there are different kinds of Orca off our coast with different diets, languages, histories and relationships. All are at risk and no, they really will not mate with one another nor will they switch their diet (see below for information on the four BC Orca populations).

Too many of our children know more about kangaroos and elephants than they do about the whales off our shores.

This absence of knowledge is very problematic – for the whales and for the ecosystem upon which our lives also depend. One of the most powerful lessons learned from Orca is how very wrong we can be (having vilified them, presumed them to be abundant, shot at them, put them into captivity, etc) BUT how quickly we can change when knowledge replaces fear.

We could learn so much about our sense of place through the whales’ sense of place.

We would do so much better by respecting those whose lineages and cultures date back 1000s of years.

And, understanding the whales of the past, would certainly help us with our futures.

 

*The A30 matriline is now comprised of sisters A50 and A54, their offspring and grand-offspring. Note that the matriline is still referenced as “the A30s” because there are two surviving daughters. Were a mother to die and there was only one surviving daughter and her offspring, the matriline would then be named for that daughter e.g. the A12s are now the A34s. See this link. But when there is more than one surviving daughter; only surviving sons; or son(s) and daughters(s), the matriline retains the name of the deceased mother. (Clear as mud right? 🙂 ) Source: BC Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program.

 


Northern “Resident” Quick Facts:

  • N. Resident population; ~302 whales (2018); threatened population.
  • There are 4 populations of Killer Whales / Orca off the coast of British Columbia. They do not mate with one another, having distinct cultures.
  • In addition to the N. Residents, the other 3 populations of Orca off the coast of British Columbia are the “Southern Residents” (also inshore fish-eaters; endangered population of 76 whales, May 2019); mammal-eating Bigg’s Killer Whales (aka Transients, threatened population) and offshore fish-eating “Offshores” (threatened population whose diet includes sharks).
  • “Resident” type Orca do not stay in one area as the name suggests. They are inshore fish-eating Orca. They are highly reliant on salmon, especially Chinook. Thereby, matrilines are more predictably sighted when salmon are spawning i.e. predictable salmon returning to the rivers of their birth = predictable predators following them.
  • Residents stay with their mothers, siblings and offspring their whole lives. The families are known as matrilines. They share their catches.
  • Mating happens when different N. Resident matrilines come together IF they are not closely related. Each matriline of N. Residents sounds different; aiding in determining degree of relatedness and avoiding inbreeding. Ultimately, males leave with their family and females leave with theirs. The calves are of course raised by their mothers who nurse them. Nobody leaves to mate.
  • Only the N. Residents (and a few families of resident type Orca in Alaska) have the culture of rubbing on smooth, stone beaches. Click here for video and information on beach-rubbing.

Please see previous blogs for further detail:


Sources:

Enough Carbon Monoxide to Kill a Chicken ?

If you live on the West Coast, you may have heard someone say . . .   “There’s enough carbon monoxide (CO) in Bull Kelp to kill a chicken”.

Recently, while teaching a marine naturalist workshop, I was asked if this was true. And oh what a rabbit hole this took me on, leading not only to chickens, but elephants! Actually, just one elephant but it’s a whole menagerie of facts. You’ll see.

I knew that carbon monoxide is a byproduct of respiration in some brown algae like Bull Kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana). I also knew that carbon monoxide is one of the gases found in the float-like structure called the “pneumatocyst”, keeping the kelp buoyant so that the fronds can better photosynthesize, nearer to the sun. The stem-like structure, the stipe, is also hollow and directly connected to the pneumatocyst and, thereby, must contain some carbon monoxide too.

However, I had never checked if the amount of carbon monoxide could indeed be measured by the official scientific unit of “chicken killer”.

The fact-finding mission took me all the way back to 1917 and the research of Seth Langdon who discovered that there was carbon monoxide in Bull Kelp and then exposed the concentration to various animals. And yes, he killed chickens. So it’s true.

But it gets even more interesting.

Bull Kelp float (pneumatocyst) and fronds. ©Jackie Hildering.

 

Jump ahead to 2013 and the Masters thesis of Lauran Liggen. How thrilled I was to learn from her work that, not only is there enough carbon monoxide in Bull Kelp to kill a chicken – there’s enough to kill an adult man (don’t worry, she did not use Langdon’s lethal methods to prove this).

Specifically from her research: ” Earth’s atmosphere contains only a small amount of CO (~0.000025%) whereas pneumatocysts contain an average concentration of 1.6%  . . .  A study conducted by Landgon (1917) determined whether or not the concentration of CO was at a toxic level by exposing pneumatocyst gases to animals and measuring their physiological effects. Subsequently, the statement familiar to most phycologists [cool people who study algae], that the pneumatocysts of Nereocystis have enough CO “to kill a chicken” was a product of Langdon (1917). Without harming any animals, data collected during this study can further support this statement. 1.6% CO is a potentially toxic amount given that concentrations of CO greater than 100 ppm (0.01%) could kill or render a person unconscious (Suner et al. 2008). Given that an average adult male has a lung capacity of 5800 ml and the largest recorded pneumatocyst in this study (725 ml) had a CO concentration of 1.6%, if an average sized man inhaled the gas inside the largest sampled pneumatocyst, then in one breath he would ingest 1500 ppm of CO, 15-times greater than the maximum concentration a person could tolerate before passing out.”

Wow. Just wow. That’s a lot more than one chicken.

 

So where does the elephant come in? 

While trying to source the chicken and Bull Kelp story, I came across the following about Bull Kelp in the book “Pacific Seaweeds” by super phycologists, Louis Druehl and Bridgette Clarkston: “Ronald E. Foreman, in pursuit of his PhD (University of California, Berkley, 1970), discovered that the float, which may have a volume of up to 3 litres . . . has carbon monoxide, an infamous poison as one of its buoyancy gases. Some years ago LD [Louis Druehl] had the opportunity to test the herbivore’s ability to detect the kelp-packaged carbon monoxide. While teaching a seaweed course for the University of Alaska, [he] shared an apartment complex with Bo, a circus elephant [say WHAT?!] and once presented Bo with an entire fresh bull kelp. Bo’s response was to yank the plant from [his] hands (poor table manners) and eat the blades. Then, to Louis Druehl’s surprise, Bo stomped on the float, releasing the gas before he ate it. Does this behaviour suggest elephants once lived in association with kelp and learned to avoid the poisonous gas?”

Let me answer that. No! This is a sample size of ONE with a circus elephant who lived in an apartment complex in Alaska. This may not have been the wildest of elephants but possibly a pretty wild apartment complex. 🙂

Can’t make this stuff up and it’s great to be able to report that naturalists didn’t. Those who have been saying “Bull Kelp is kept afloat with enough carbon monoxide to kill a chicken” are right. In fact, they’ve been low-balling the amount. (I would suggest that there is more valuable messaging around Bull Kelp and its great importance as habitat, fuel for the food web, oxygen production and carbon dioxide absorption.)

And once again, with this blog, I feel like I have fulfilled part of my calling by providing essential, factual, life-enhancing information. In this case, involving kelp, chickens and an elephant named Bo.

You’re welcome.

 

Note: The genus for Bull Kelp, “Nereocystis”, is Greek  for “mermaid’s bladder”.


For more on Bull Kelp, please see previous blog “Journey Through Kelp” at this link. 

Sources:

All photos in this blog ©Jackie Hildering.

 

Phenomenal Feather Stars

Phenomenal?  Yeah they are.

The lineage of “feather stars” (members of the crinoid class) goes back 485 million years, give or take a million. They crawl around. They swim in the most extraordinary way. You’ll see. 🙂

Another non-scientific name used for feather stars is “sea lilies” but I avoid that. As pretty as the name is, I believe it adds to confusion. These are animals, not plants. They are echinoderms, relatives to sea stars, brittle stars, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. Also “sea lily” is a name more often used for the crinoid relatives that have a stalk into adulthood. Only juvenile feather stars have a stalk. Then, get this . . .  they detach and crawl down their own stalk to perch directly on the bottom! (Source: A Snail’s Odyssey). See below.

 

 

There are many feather star species in the world but the detail here is about the species commonly found in shallow water off the coast of British Columbia – Florometra serratissima (range is from the Aleutian Islands to Baja California).

Feather stars have 5 feathery arms that split to form 10 or more arm branches that are used to gather bits of organic matter (snacks) out of the water. With arm’s outreached, Florometra serratissima is up to 25 cm wide and they are up to 31 cm tall. Feather stars also use their arms to swim as recently captured in this video by dive buddy, Brenda Irving. They swim as if “walking up an invisible staircase” (quote from Lamb and Handby).

Phenomenal – right?

The following detail on their locomotion is largely compiled from the brilliant resourceA Snail’s Odyssey by Tom Carefoot, Professor Emeritus, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia.



How do they swim? 

“Florometra serratissima is the only swimming species of crinoid on the west coast of North America. It swims by graceful undulation of its arms in 3 sets, each set moving successively but overlapping. Thus, while about one-third of the arms are in power stroke, another third are in recovery, and the last third somewhere in between. During the power stroke the arms extend out maximally for greatest frictional resistance, while during the recovery stroke they bend inwards to minimise resistance.”

“The sets comprise two triplets and one quadruplet, are their composition with respect to specific arms is invariable (see sequence below). In the scenario shown, swimming is initiated by the blue triplet making a downstroke, followed 1sec later by the green quadruplet, and 2 seconds later by the orange triplet. An entire sequence is completed, then, in about 3 seconds, and the pattern may be repeated for up to 30 seconds.” (Source: A Snail’s Odyssey).

After several strokes to move vertically (to a mean height of 29 cm at an average speed of 5.4 cm/sec), individuals often turn 90 degrees and swim horizontally. If there is current, they will swim with the current. Horizontal swimming is achieved by the 5 arms furthest away from the bottom making stronger downward pulses than the arms closest to the bottom. (Source: Shaw and Fontaine. See Figure 3 at this link if you wish to better understand the horizontal movement).

Swim speed was found to occur in “short, repeatable bursts of 10 to 30 seconds. Continuous swimming beyond 4 minutes provokes a refractory period lasting 5 to 17 minutes during which individuals are incapable of swimming.” (Source: Shaw and Fontaine).

Feather stars end up back on the ocean bottom by stopping movement, and then “parachuting” down (as can be seen at the end of the video above).

Swimming and crawling can be stimulated by current and touch from predators such as Sunflower Stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) and crabs. Research supports that if touched by a Sunflower Star, there is about a 5 second delay followed by “several power strokes carrying the stimulated individual 1 to 3 metres away.  This cycle can be repeated several times and capture by a sea star is actually thought to be rare.” (Source: A Snail’s Odyssey).

Particles of food are captured by the pinnules, moved by tube feet and cilia and form a bolus, which is moved down a “food grove” toward the mouth. This delicate looking animal has to be strong enough to be in high current areas as that’s where the feeding is good. The cirri hold on to surfaces and allow the Feather Star to crawl. ©2019 Jackie Hildering.


Yes, they also crawl! 

Crawling has been found to be feather stars’ main means of getting around with swimming being only in response to a predator or touch.

“Stalkless crinoids such as Florometra serratissima anchor to the substratum [ocean bottom] using flexible cirri [these have been described as holding on like bird’s feet do]. The cirri are jointed and can slowly bend and straighten. . . . ” (Source: A Snail’s Odyssey).

The arms are also involved in crawling around. The 10 arms attach to the bottom with small hooks, the central part of the feather star’s body (the calyx and cirri) is lifted. “The arms then contract and extend on opposite sides of the body, which moves it in one direction or the other. Repetition of this behaviour will gradually move the individual to a new location.” (Source: A Snail’s Odyssey)


What a remarkable species with relatives dating back 485 million years and defences including: (1) being able to regenerate arms; (2) having a body that has little nutritional content, is hard, and may taste bad AND; (3) is strong enough to withstand the current that delivers snacks, but light enough to allow swimming as an escape response.

 

Above: Feather star near Telegraph Cove at about 10 m depth. Species reported to be from 10 to 1252 m. Believe this to be a female! From A Snail’s Odyssey: “Studies on feather stars Florometra serratissima at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, British Columbia mostly have separate sexes, but a small percentage is hermaphroditic. Breeding is continuous throughout most of the year and “dribble” spawning is the norm. Gonads appear as swellings on special pinnules of the arms, known as genital pinnules. Genital pinnules occur on all 10 arms, but concentrate in the lower third of each arm. Male individuals can be recognised by the creamy white colour of their genital pinnules, and females by pink or orange-coloured pinnules.” More detail on reproduction of feather stars at this link. Photo ©2019 Jackie Hildering.

Above: This remarkable photo by Neil McDaniel shows an individual with eggs (orange) and allows you to see the incredible fine details of the “feathers” – the pinnules of Florometra serratissima. 

Above: Another fantastic capture by Neil McDaniel.  Florometra serratissima climbing down his/her stalk to live an an adult, moving around on its cirri and swimming.

Round Lipped Boot Sponge (1 m tall) near Powell River, festooned with feather stars (Florometra serratissima). Also, see the juvenile Giant Sea Cucumbers?

 

Feather stars at the same site as the individual in the video – the Knight Inlet Sill. Animals to the right are brachipods. ©2019 Jackie Hildering.

 

Above: Dive buddy, Brenda Irving, just before taking the video above. Here with the coral Primnoa pacifica which is usually found at great depth but the upwellings at this site in Knight Inlet lead to it occurring much shallower too, up to ~15 m. The animals on the coral in this image are Orange Hermit Crabs. Detail on this species of coral and this extraordinary site can be read at “A Proposal to Create a Marine Refuge at the Knight Inlet Sill, British Columbia to Protect Unique Gorgonian Coral Habitat” by Neil McDaniel. Click here.


Sources:

Dry Land

It’s a rarity as “The Marine Detective”, that I share my photos of land.

But . . . I can’t find the words to express how moved I am by the song “Dry Land” by Joan Armatrading (from 1975).

Overcome by the beauty, depth and poignancy, I’ve attempted to use my above-the-surface photos to express this.

Lyrics include: “Been a long time at sea – and the season of loving – has long awaited me. Tides and waves have kept me – kept me going. I’m longing for the calm . . . .”

Hope you’re overcome too.

All my photos in the slideshow are from coastal British Columbia (NE Vancouver Island, Central Coast and Haida Gwaii).

Lyrics (by Pam Nestor):

Let me sail to the depths of your soul

Let me anchor as near as I can to your shore

I’m coming into dry land

Been a long time at sea

And the season of loving

Has long awaited me

 

Tides and waves have kept me

Kept me going

I’m longing for the calm

I’m heading for the pastures

I can see on your dry land

Let the sea that once did take me

Bring me back safe to your door

For I long to touch the dry land of your shore
 

Clear back to land I’m rowing

Clear the deck let me touch your soul

Maybe I’ll bring you back a gift of love

I’ll promise you so much more.

 

Song can be found at this link on iTunes.

 

 

Extinction? Every individual’s name was known.

 

Upon hearing the quote above, the truth of it gutted me.

If we lose the endangered Southern Residents, it will be the first time in human history that we let a population vanish having studied them for so long that each individual is known, most since their birth.

Currently at 75 whales, we know what has depleted the Southern Resident population. We know the current threats they face (and we know that these are synergistic). We know that the threats will be intensified due to a changing climate. We know enough to provide a life history on every individual that dies – their age, their lineage, their culture.

This captures so powerfully how we are participants in their demise. There is no surprise here. There is even acknowledgment by Canada’s National Energy Board of how precarious their survival is. In reviewing a proposed pipeline expansion they report: “Project-related marine shipping is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on the Southern resident killer whale”.

And yet the recommendation is, to proceed with the Project. 

Please take the time to reflect on this, to help share the reality but not to give in to despondency. Rather rise to a roaring “HELL NO”. NOT on our watch. NOT with our knowing.

I will say it again and again and again: the whales are barometers of our value systems and indicators of environmental health. How we treat them will ultimately be a measure of how we treat ourselves. 

We have to do better in understanding this and seeing the GAINS in weaning off fossil fuels, disposables, excessive consumerism and governments that wield fear and short-term economic arguments at the potential cost of . . . so much loss. 

Recognize the common solutions to socio-environmental problems, and apply your power as a consumer and as a voter.

Care more. Consume less. Vote for future generations. 


 

Thank you Alexandra Morton for this wisdom, shared on March 4th by Dr. Paul Spong of OrcaLab.

For better understanding of the plight of the Northern and Southern Residents, see the Recovery Strategy at this link. See Section 4 for Threats. There are many.

The main threats are recognized to be prey availability (in particular, Chinook Salmon), chemical and biological pollutants and physical and acoustic disturbance. These are synergistic i.e. if the whales do not have enough Chinook, the fat-soluble toxins (both historic and emerging) enter their systems impacting immunity and ability to reproduce. If the whales are stressed by acoustic and / or physical disturbance, this can impede their ability to hunt, to fight disease and to carry out other essential life processes like nursing and resting. 

For more detail on the National Energy Board decision I reference above, see my previous blog at this link. 

Photo: L-Pod in Blackfish Sound in 2009 ©Jackie Hildering. .

 

Business is business, and business must . . .

Please know that in reference to the graphic and words above, I am not trying to be provocative nor glib.

It would be easy to avoid providing comment on the latest developments around the potential expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline but this is counter to what I am trying to achieve as The Marine Detective​. This is all about empowerment for change that serves future generations.

Thereby, below are my thoughts resulting from now having reviewed what I could of the National Energy Board’s “Reconsideration Report for Trans Mountain Expansion Project“.

It is respected that there is solid reporting and acknowledgement that “the designated Project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects” (detail below). However, I cannot respect the rationale along the lines of: there is already so much bad stuff happening that doing more bad stuff is justified. Nor do I agree with the conclusion that approval of the Project is in the interest of Canadians and the Board’s final recommendation that “the Governor in Council approve the Project by directing the issuance of a certificate of public convenience and necessity to Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC, subject to 156 conditions.”

This all reveals the lack of appropriately valuing future generations of humans, let alone endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Many of you will get my reference to The Lorax, where despite the knowledge of environmental impacts when seeing starving and stressed animals, the Once-ler says:

“I, the Once-ler, felt sad

as I watched them all go.

BUT . . .

business is business!

And business must grow . . .”

What to do?

Keep at it with political and consumer choices and supporting legal / First Nations challenges that do consider the health of future generations and transitioning from a fossil fuel based economy to alternatives that do not contribute to climate change.

To stay with the Seussian theme and wisdom, if you’ve read this far you are one of those who “cares a whole awful lot.”

A whole lot of people caring a whole awful lot is what creates change that does benefit future generations.

 


Below are sections from the National Energy Board’s “Introduction and Disposition (an excerpt from the Reconsideration Report)” which can be found at this link.

Pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) the Board is of the view that the designated Project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. Specifically, Project-related marine shipping is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on the Southern resident killer whale, and on Indigenous cultural use associated with the Southern resident killer whale. This is despite the fact that effects from Project-related marine shipping will be a small fraction of the total cumulative effects, and the level of marine traffic is expected to increase regardless of whether the Project is approved. The Board also finds that greenhouse gas emissions from Project-related marine vessels would result in measureable [sic] increases and, taking a precautionary approach, are likely to be significant. While a credible worst-case spill from the Project or a Project-related vessel is not likely, if it were to occur, the environmental effects would be significant . . . ”

 

The evidence in the MH-052-2018 hearing is clear that the Salish Sea is not the healthy environment it once was. It is subject to a number of stressors, including vessel traffic and resulting noise, environmental contaminants, and a decline in salmon. The causes for the current state of the Salish Sea are numerous and diverse, and these effects have accumulated over time. There appears to be no serious controversy among the Parties with regard to these points, nor does there appear to be any serious controversy that Project-related marine shipping is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. This is despite the fact that Project-related marine shipping would comprise a relatively small increase in the total vessel traffic in the Salish Sea, and that increased pressure on the Salish Sea and its marine life can be anticipated regardless of whether the Project proceeds . . . ”

 

Given the cultural, environmental, and commercial importance of the Salish Sea, the Board has adopted an holistic approach to its consideration of the designated Project and how it fits into the wider context of the many current stressors on that body of water, the marine animals and fishes within it, and the people who derive cultural use, livelihood, or pleasure from it. The Board concludes that, while Project-related marine shipping’s incremental addition to cumulative effects on the Salish Sea will not be large, it will add to already significant effects.”


Links:

  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca): recovery strategy 2018. See Section 4 for “Threats”. There are many but the main threats are recognized to be prey availability (in particular, Chinook Salmon), chemical and biological pollutants and physical and acoustic disturbance. These are synergistic i.e. if the whales do not have enough Chinook, the fat-soluble toxins (both historic and emerging) enter their systems impacting immunity and ability to reproduce. If the whales are stressed by acoustic and / or physical disturbance, this can impede their ability to hunt, to fight disease and to carry out other essential life processes like nursing and resting. 

 

 

For the Love of Fish – Bilz Rockfish

What on our blue planet is going on in this photo?!

 

Well, this is William van Orden aka “Bilz Rockfish” of Quadra Island. Since 1995, he has been driven to make replicas of NE Pacific Ocean fish species and other marine life. It was my great fish-nerd joy today to spend some time with him and his wife Barb.

Above, William is holding the mould from the exact fish in the image below. This is the King-of-the-Salmon that died near Oak Bay on September 21st, 2017 (Photo is from the Oak Bay News). For more on this remarkable species, see my blog item at this link.

By making moulds of fish and marine invertebrates that have died as a result of bycatch or washing up like this, William can then make exact replicas for the purposes of education, conservation and art. Incredible care is taken to ensure that every detail is captured in the cast and that the painting is as accurate as possible for the species.


Replica of the head of the September 21st, 2017, Oak Bay King-of-the-Salmon.

 

Replicas of the head of the same King-of-the-Salmon. As a result of this, I learned that the nose can push outward as you see by contrasting the top and bottom casts (from the same fish). Presumably this would be to hunt prey which include “variety of fishes, amphipods, copepods, euphusiids [krill species], fish larvae, polychaetes [bristle worms], squids and octopuses.” Source: Love, Dr. Milton. Certainly More Than You Want to Know about the Fishes of the Pacific Coast: A Postmodern Experience. The fish you see in the background is a 71 cm long Opah (Moonfish). These are fish species that belong in the NE Pacific Ocean but we so rarely get to see them and their awe-inspiring adaptations. 


From the Bilz Rockfish website: “Every scale, pore and wrinkle is duplicated. The cast fish are then coloured with acrylic paints using an extensive collection of photos and notes. The quest is to create a permanent three-dimensional record of every fish [species] found along the Pacific coast. With over 400 different molds cluttering his shop, it would appear that the quest has turned into an obsession.

Indeed, the detail is remarkable (as is his wonderful ichthyology obsession). For example, today I realized why Starry Flounder must be called STARRY Flounder. See all the tiny star patterns on the fish’s skin?

Cast of a 64 cm Starry Flounder.

I also learned something more about the “design” of female anglerfish.

Likely you know that anglerfish females have a lure that contains bacteria which create light (bioluminescence) to attract prey in the deep, dark depths that they dwell. This lure is marked “A” in my image below. What I learned from William is that the lure can be reeled in closer to the female’s mouth and  . . . as “A” is drawn inward, “B” gets longer i.e. “B” is the counterweight to the lure appendage!

 

 

Speaking of appendages, see the little male attached to the female anglerfish? The male bites onto the female and fuses with her. He gets her nutrients. She gets his sperm. I have included a National Geographic video clip at the end of this blog that shows a mated anglerfish pair.

Below, is a cast of 90 cm Rougheye Rockfish determined to be at least 150-years-old. The age was determined by scientists counting the annual growth bands on this individual’s otoliths (ear bones). Research has determined that the species can even get to be 205-years-old!

Other fish in this image are a Decorated Warbonnet (facing left below the Rougheye Rockfish) and, on the right, a deep-dwelling fish (a clue being the huge eyes to pick up on very low light) with the enchanting common name of Ox-eyed Oreo.

 

The fish in the image below is a cast of a 137 cm Longnose Lancetfish (who you calling long nose?!). The species is thought to most often be in the depths off our coast. However, William has found shallow dwelling species like sticklebacks and Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers in the stomachs of individuals he has cast. This suggests that at least those individuals were in the shallows. An additional great quote by Dr. Milton Love is “Longnose Lancetfish are another species for which the term “little is known” fits like a snug shoe.”

137 cm long Longnose Lancetfish. To the left, a male Steelhead (spawning stage). To the right, the Opah (Moonfish). And below, a 10 cm Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker. See him/her?

I have wanted to see William’s workshop for a long time. We’ve been in communication over the years as we have just a few interests in common. 🙂 I have used some of his casts for educational purposes (e.g. his replicas of salmon species) and I might even have a few casts hanging near the shower. Hey! All the cool kids are doing it (at least we marine biology / diver types).

But of course, there is also solemness to seeing the replicas of these awe-inspiring marine neighbours. They are the result of animals who have died.

This struck me the most powerfully with what you see in the image below. These are Ochre Stars with Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, cast by William in an attempt to bring more awareness to the plight of the sea stars.

 

He had also made a cast a of the species most impacted by the Syndrome off our coast – the Sunflower Star. It made me clench my teeth and hold back tears, understanding fully why he made this replica. Because, it is conceivable that this could become the only way we see this species, once so common off our coast. For more on Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, please see this link. 

Deepest of sighs.


Below, more images of Willam’s work and the promised video showing a mated anglerfish pair.

To contact William / Bilz Rockfish, click here. The ideal for rare fish finds (deceased) is that they be of use to science and be cast for the purposes of education and conservation.

Underside of a 51 cm Black Skate.

 

Grunt Sculpin (species to 9.3 cm).

 

Close-up on the mould for the King-of-the-Salmon.

 

Below, National Geographic video of mating anglerifish. Species is the “Fanfin Sea Devil” (Caulophryne jordani). 

Markus . . . and the Octopus.

Today something extraordinary happened.

It happened when we placed a memorial for a dear departed friend, Markus Kronwitter.

My primary reason for sharing this is for Markus’ family and friends but, I think others will find something here too.

You see, a Giant Pacific Octopus attended and sat right atop the memorial.

Let me recount using photos.

Memorial made by Stephanie Lacasse.

 

Markus owned and operated North Island Diving in Port Hardy. He was a dear friend and incredibly important to our dive club, the Top Island Econauts. He died more than 3 years ago and the memorial today was to honour him and maybe offer some comfort to his wife Cecelia and his two daughters, Rosie and Jennifer.

The location was Five Fathom Rock just outside Port Hardy.  Part of Markus’ legacy is that he fought for this rocky reef to be recognized as a Rockfish Conservation Area. (More about the significance of that in my eulogy at the end of this blog).

After we shared thoughts about Markus at the surface, down we went to the highest point of the reef. We would wait there till the memorial was carefully descended by Steve Lacasse of Sun Fun Divers using a lift bag and rope.

We wanted to position the memorial there, near a sunken metal beer keg. The keg used to be a mooring float on this site. It was put there by Markus but, by mysterious means, had sunk to the bottom.

As soon as we got to where the memorial was to be placed, I saw a Giant Pacific Octopus, fully out in the open.

You can even see the beer keg right in the background.

After about 5 minutes, he retreated partially into his den, likely because of some annoying underwater photographer with flashing lights.

Note that I do know this was a male Giant Pacific Octopus because the third arm on the right was a “hectocotylus arm”. Only males have the hectocotylus which stores sperm. More on that at this link. (This individual also had an injured arm. It was only about half length but will regrow. Yes, some of the awe that is octopuses, is that they can regenerate limbs.)

Giant Pacific Octopus in his den.

But then . . . when Steve arrived with the memorial, the Giant Pacific Octopus darted out of his den, landed right atop the memorial and started flashing white. See the memorial under the octopus in the photos below?

Steve Lacasse with the octopus on the memorial which was still attached to the rope and lift bag.

 

You can imagine how we marvelled as this unfolded and that some pretty big emotions were felt.

Eventually, the Giant Pacific Octopus moved away. Then, the memorial could be positioned as we had intended, but not before a mature male Wolf Eel also went swimming by.

There’s no photo of that I am afraid. I was a little overwhelmed.

Memorial positioned.

 

Dive club members from left to right: Dwayne Rudy, Steve Lacasse, Natasha Dickinson, Gord Jenkins and Andy Hanke.

Somewhat dizzied by emotion, we continued with the dive.

Below, I include some photos of what we saw, especially to give Markus’ loved ones a sense of what this site is like.

Mature male Wolf-Eel in his den, very near the memorial.

 

One of 100s of Black Rockfish at this site (and a Mottled Star).

 

Male Lingcod guarding an egg mass with 100s of eggs.

 

Male Ling Cod. The boulders here give an indication of why this is such ideal fish habitat. There are so many crevices to hide in and rocks to lounge upon.

 

Rose Anemones aka Fish-Eating Telias. Sun shining down from the surface, five fathoms above us.

 

Tiger Rockfish – longevity can be 116 years WHEN given a chance.

 

See the male Lingcod under the huge mass of eggs? He’s got a lot to protect!

 

And then . . . just as we were about to ascend, there he was again – the same Giant Pacific Octopus.

The Giant Pacific Octopus with dive buddy, Natasha Dickinson.

 

How I wish we could have stayed longer. We had to surface to a far less mysterious world, but with hearts full and so much to tell Cecelia, Jenny and Rosie.

Goodbye Markus.

We’ll be visiting again soon.


My Eulogy for Markus. 

It’s my great honour to say a few words before we dive on Five Fathom Rock to position Markus’ memorial.

I of course found it excruciating to try to find the words fitting of Markus, because you have to tap into the emotion to find the words.

It’s been more than 3 years since Markus died. Cecelia, Jenny and Rosie you need the words and, even more, you need this place where your thoughts and feelings can be anchored.

In trying to find the words, I dared remember what it felt like to be around Markus. I don’t think that I know anyone else who was quite like him in knowing the right thing to do, no matter how hard it would be and no matter how many injustices he had suffered.

Markus was about making things better and standing up for what was right. He was a man of truth and science. He appeared unflinching in facing reality. He did not suffer fools. He saw through people with crystalline clarity. He walked his own path – in red “holely soles” and multi-coloured pants – and had the wisdom to stop to have Cecelia join to walk beside him.

He made hard decisions.

He . . . was . . . a . . . fighter.

He fought to be here on northern Vancouver Island.

He fought for his girls.

He fought for our dive club.

He fought for the fishes, now flourishing beneath us.

He fought for his life.
[When diagnosed with cancer, he was told he had 2 years to live. He lived for 14 years post diagnosis].

And he has left an extraordinary legacy.

Part of this, is the legacy of Five Fathom Rock.

Markus fought for this to be a Rockfish Conservation Area so that the fish that live here might get a chance to grow bigger, reproduce more, and to thrive.

And there’s success. It’s so beautiful down there Rosie, Jenny and Cecelia. The fishes are thriving – there are clouds of rockfish and it’s so powerful to think that some, like the Tiger Rockfish, might get a chance to live to be more than 100-years-old.

If there were any place where I could picture Markus, it would be here darting around with yellow fins, fish-like himself. Clearly so at home . . . here.

His efforts for Five Fathom included trying to have a mooring here and his creativity was to use a big metal beer keg. It’s down there now, on the highest part of the reef , close to where there are 2 Wolf-Eels. It’s where we’ll attach the memorial.

And how perfect that this will happen at a time when the Lingcod fathers are protecting the next generation, standing guard, not suffering fools, making very clear when you’re trying to get too close without good intent. Fiercely fighting for the next generation, with an extraordinary sense of place.

He loved it here.

It’s impossible to forget him here.

Not that there is any possibility of forgetting Markus or what he stood for.

His legacy of course includes you Rosie, Jenny and Cecelia. He loved you so much and I can’t even imagine how hard he fought wanting to be here still to protect you, to make sure you would always be okay.

Jennifer and Rosie, you are fighters like your Papa Markus.

Jenny – I also think you have his sense of purpose.

Rosie  – I think you have his sense of place.

Cecelia – the love in your eyes makes clear how you carry Markus with you always.

Markus Kronwitter.
It is here on Northern Vancouver Island that he found his wild.
It is with you three, that he found love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Compilation of photos and video below.

 

Twenty Years . . .

Twenty years ago today I returned to British Columbia after having taught in the Netherlands for many years. I wanted to learn from Nature and I wanted to make it count.

Forgive the following introspection.

You’ll understand such reflection comes with anniversaries and being perplexed by the passage of time even though it is the one great constant . . . one minute passing into the next, days stacking into years, and years becoming the stories of our lives.

1999 – Photographer unfortunately unknown.

So much has changed. So much has not.

Thank you to the many of you for being part of this path. Thank you for helping show the way forward whereby I continue to learn from Nature and strive to make it count for those who are ultimately my guides, and my bosses . . . children.

There’s something that will never change.

 

August 2018. You’ll note my ability to point at things has not diminished. 😉 Photo: Captain Kevin Smith, Maple Leaf Adventures.