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

Octopuses Shed Their Suckers!

So cool, so cool, SO COOL.

While I was diving today, I saw these structures, like large snowflakes drifting out of a crack between two rocks.

And I knew there had to be a Giant Pacific Octopus there BECAUSE this is the skin at the end of the octopus’ suckers.

Octopuses shed this skin periodically and, possibly, from all their suckers at the same time! The skin grows continuously.

With Giant Pacific Octopuses having about 2,000 suckers (up to ~2,240 in females and 2,140 in males), you can imagine how many of these were drifting out of its den as the octopus exhaled, causing an upward current.

This skin is referenced as the sucker lining or “chitinous cuticle” and you can deduce from the photo below how the skin being shed would be of varying sizes.

 

I could peer into the crack and see the octopus that was shedding but s/he was too deep into the den to be able to get a photo.

How wonderful it would be to be able to provide you video of an octopus shedding its suckers in the wild. But, not surprising, it is easier to capture this with octopuses in captivity.

Below is a video of a captive Giant Pacific Octopus named Marylyn shedding her sucker linings (Video source: Christie Rajcic, “Octopus Shedding Suckers”).

 

I hope this adds to your sense of wonder of our marine neighbours. It also provides a whole new association to the words “So long suckers!” 😉

It’s difficult to explain the joy it gives to not have disregarded these little white bits but to know they were a clue to where there was an octopus.

Oh, and if you enjoyed this, you definitely will want to benefit from my life-enhancing blog “How Octopuses Poo“.


For you super nerds (hello!), the cuticle covers the “infundibulum”. See images below from “A Snail’s Odyssey“.


Sources:

Better Vision in 2020

Hers’s an unlikely combination of introspection and natural history. It’s what results when you bring together a photo of a Giant Pacific Octopus’ eye with the bad word play of “2020 vision” regarding the new year.

Introspection: In a human lifetime, you don’t get to cross the threshold into all too many decades. Like many of you, it makes me take pause . . . wanting to understand where we are and how to move forward with focus. It’s what happens when you want to make sense of a world which appears to have increasing numbers of cartoon-character-like heads of state. It makes me think about the state of heads, and how to find one’s way without despondency, denial and inaction.

 

I write these words largely to solidify my resolve and vision in this decadal transition but share them here in the hopes that they may be of use to you.

Better vision for better futures:

  1. The paradigm: Realizing why there are forces in the world who would rather flirt with the health of future generations than undertake action that would benefit their own grandchildren. They are those who have benefited the most from lack of equality, fossil-fuel use, rampant consumerism, and use of disposables. Despite the enormity of their power, positive change is happening and in the death throes of the paradigm, the very nature of truth is being challenged. When one shouts loudly, it is not likely they are more correct. It is an attempt to drown out the truth. They are the spasmodic utterances of the entitled. The aims are confusion, distraction, discontent (just keep buying more little girl and happiness will be yours), despondency, overwhelm and (of course) the blunt tool of FEAR. The hope is that we shut down and not notice the steps forward toward a paradigm based on greater equality and sustainability.
  2. Less is more: These are words I have shared so often. Above a true level of need, using less is not about loss. It’s about gain. The more we steer away from the myth that owning more and/or bigger is best or that it equates to “success”, the more liberation we have from being enslaved to $. We do know where true happiness lies. It is where there is greater sense connection, health and time for who and what we love.  What a world it would be if more of us saw that gain and realized just how empowered we are to create change through our consumer and voter action. Using less fossil fuels, dangerous chemicals and disposables positively impacts so many socio-environmental issues.
  3. The way forward: You’ve seen it haven’t you? The uprising, the unblinking truth . . . the power of youth who know the way. How excited I am for power shifting further toward them, their technologies and lifestyles fuelled by values of equality and sustainability. In no way does that mean we stand idle and wait for them to be of the age to vote. For me it is to be in service of them, the next generation. It is to help others see the way, to know their place in nature, to know their power, to find their voice, and to shield them from despondency, and fear.  

And here’s the natural history and marine mystery bit relating to the photo of the octopus’ eye (note that she was in her den and that I used a zoom lens).

Octopus vision:

You see that the pupil’s shape is very different from ours. Their retina is very different too.

Octopuses and other cephalopods have only one kind of photoreceptor cell while we have rod cells and three types of cone cells allowing us to see in colour. So how can cephalopods discern colour when they have only one kind of light receptor in their eyes? And they must be able to discern differences in colour. Consider how they signal with colour and how they camouflage.

Research from 2016* puts forward that their uniquely shaped pupils act like prisms, scattering light into different wavelengths (chromatic aberration), rather than focussing the light into a beam onto the retina.  The hypothesis, tested with computer modelling, is that cephalopods can then focus the different wavelengths onto their retina separately by changing the distance between the lens and the retina, thereby separating the stimuli and discerning colour. Note that the sharpness of their vision is believed to be different for different wavelengths / colours.


There, I feel much better now. Bring on 2020.

Here’s to all the colour, marvellous mysteries, clear vision, and solid action ahead.

Happy New Year! 


*See research at www.pnas.org/content/113/29/8206.full

#2020vision
#TheWayForward
#OctopusEyes

Wild Whales Don’t Play Rugby

Wild whales don’t play fetch with rugby balls and . . .
Belugas do not live in Antarctic waters. 

Likely many of you have seen the video of the Beluga Whale “playing fetch” with a rugby ball.

The following is a screen grab from one of the many, many news agencies that enabled this video. I added the text “What on Earth is going on here” and posted it on social media on November 8th to try to stop the very erroneous information being spread.

 

My initial text accompanying the post was: “This one makes my head and my heart hurt. Likely you’ve seen it, the video of a “wild” Beluga playing catch with a rugby ball? Two points not being addressed by those reporting this: (1) This is being reported as being in Antarctica but Belugas don’t live in Antarctica. (2) This is not natural / spontaneous behaviour. This is a whale habituated to humans and boats which is anything but heart-warming.”

Then I went digging. The pieces came together very quickly as they would have had news agencies been able to fact-check appropriately. I also received information from organizations and individuals in Norway confirming details.

I am now sharing the information here as it better allows me to provide sources and update when further information becomes available.


What I learned:

The video is from near Hammerfest, Norway.

The whale is “Hvaldimir” the Beluga found off northern Norway in April of 2019 with a harness marked “Equipment of St. Petersburg” (as confirmed by the Hvaldimir Foundation). This whale has been referenced as “the Russian spy whale”. Likely Hvaldimir’s training would have included being rewarded with food when retrieving objects.

There are efforts to have Hvaldimir adjust to being in the wild. Initially this included the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries issuing official approval for the Norwegian Orca Survey to feed him since he was malnourished. I found a Norwegian news item that referenced that he has been hit by a boat at least once. 

The boat in the video is a “Gemini” (made in Cape Town, South Africa), is the tender for the vessel the “Danah Explorer”.  The vessel is currently still in Norwegian waters. 

Danah Divers, are a research body linked to the Save Our Seas Foundation. There is email correspondence to the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries apologizing for recent misguided behaviour while in northern Norway. These actions perpetuate habituation of the whale and reduce his chances to feed for himself and, as aforementioned, are contrary to Norwegian efforts to rehabilitate the whale.

The identity of the person initially throwing the ball is known to me but I am choosing not to share the identity. The logo on the jacket is from Danah Divers / the Danah Explorer.

 

Above: Screen grab from the Hvaldimir Foundation’s website – solid resource for the history on this whale and the efforts to rehabilitate him to the wild.


How did this get erroneously get connected to South Africa and Antarctica?

I cannot find the original posting of the video. I did originally see if with very little text but that version now seems to have been deleted. Where it really seems to have taken off is when re-uploaded (without credit / source) on Facebook by two non-associated people:

November 7th, initially posted with the text “Playing fetch with an Irrawaddy Dolphin as you do. How sweet is this?” Yep, the Beluga was referenced as being an Irrawaddy Dolphin by the person who re-uploaded the video from who knows where. She then edited the text to: “Playing fetch with a Beluga Whale as you do. How sweet is this?!” A further edit added the text: “The video is of a South African crew enjoying the company of a Beluga whale, while sailing near the North Pole. I did not take this video, nor do I know who took the video, but wanted to share an extraordinary moment caught on camera.” Since November 11th, the post has been updated to acknowledge the whale is Hvaldimir.

November 6th, someone used the video to associate it with South Africa winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup on November 2nd. He framed the video as being: “Beluga Whale celebrating the Springboks victory somewhere close to the South Pole! Spot the Cape Town build Gemini Craft and the South African accents.” The accents and jargon of the people on the boat are indeed South African, the brand of the boat is South African and the ball is indeed a 2019 official Rugby World Cup ball. But, this was NOT filmed near the South Pole. 

Above: The range of Beluga Whales – only in Arctic seas, NOT near Antarctica. Source: Delphinapterus leucasThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017


Why is this important?

I understand of course that the video would have appeal to many and that not all would immediately realize that this cannot be wild behaviour.

As stated so well by some on my social media post:

Thanks for that info. People, like myself, cannot help but want to imagine some sort of kinship and bond with animals and we go all mushy when we see this sort of thing, but nevertheless, this story did tickle my brain as being somehow off or wrong. Thanks for scratching that tickle.”

and

I am a land person. I don’t know much about marine creatures, but learn a lot from following scientists and researchers on social media. I know wild land mammals play with things (the foxes in my yard jump on the neighbor’s trampoline and play with his dog’s toys, and we’ve caught the bear playing on the swing set.) so while playing fetch seems unlikely, for someone who knows little about these animals (where they live, what they do etc) I didn’t know to be outraged or even concerned . . .

Why I have made the effort to “solve” this however is because truth, science and facts are at risk. This is an example of that reality and of the atrophying of fact-checking by media agencies. A very quick search for the range of Beluga Whales would have led to the “clue” that this was false information.

Therefore, there is the dire need for critical thinking. We live in a world of overwhelm and “fake news” being using as a defence rather than a truth. There are dizzying news cycles where so much is just a tweet and/or share away. Compounding this is that technology allows us to photoshop reality to further misguide, misinform and manipulate.

If we do not realize this to be current reality, we are unwilling participants in the spread of misinformation. Where we need to be a force insisting on fact-checking and quality reporting, instead we inadvertently fuel media being under-resourced, under-researched and prone to “click-bait. We become complicit in feeding the misinformation monster and how that shapes attitudes and actions.

I also believe it is important to understand that interactions with humans as shown in this video cannot be spontaneous nor natural and to realize how such content promotes the want of proximity that does not serve wild animals.

This is a further attempt to stand for facts in a time that it is critical to do so.


Further information: 

Colleen Gorman of “The Orca Project”, Facebook post November 8, 2019:
“Remember that video of the beluga going all over the Internet chasing a football yesterday? Well my friend Colin or Quad_Finn on Twitter, a marine animal researcher who I reached out to right away, and I, were right the whole time. This is a whale from Russia that was trained by the military and then got loose. The girl . . .  got 700K+ shares and millions of views copied (stole) the video with no credit given – for attention. She should think twice before stealing video and spreading it around. It’s not cute and it’s not funny . . .  they should know better than playing around with a beluga and trying to make it seem like they’re out to play with humans. They never travel alone . . Hvaldimir the Beluga is like Luna (L98), the orphaned juvenile Southern Resident orca who also sought out humans for social interaction instead of his conspecifics. As with Luna, such familiarity and dependence on humans will all but inevitably end in tragedy.”

TimesLive, November 7, 2019,  “Bok gees has even reached a beluga whale in the Arctic Circle“:
The voices in the clip are clearly South African . . .The man throwing the ball for the beluga is wearing a tracksuit with the logo of the Danah Explorer, a marine research vessel which is currently in Norwegian waters. TimesLIVE tracked down the vessel to the harbour at Tromsø, Norway — but not the people who created the video. A number of South African divers and researchers work with the Danah Divers, a research body linked to the Save Our Seas Foundation. The SoS-linked Danah Explorer and Danah Divers share a logo.
The boat from which the ball is thrown is a small landing craft with the logo of Cape Town boatbuilding company Gemini Marine visible. Gemini marketing manager Gerhard Neethling has said he would investigate the boat’s possible links to his company.”

Quad-Finn, November 9, 2019 in a Twitter post: “The Danah Explorer is a yacht owned by Abdulmohsen Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh. He’s the founder of the Save Our Seas Foundation. The logo on the back of jacket of the man throwing the rugby ball to Hvaldimir is that of Danah Divers”

IFLScience!; November 11, 2019; “That Viral Video Of A Beluga Whale Playing Fetch Is Probably Not What It Seems

Good News Network; November 13, 2019; “Hope on Horizon for Escaped ‘Russian Spy Whale‘ After Video of Its Rugby Skills Goes Viral”
“Many conservationists have shunned the more recent viral video as a whimsical depiction of a grim situation—but its online fame has helped to create hope for Hvaldimir on the horizon . . .For the last three months, Advocates for Hvaldimir has been keeping track of the cetacean’s activity in order to make sure that he is faring well on his own. Regina Crosby, who is a co-founding member of the group, says they are now working with two other environmental groups to try to relocate Hvaldimir to a different oceanic region so he can potentially reintegrate with a pod of belugas for a better chance at survival . . .Crosby and Advocates for Hvaldimir have since begun collecting donations from the beluga’s internet fans in order to finance his relocation. Since the Norwegian government recently granted permission to the wildlife advocates to relocate the famous cetacean, they are now hoping to continue working with legislators to transport Hvaldimir this winter.”

NRK Finmark, September 12, 2019, “Hvaldimir is ill and has been injured: – Several have thrown planks and other things after him” (translated article on the negative impacts from human interactions with Hvaldmir).


 

Captivity Matters . . . Rework of Bohemian Rhapsody with Video

Let me frame the following with the quote: “If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane” (Jimmy Buffet). 


I recently had the great joy of being the keynote speaker in Alaska for the Sitka Whale Fest.

This multi-day festival is aimed at making marine science more accessible to the public and to increase action for our oceans. It includes a film fest, art show, science workshops and . . . a musical event called “The Grind”.

I dared participate in this with my talent being rewriting lyrics of songs to have a marine theme. Yes, I’m the Weird Al Yankovic of marine science (believing very much in the power of humour to educate and enlighten).

Photos were taken. I then also dared share the photos on social media. Here they are.

The text accompanying the photos was:

“Not a stoic scientist. 
Photos are from #SitkaWhaleFest where I sang my adapted lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody = “Captivity Matters”.


Includes:

Is this the real life?
Here in captivity?
Caught in a big net,
Taken far from my family.
Open your eyes,
Admit all the lies and see . . .
I’m just a poor whale, I need my liberty.
Because I’m easy come, easy go, jumping high, sinking low.
Anyway this whale blows captivity matters to me
To me. . .”

So grateful that, last minute, I did not have to sing this solo. Thanks so much David Harvey for the spirt and humour! And oh the absolute joy resulting from around 200 people singing along.”


The response to the post was overwhelmingly “Show us video!”

So for those of you not on social media, here you go. I would not want you to be deprived.

Text accompanying the video:

“You asked for it. Here is my rework of the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody to be about Orca in captivity. As a result of posting photos of this performance at Sitka’s Whale Fest, there were many requests / demands to see the video. One has surfaced from the audience. It’s a little shaky due to laughter. It is a little off key due to my skills as a singer. The topic is not a laughing matter but humour is a powerful tool. Video by Mollie Fisher and Tony Thompson. Accompaniment by David Harvey.” 


 

 

Below, another of the many brilliant ways that #SitkaWhaleFest made science far more accessible, understandable and fun. All we scientists wore sashes so that people could identify us and chat. This is so important in a time when science, truth and facts are at risk. Of course, as a woman, it is also so powerful to me to wear a sash in this context rather than the historic / typical way. Oh the joy of a world where you get to be a scientist AND wear a sash.

Back to Ground – Reflections on the vital importance of salmon.

How powerful to see salmon spawn; to know their importance; to reflect on their journey and the perfection of their lifecycle that holds together so much life.

Back to ground.

Back they come from the sea to the rivers in which they were born, guided by forces we humans do not fully understand. Those that did not perish along the way (nourishing marine species) fight their way upstream but only once the river runs high enough.

More succumb along the way, the journey made all the more onerous when waters are too warm to supply sufficient oxygen.

The way home.

Males fight to mate, genes invested in future generations in a way we humans cannot replicate with salmon enhancement. Then they die where they were born, following the pattern of thousands of salmon generations before them.

Through death they deliver the nutrients from the sea even hundreds of kilometres upstream to fuel the ecosystem in which their offspring will be born – feeding trees, bears, insects, rodents, song birds, deer, human cultures, etc. etc.

Circle of life.

Through the death of the adults, the viruses, bacteria and parasites they carry will not be transmitted to their offspring. For that is Nature’s rule – that salmon smolts will not be in contact with adult salmon (a rule that is broken with open-net salmon farming).

To grasp the perfection and fragility of what has sustained this coast for so long, is to do better by our own future generations.

For the flow of salmon is . . . the flow of life.

All photos are of spawned Pink Salmon near Squamish; ©2019 Jackie Hildering.


Related blog with further detail on the importance of salmon, their lifecycle, how salmon feed trees (and other vegetation) and my attempts at a Seussian style poem is at “A World Without Salmon?” at this link. 

Forever Changed . . .

Forever changed.

That’s what I want of myself after experiences like this.

Yesterday, while sampling fish in a little bay, we realized a Grizzly Bear mom and her two cubs had emerged from the forest. The trio sat and listened to the blows of Humpbacks resounding off the rocks, and also raised their heads alert to the exhalations of Steller Sea Lions going by. After sniffing and listening possibly to judge safety, mother bear determined they were to swim to the other side of the bay. The cubs appeared trepidatious. Mother swam back to escort them. Then, after back on land, and having shaken off the ocean water from their fur, they were again absorbed by the forest.

I want to be changed for the better at the very level of my DNA whereby witnessing this make me understand better how to make it count. I want to share with you so that it may translate into your lives. Not in a “I want to see this too” or “I am envious” way. But to know of this wild and this perfection and the privilege, beauty and responsibility that comes with knowing these are the neighbours with which we share air, land and sea.

Thereby, please see the series of photos below. I hope that it is apparent that all photos were taken at a distance (telephoto and cropped) with the intent of not disturbing the behaviour of the bears whereby we could watch them, as if we weren’t there.

Emerging from the forest.

Listening and smelling their surroundings

This was so extraordinary – they were listening to the blows of the Humpbacks.

Decision made by Mother to cross the bay.

Cubs appearing trepidatious about the swim.

Follow your mother.

Mother turning back to her cubs.

Mother turned back to then swim right beside her cubs.

Back on land.

Back into the forest. Would briefly re-emerge to flip large rocks and feed.

 

This was experienced while doing fieldwork for our Marine Education & Research Society with dear colleagues Christie McMillan and Jasspreet Sahib. 

More photos from this remarkable day will be on our page at www.facebook.com/mersocietybc.

Photos have been shared with those who might know the IDs of the bears. Will report back with anything I learn about the individuals. Believe these cubs are three years old but I have little Grizzly Bear expertise.

How Will We Look Back in Another 55 Years?

Yesterday, I had reason to stand beside the Ocean with tears in my eyes.

I again stood exactly where Moby Doll was harpooned and brought into captivity in 1964 at East Point, Saturna Island.

 

Unthinkable now, but back then, who we were and what we believed is that there were too many Orca.

We vilified them, shot at them, and thereby there was social license for the plan to have an artist harpoon an Orca and then make a sculpture of it for the Vancouver Aquarium. The artist / harpoonist, Sam Burich, sat at this very spot from May 22 to July 16, 1964. A young Orca was then harpooned and the artist could not bring himself to kill him. The whale was brought into Vancouver Harbour at the end of the harpoon and only lived for 87 days.

He was nicknamed “Moby Doll” because we did not even have enough knowledge to discern juvenile male and female Orca. He was to be “The whale that changed the world” helping us know how wrong we can be but how quickly we can change when knowledge replaces fear and . . . when our values change.

On that point, my reason for being on Saturna Island was another source of emotion. There was so much evidence of change.

In my role with our Marine Education & Research Society I was there to help launch the #ForTheWhales movement with Saturna Island Marine Research & Education Society.

The intent is that this hashtag be used to increase awareness of the multitude of actions we can undertake to reduce impacts to whales – as consumers, energy-users, voters, neighbours, educators and boaters. This is with emphasis on the plight of the endangered Southern Residents, Moby Doll’s lineage who now number only 73 whales.

It is essential to realize there are still many ways to kill a whale through disconnect; entitlement; absence of precaution; perceiving societal / environmental health in only election cycles of 4 years; associating using less as being about loss rather than gain (less disposables, fossil fuels and dangerous chemicals); and the overwhelm that comes from not realizing the common solutions to socio-environmental problems.

How will we look back in another 55 years? Will we reflect on how the whales again moved us forward with values that better serve our own futures as well? Or, will we acknowledge that we had a critical window in which we could act, and did not.

The whales – indicators of environmental health and barometers of human values.

Care more. Use less.

DO MORE . . .   #ForTheWhales.



Sources and additional information about Moby Doll:

CBC The Current, December 27, 2016, How Moby Doll changed the worldview of ‘monster’ orca (includes audio and video)

Colby, Jason M., and Paul Heitsch. 2019. Orca: how we came to know and love the ocean’s greatest predator.

Francis, Daniel, and Gil Hewlett. 2007. Operation Orca: Springer, Luna and the struggle to save West Coast killer whales. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Pub.

Leiren-Young, Mark. 2016. Moby doll: the killer whale that changed the world. Greystone Books.

The Tyee, May 13, 2008, They Shoot Orcas, Don’t They?

The Walrus, August 5, 2016, Moby Doll – How a bungled hunt turned killer whales into star attractions—and launched the modern conservation movement

Werner, M. T. (2010). What the whale was : orca cultural histories in British Columbia since 1964 (T). University of British Columbia. Retrieved from https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0071537

WILD 2020

It’s August 1st – the first day of a new month and how it makes me smile to think of people around the world flipping to a new page in my WILD calendar.

I’ve made these calendars for more than 10 years now with the intent of creating further awareness about the diversity and fragility of life hidden in our cold, dark, life-sustaining seas.

Thank you again to all who put these calendars into the world and what that might mean for education, connection and conservation.

Below, see my images for the 2020 WILD Calendar. The selection process for which photos end up in the calendar includes voting on social media. But I also reflect on the biodiversity that must be represented i.e it can’t be all whales, fish or nudibranchs.

And yes, I softly say, the 2020 calendars are now for sale at this link.

For the wild  . .  .

Above: Cover of my 2020 WILD Calendar.

Above: January image, 2020 WILD Calendar. Caption is: ” Above all: What is hoped with these efforts, is that we move further out of the dark in understanding our marine neighbours. May we look at our dark ocean and envision colour, fragility, and biodiversity rather than having a bias to thinking there is more life in warmer waters.Thereby, undervaluing and disconnecting from what is so extraordinary and precious.This cold ocean is dark because there is more plankton = more fuel for the ecosystem = more life, and many giants.The life in this image includes Giant Plumose Anemones,Yellowtail Rockfish, Keyhole Limpet, Red Soft Coral, Crimson Anemones, etc!

Above: February image, 2020 WILD Calendar. Caption is: “Tiny predator: Diamondback Nudibranch,Tritonia festiva to 10 cm.Feeds on octocoral species like Red Soft Coral.See the beautiful “frontal veil” on the right?This is extremely sensitive.Allows them to find food and detect if it is worth the effort i.e.“used for locating expanded polyps of their prey and for carefully positioning the mouth over these in preparation for a surprise attack.The ensuing attack is swift, as the nudibranch lunges into the colony and bites off polyps before they can contract into the protective cover. . . will NOT attack contracted colonies.” (Source: Sea Slug Forum).”

Above: March image, 2020 WILD Calendar. Caption is: “Sea Otter in the rain: Sea Otters were completely wiped out in British Columbia by 1929. From 1969 to 1972, ~89 were translocated from SE Alaska to the outer coast of Vancouver Island. Now there are more than 6,800 off the coast of BC. Even with super dense fur, they need to eat up to a quarter of their body mass/day to survive in the cold Ocean. This leads to some of us perceiving them to be competitors who eat “too much”. Importance includes being a keystone species; maintaining kelp forests by eating the urchins that graze on kelp.”

Above: April image, 2020 WILD Calendar. Caption is: “One Ocean: No matter where you are on Earth, you are near the Ocean. No matter how far you travel, you never left. The Ocean is on our mountains as glaciers; it flows through our streams; it builds our trees and it comes out of our taps. Indeed, the water on the planet now is that which was here even before there was life on Earth, perpetually morphing between gas, liquid and solid states. Stream is sea. Sea is stream. All life on Earth connected by Ocean.”

Above: May image, 2020 WILD Calendar. Caption is: “Remarkable reproduction: This tiny Proliferating Anemone expels fertilized eggs within a bath of mucus and she may have fertilized the eggs herself! Cilia move the mucus-covered eggs down the column where they become attached, enfolded, and will hatch and benefit from the protection of Mom’s tentacles for about 3 to 4 months, till siblings make them shuffle on. In this species, the young on the column can be of different ages (Epiactis prolifera to 3 cm).There is a larger species which also has babies on the column but these hatch inside the mother (Brooding Anemone, Epiactis lisbethae).”

Above: June image, 2020 WILD Calendar. Caption is: “One family: Ripple (A43) born in 1981 to the threatened Northern Resident population (inshore fish-eating Orca who stay with their families their whole lives). Knowledge about her family, the A23 matriline, includes that at least 3 were hunted and captured (2 released after capture but Corky has been captive since Dec 1969) and at least another 3 have been hit by boats (2 survived).They were shot at too when that was our way and we did not understand how few there were and that there are 4 distinct populations off BC. Greatest threats now are the synergistic effects of prey availability / disturbance / contaminants.”

Above: July image, 2020 WILD Calendar. Caption is: “In the forest: Bull Kelp swaying in the current, sun dancing down from above, everything in motion. Nereocystis luetkeana to 36 m and can grow up to 10 cm/day to better photosynthesize nearer the sun. So many reasons to value the kelp forests – oxygen, food, habitat, carbon dioxide buffering, navigation aid . . . and being so very, very beautiful.The Ocean’s algae produce 50% or more of your oxygen.”

Above: August image, 2020 WILD Calendar. Caption is: “Orange Peel Nudibranch: Take a moment to think about it? While you are up here walking around, doing what you do, this is one of the thousands of extraordinary species crawling, swimming, swaying in the dark, rich NE Pacific Ocean.The Orange Peel Nudibranch is one of the world’s largest sea slugs at up to 30 cm (Tochuina gigantea). It’s such an appropriate common name for the species. This individual is amid Short Plumose Anemones (Metridium senile).”

Above: September image, 2020 WILD Calendar. Caption is: “Trap-Feeding: This Humpback Whale is “Moonstar” (BCY0768).Through the work of our Marine Education and Research Society, we know that he was born in 2008 to “Slash” (BCY0177) who has very serious scarring from a boat propeller. He is one of the first Humpbacks we ever documented using a novel strategy we have dubbed trap-feeding.When juvenile herring are in less dense concentrations, and are being pursued by diving birds, some Humpbacks have learned to hang at the surface like this and trap the fish. See www.mersociety.org for our published research.”

Above: October image, 2020 WILD Calendar. Caption is: “Along for the ride: Cross Jelly covered with amphipod hitchhikers. Hyperiid amphipods are tiny marine crustaceans and they may have species-specific relationships with jellies. Includes that they may parasitize the jelly, embedding in its tissue.These appear to be atop the jelly, certainly well-positioned to get good access to plankton snacks. Plankton = all the “drifting” organisms, from microscopic larvae to huge jellies. Cross Jelly is Mitrocoma cellularia, diameter to 9 cm.”

Above: November image, 2020 WILD Calendar. Caption is: “At the haul out: Steller Sea Lions males up to ~1,100 kg; females ~300 kg. Can be very difficult to discern juvenile males from females. Males sexually mature at ~age 7. Continue to grow to ~age 10. The big boys compete for females at rookery sites further to the north on BC’s Central Coast. Size needed to posture, fight and have an energy store if needing to defend territory. Eumetopias jubatus is a species of Special Concern in Canada.”

Above: December image, 2020 WILD Calendar. Caption is: ” Let there be light: See the jellyfish, and the trees? The algae and the anemones? Feel the connection between it all? “Our destiny as a species is interlocked with the destiny of the sea . . . .” (Quote: James Cameron). No divide. Directly connected. Directly dependent. Directly empowered to care more, and consume less. Power to you for caring, understanding, and undertaking action as you do.”

Above: Back cover, 2020 WILD Calendar. Striped Sea Star, Creeping Pedal Sea Cucumbers and so much more. And, for the first time ever in my calendars, there is a picture of my head. 🙂

Above: Sample of what the month pages look like in the WILD Calendar.


These are large calendars printed on sturdy paper, coil bound and with a hole to hang them.

They are 33 x 26.5 cm closed and 33 x 53 cm open (13 x 10.5″ closed /13 x 21″ open).

They are mailed in biodegradable, transparent plastic envelopes.

For information on purchasing on line, please click this link. 

They are also available at:

  • Alert Bay – Culture Shock Gallery
  • Port Hardy – West Coast Community Craft Shop
  • Port McNeill – Island Dawn’s
  • Campbell River – Campbell River Museum
  • Squamish – Adventure Centre


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 73 whales, August 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: