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

Life Begins Anew

Dear readers, look! Just look!

These photos are from today. The baby Bull Kelp is growing toward the sun. With these images, I have tried to capture the aching beauty of the light “dancing” over the flowing fronds, creating rippling spectrums.

I cannot express in the way I want how watching this interplay filled me with a sense of comfort, continuance, exaltation and even relief.

While humans collide, love and lose, and may not even know what winning is, this continues despite it all (at least for now).

Life begins anew . . . the marvel of another spring . Phenology.

“Our” part of the planet is now tilted closer to the sun. Tomorrow, March 20th, coincidentally is spring equinox when the sun’s rays directly grace the equator in the earth’s journey around the sun. As we spin, the northern regions of the earth will progressively get more sun. It’s the first day of spring for we in the northern half of the planet.

There is more light to fuel the kelp’s growth and leads to food, oxygen, refuge, reduced carbon dioxide and whatever this heady, healing, emotional cocktail is that I am feeling right now. 💙

I hope some of that transmits to you, through the photos and my effusiveness. ☺️


All photos here: March 19, 2022 northeast Vancouver Island in Kwakwaka’wakw Territory ©Jackie Hildering with dive buddy Natasha Dickinson.


More about this version of Bull Kelp and it’s growth rate:

Kelp species and seaweeds are not plants. They are algae.

What you see in these photos is the “sporophyte” stage of Bull Kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana). It results from the reproduction of a completely different looking version of the same species, the “gametophye”. Yes, it’s alternation of generations and I have a blog about it here.

The stipe (stem-like structure) of Bull Kelp can grow to be up to 36 m long. The stipe would have to grow an average of 17 cm a day to reach this length in the 210-day growing period (source: Druel). It has to grow so quickly to reach the sun and be able to photosynthesize and help support life on earth.

If you include both the rate of growth of the stipe and the fronds (leaf-like structures), Bull Kelp can grow 25 cm per day on average to reach the surface (source: Duncan).  


My additional posts about Bull Kelp include:


Sources:

Worms That Bite Anemones?!

Okay, this is a true mystery.

I have relayed my observations to marine worm researchers but want to share with you too. It’s just too fascinating not to do so. These finds emphasize yet again how little we know even about marine species that are just below the surface. I also hope that by sharing my observations here, it may lead to other divers being on the lookout for these interactions and potentially adding to the knowledge about interactions between necklace-worms and anemones.

Necklace-worm species #1 and Proliferating Anemone – January 1st, 2008.
Necklace-worm species #2 and Short Plumose Anemones – March 6, 2022.

My observations involve what I believe are two species of necklace-worm. Each is interacting with a different species of anemone. In both cases, the species of necklace-worm is unconfirmed. The polychaete* researchers I have been in contact with have asked for samples of the worms to allow for microscopic examination and potential DNA analysis.

*Polychaetes are the “many-bristled” worms. They are worms that have a pair of paddle-like appendages / bristles on each segment. Most species of worm in this class are found in the ocean or in brackish water and there are about 15,000 known species globally. Polychaetes “are ubiquitous in the ocean, burrowing and hunting in the sand, crawling on algal covered rocks, living in self-made tubes, or swimming in the water” (Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, 2013).

Note that observations and photos here are from the Pearse Islands and Plumper Islands on northeast Vancouver Island in the territory of the Kwakwaka’wakw in depths less than 17 metres / 50 feet.


Necklace-Worm Species #1 and Proliferating Anemones:
I have written about this previously but include the observations here again so that the information about these necklace-worm / anemone interactions is bundled in one place. It involves a species of necklace worm appearing to bite into Proliferating Anemones (Epiactis prolifera to 8 cm wide).

My first observation of this interaction goes back all the way to 2008 when I documented the following thanks to the keen eye of my dive buddy Natasha Dickinson.

Both photos: Necklace-worm species #1 appears to be biting into a Proliferating Anemone – January 1st, 2008.

I do not know if the necklace-worm dislodged the anemone of if the anemone let go in an attempt to get away. We came upon this scene when the anemone was already upside down.

I have only noted this interaction twice since then. See photos below.

Necklace-worm species #1 and Proliferating Anemone – February 15, 2015. Note the “casings” the worms are in on the left.
Necklace-worm species #1 on the right and Proliferating Anemones – February 22, 2020. [Yes, on the left, those are babies of multiple ages hanging onto their mother. More about that at this link.]

For those who have Lamb and Hanby’s Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest, you may note that this species of necklace-worm looks like AN22 which is referenced as a “mystery necklace-worm”. But again, collection of a sample would be needed to confirm species ID.


Necklace-Worm Species #2 and Short Plumose Anemones:

On February 12, 2022 I saw THIS.

Necklace-worm species #2, Short Plumose Anemones AND the spaces where these anemones used to be. Many of these anemones are retracted. Photo February 12, 2022.

There are necklace-worms in those slime tubes! Where you see the circles is where other Short Plumose Anemones once were (Metridium senile to 10 cm tall and 4 cm across).

Close-up showing the necklace-worms. Photo February 12, 2022.

Were they always at this site? I have done a quick review of past photos and see a few of them in photos back to 2013. Variables in why I may not have noticed them before are that: (1) they were much more apparent as a result of the dislodged anemones; (2) there may be more of them now; and (3) we usually don’t focus on the spot where the concentration of these worms were (we usually dive deeper).

Here’s another photo from that dive to give a better sense of the size of the worms. That Blood Star is about 15 cm long. Photo February 12, 2022.

So TODAY’S mission was to return to this dive site and focus on the interaction between this species of necklace-worm and Short Plumose Anemones. How abundant are they? Are they biting the anemones?Are the worms anywhere other than around Short Plumose Anemones? Are the anemones using their acontia as a defense against the worms? Acontia are defensive strands filled with stinging cells (nematocysts) that are ejected when an anemone is irritated / threatened / stressed. The acontia can extend far beyond the anemone, providing longer distance defense than the stinging cells in an anemones tentacles.

Dive buddy Natasha Dickinson today. This is the exact same spot as what you see in the images from February 12th above. I contrast the two photos at the very end of this blog so you can see how things have changed after 22 days. Of course I do not know how much the anemones would move around in the absence of the worms.


To answer those questions:
– I found the slime tubes almost everywhere there were Short Plumose Anemones at this site. I did not find them anywhere else i.e. this species of necklace-worm’s slime tubes were only around Short Plumose Anemones.
– I only found a few Short Plumose Anemones using their acontia but it seems more likely that they were being used against other anemones. I cannot know if the anemones dislodge themselves as a defense. There were only a few places where there were the circles of slime tubes where an anemone had once been. There were far more places where the slime tubes were in amongst Short Plumose Anemones.
– YES I do believe this species of necklace-worm is biting into the Short Plumose Anemones. See below for abundant photos from today.

Some Short Plumose Anemones using their acontia. See those little white strands?


I will of course provide updates as I learn more via the researchers and other divers / underwater photographers. As always, I hope it is a source of wonder for you to learn more about these species, their adaptations and interactions, AND how much we humans still have to learn about the natural world around us. 🙂


All photos below are from March 6, 2022.

Taking a bite? Also looks like this anemone is about to undergo “pedal laceration” to reproduce asexually.
Here too it looks like some of the anemones are in the process of pedal laceration = form of asexual reproduction.

Below, you can contrast the same spot after 22 days. There has been a lot of change but again, I do not know how much the anemones would move around and/or dislodge in the absence of the worms. Oh no, is this now going to be my life? In addition to trying to document individual Humpback Wales and Tiger Rockfish, now I am going to try to document individual Short Plumose Anemones?! Probably.

Wishing You Wild

My final words for 2021. Squeezed out of my heart, head and hands.
I need this for myself, to focus on what matters.
As always, I hope it has value to you too.

Wishing you health 
And the heart 
To help those 
Slowed along the way 

Wishing you weather 
That does not 
Flood, burn
Nor twist

Wishing you strength 
To see
Truth and fact 
And what is not 

Wishing you endurance 
To run the race
Dodging pitfalls positioned
For disappearance into despair

Wishing you balance
Not to flirt with vertigo 
But to right yourself 
When you fall (because you will fall)

Wishing you love 
That mirrors back 
The good of
Who you are  

Wishing you joy 
Laughter that fills 
And makes your
Belly shake 

Wishing you wonder 
That stops you 
In your tracks 
And you are small again 

Wishing you silence 
Amid stridency
Buy, buy, buy 
Never enough (always too much)

Wishing you vision 
To know the way 
To what matters
Now, always

Wishing you wild 
For if there is wild
There is all 
Of the above 


Happy New Year dear community. 💙

Photo: Member of the G Clan of Northern Residents (threatened population).
Taken in Kwakwaka’wakw Territory, NE Vancouver Island, with telephoto lens and cropped
©Jackie Hildering, The Marine Detective.

#OceanVoice
#OceanInspiration 
#MoreOfWhatMatters #LessOfWhatDoesNot

Canada – Proposed Ban on Single-Use Plastics

Today, December 30th, the Canadian Government announced the comment period for proposed Regulations on single use plastics. Canadians have an opportunity to comment to March 5, 2022.

At the end of this blog, I include the email from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) that announced the proposed Regulations. I have bundled all the content here because it is not easy to access all the detail via that email. Below I also include a sample letter of possible feedback on these proposed Regulations.

In having read the documents referenced in the email from ECCC , even though I believe I am well aware of the problem of plastic pollution, I was stunned at some of the numbers. As an indicator of our plastic use / addiction in Canada, in 2019 alone an estimated 15,593 MILLION single-use checkout bags were used. The cost of those bags was estimated at $410 million.

Not reflected in that number are the further costs of “convenience” and disconnect from understanding the impacts of our consumer behaviour on our own well-being.
These include:

  • Energy and raw materials to manufacture, transport and dispose of plastics;
  • Resulting climate changing emissions;
  • Impacts to the food web when plastics slowly break down and attract toxins;
  • Further impacts to animals from ingestion and entanglement; and
  • Additional ecosystem changes resulting from the transport of organisms on drifting plastics i.e. invasive species and transport of potential pathogens.

    I believe we may need this jolt of awareness. It appears many of us have not recovered from the early stages of the pandemic to realize that, with the exception of masks, further equipment used by first responders and possibly cleaning wipes, we do not need to revert to the use of so many disposables. We can use our to-go mugs, shopping bags, etc.

    We are all empowered to reduce demand for single-use plastics and impact the systemic change that is so necessary.

    Resources to aid feedback on the proposed Regulations:
  • Email from Environment and Climate Change Canada

December 30, 2021

Greetings,

On December 25, 2021, the proposed Single-Use Plastics Prohibition Regulations were published in the Canada Gazette, Part I initiating a 70-day public comment period ending on March 5, 2022. During this period, stakeholders and partners are invited to submit comments to Environment and Climate Change Canada on the proposed Regulations, the accompanying Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement, as well as the draft Guidance for Selecting Alternatives.

The proposed Regulations would prohibit the manufacture, import and sale of six categories of single-use plastic items (checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware made from or containing problematic plastics, ring carriers [think six-pack holders], stir sticks, and straws), with certain exceptions for straws. 

The feedback received on the proposed Integrated Management Approach to Plastic Products has been considered in the development of the proposed Regulations. A What We Heard Report summarizes this feedback.

The draft Guidance for Selecting Alternatives to the Single-Use Plastics in the Proposed Single-Use Plastics Prohibition Regulations has been developed to help businesses and other organizations make decisions on alternative products or systems that prevent pollution and help Canada transition to a circular economy.

We invite you to review the proposed Regulations, the accompanying Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement, as well as the draft Guidance for Selecting Alternatives and to provide your feedback, no later than March 5, 2022, to the following email address: plastiques-plastics@ec.gc.ca.

Feedback should include the following for each specific comment:

1.       the section of the proposed Regulations, Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement, or draft Guidance for Selecting Alternatives to which the comment relates

e.g., 5(1)(a)(i) of the regulatory text; “Select Canadian Market Characteristics” section of the Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement;“Considerations for Alternative Single-use Plastics” section of the draft Guidance for Selecting Alternatives;

2.       the comment itself; and

3.       any supporting information or rationale.

All written feedback received during the comment period will be considered in the development of the final Regulations and Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement, which will be published in the Canada Gazette, Part II. Feedback will also inform the finalization of the Guidance for Selecting Alternatives.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is available to provide further information and clarification on the requirements of the proposed Regulations to affected businesses or organizations, via virtual meetings or webinars.

Should you have any questions on this consultation process, or if you do not wish to receive future updates about the proposed Regulations please contact us at plastiques-plastics@ec.gc.ca.

It’s a Really Good Time to Be . . .

Yesterday, we found two Sunflower Stars!

See the juvenile here to the right of my buddy Natasha? There, right beside the mating Yellow-Rimmed Nudibranchs. This Sunflower Star was in just 5 metres of water.

Today’s two Sunflower Stars are the first I have seen in twelve hours underwater over the last three months and believe me, I have been looking. I only saw one before that. They are such a rarity now. Will these two survive? I have seen waves of juveniles before and then they disappear. Their plight appears to be linked to climate change.

Hope? With action . . . yes, there is shining hope.

Without action . . . no.

Please hang in there. Please read on.

I have been struggling too, looking for escape / reprieve from global realities as another “atmospheric river” is forecast to fall on parts of our province. It is so tempting to want to hide especially if we see the problems we are facing as disparate. They are not.

I have had to remind myself of the common solutions so that I see a way forward that is not guided by the faintness of blind hope; paralyzed by fear and overwhelm; and / or obfuscated by the din of values and voices that serve the few for a brief time.

Common solutions include: to know, live and share the GAINS that come from using LESS (fossil fuels, dangerous chemicals, disposables, less consumerism generally); to speak for truth and science and to have compassion for those who cannot; to exercise our power as voters and consumers to serve future generations; and to care and act on the knowledge of connection to others – across time, cultures, distance, and species.

In short, it’s a really good time to be a good human. 💙

I had to dig for these words for myself. As always, may they serve you too.


Photos: November 21 in Kwakwaka’wakw Territory near Port Hardy at a site where I have been monitoring sea star since 2013, ©Jackie Hildering.

The same juvenile Sunflower Star a few minutes earlier. Notice the fish? There’s a Painted Greenling on the left and a Blackeye Goby on the right.

For those who are not yet aware, I include the reality of Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD) below. A link to a summary of the research and where to report sightings is in my blog at this link.

The other Sunflower Star we saw yesterday.

Since 2013, more than 20 species of sea star have been impacted by SSWD from Mexico to Alaska. There is local variation in intensity of the disease and which species are impacted. It is one of the largest wildlife die-off events in recorded history. Sea stars contort, have lesions, shed arms, and become piles of decay.

Currently, some species of sea star appear to have recovered while others remain very heavily impacted. Sunflower Stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) have been devastated and were added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list as Critically Endangered. There are current efforts to have Sunflower Stars assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with hopes that they receive protection under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

There is NOT scientific consensus about the cause. Current hypotheses focus on (i) a virus and (ii) low oxygen at the surface of the sea star’s skin maintained due to bacteria. What is consistent in is that changing environmental conditions appear to allow the pathogen (be it bacteria or viruses) to have a greater impact.

The best current source for a summary of the research is Hamilton et al (August, 2021). From that source: ” . . . outbreak severity may stem from an interaction between disease severity and warmer waters” and “Though we lack a mechanistic understanding of whether temperature or climate change triggered the SSWD outbreak, this study adds to existing evidence that the speed and severity of SSWD are greater in warmer waters”.

What I believe to be the reality off the coast of British Columbia is that there are refuges of Sunflower Stars at depth where it is colder. They spawn with some young then settling in the shallows where they may succumb to the pathogen if stressed by warmer water.

Close up on the second Sunflower Star. This one was at about 20 metres depth.

We Are the Weather Makers

I recently had the great joy of meeting artist Nico Kos Earle through another artistic powerhouse, Dawn Dudek.

In this meeting, Nico referenced a line from her poem “We Are the Flood” that hit me full force with its power to capture so succinctly the reality of we humans and climate change. That line is: “We are the weather makers“.

Below I share the full poem with Nico’s permission. There is so much in the words that moves me and fortifies my resolve.
May it do the same for you. 💙

Poem: Nico Kos Earle
Image: Horizon the Humpback by yours truly.

Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker – the fish, the disc, the marvel

Today I right a great wrong. For how can it be I did not have a blog featuring the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker? This is one of the most cryptic and astoundingly adapted fish in the north Pacific Ocean.

Yesterday, I chanced upon the individual in the photo below and he is what finally catalyzed this blog. Just look at him! He is only about 2 cm long. I noticed him because he was swimming / hovering around like a minuscule zeppelin. Then he alighted on a rock, securing with the pelvic disc this species relies upon.

Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker who lives in Kwakwaka’wakw Territory near Telegraph Cove.
Photographed November 6, 2021

To be a little, round fish like this, nature had to do something to make sure you don’t roll over. You need to be able to secure, not only to rock, but to seaweeds and Eelgrass. The “solution” is that Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers are among the fish species in which the pelvic fins have evolved into a sucker on their bellies.

This species has very small pectoral fins (even relative to body size) and does not have a swim bladder to help with buoyancy. All the more need to have the disc to be able to hold on between short hovering swims.

My video of a Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker from 2015.

Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers don’t have scales but rather have lumpy, bony plates known as “tubercles”. Maybe these are what the “lump” in their common name refers to.

There have been many creative attempts to describe the overall appearance of Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers from simply “cute” to “pingpong ball with fins”, to “swimming strawberries”, “underwater bumble bees”, and . . . “a fish that has quietly come to terms with looking idiotic”. Thanks Dr. Milton Love for that last descriptor. You can imagine the many jokes and allusions made about their name which “sounds like a Shakespearean insult” (comment made by Angela Flute on YouTube).

The species name Eumicrotremus orbis references their rotundity and size. Maximum known length is 12.7 cm but they are more often much smaller, around 2.5 cm.

I believe the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker we saw yesterday was a male because mature males are reported to be dull orange to reddish brown. Mature females are pale green and have more and larger tubercles.

Another male and you can see part of the pelvic disc. ©Jackie Hildering


The one in Paul Wright’s video below is most definitely a male. See the egg-guarding? Male Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers guard the eggs after fertilizing them, oxygenating them by wafting water over them and protecting them from predators. It’s reported that males die after the eggs hatch and that the females die after egg laying (average of 202 eggs, size of each egg is ~2.2 mm). Outside of when they are breeding, this is a solitary species. Appear to have a life expectancy of around 1 year in aquariums (Casey Cook, pers. com).

It is normal that Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker’s mouths are almost always open and that they appear to be panting (as you see in the video).

Video by W. Paul Wright from 2014with descriptor: “Video taken in Gibsons British Columbia. Male lumpsucker tending to newly laid eggs in discarded Ponds jar.”
Video by Ricky Belanger from 2018.
Video by Victoria High School from 2009 from their aquarium.

Further species information:

Range: Northern Washington to the Bering Sea, along the Aleutian Islands to Siberia and northern Japan. Intertidal to 575 m. Source: Lamb and Edgell, 2010.

Diet: “Small crustaceans such as gammarid andy hyperiid amphipods, along with caprellid amphipods, isopods, and cumaceans” [hooded shrimp species]. Source: Love, 2011.

He’s not smiling. YOU’RE smiling.
©Jackie Hildering

Sources:

Arita, G. S. (December 01, 1969). Sexual Dimorphism in the Cyclopterid Fish Eumicrotremus orbis. Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, 26, 12, 3262-3265.

Aquarium of the Pacific – Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker

Cook, Casey, personal communication November 7, 2021

FishBase – Eumicrotremus orbis

Lamb, A., & Edgell, P. (2010). Coastal fishes of the Pacific Northwest. Madeira Park, B.C: Harbour Pub.

Love, M. S. (2011). Certainly more than you want to know about the fishes of the Pacific Coast: A postmodern experience. Santa Barbara, Calif: Really Big Press.

New York Times, Feb. 25, 2022, The Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker Is Armed to the Teeth – The diminutive predator is a terrible swimmer but thrives in the intertidal zone thanks to odd evolutionary adaptation.

University of Washington – College of the Environment Feb. 8, 2022, , This tiny coastal fish wears a toothy coat of armor


I Know

The following content has been very well-received on my social media. Therefore, I am sharing it here too.

Daring to share . . .

This belongs here, on my page, where ultimately it’s about the welfare of future generations; about equity and connection.

Through recent international “realties”, to situations impacting the welfare of other species and dear friends, I have gained even more insight into how power structures enable abuse and how, at their core, it’s about keeping others small, and preferably . . . silent.

I see, and live, how disparity in power means that those working for equality, truth and justice bleed out time, energy and expense into strategizing to navigate these power systems, adding another layer of disadvantage.

I have felt anger boiling up and exhaustion creeping in. I am an older woman which means . . . I can’t.

I can’t stop.

I found myself going back to a blog I had written on “Lessons Learned from Whales – How to be a Killer Female”. Being this age, I had forgotten that I had included the text you see above beside my head.

Those of us with power must help those who have less, for that is a life well-lived. It does not mean that we have to carry it all. But imagine a world where many more of us recognize and reject the forces that strive to diminutize, divide, distract, and paralyze, and rise into our power to create positive change and help others. More of us united. That’s the world I will continue to work for.

The blog I am referencing is at this link. And yes, by writing this post and that blog, it clears my head, adds to my resolve, represents what motivates me most, and hopefully is of use to others.

#KillerFemale

A Fish as Limp as a Rag?

The fish below was found in the mouth of a Lingcod recently and created quite a stir on social media when the photos by Rugged Point Lodge were shared on social media. What species of fish was this?

I did NOT know the ID of this fish but thankfully Andy Lamb shared his knowledge that this was a juvenile Ragfish. One of the remarkable things about this species is that it is really limp, hence RAGfish

Ragfish are Icosteus aenigmaticus and can be 2.13 meter long (7 feet).

From Andy’s “Coastal Fishes of the Pacific Northwest“:
“The Ragfish usually lives in deep water an is termed a bathypelagic species. However, this fish is often found shallower as a juvenile. It’s only an occassional Pacific Northwest visitor, usually during warm weather events . . . A very limp, flappy body supported by a cartilaginous skeleton.”

Andy confirmed that sightings are vrare. Then, another juvenile was sighted thanks to Heather Lord and Nick Felch. This one was live and in the area of Clayoquot Sound.


More about the species from Dr. Milton Love’s “Certainly More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast“:
“Icosteus means “to yield” and “bone” in Greek, referring to the limp body and “aenigmaticus means “puzzling” in Greek. “Ragfish” comes from its Über-limpness 🙂 . . .

Ranges: Okhotsk Sea and Pacific Coast of Honshu to Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska to Point Loma (Southern California). Larvae have been taken further southwards, off northern most Baja California . . . .

Salient characteristics: Oh so flabby is the ragfish; that’s the character you do wish; but if, by chance, you’re satisfied – not; we’ll tell you other things they have got. The juvies: spotted, scaled, and rounded; have pelvic fins to keep them grounded; adults lack pelvics, spots and scales; are brown and purple, both fems and males.”


With thanks too to Dr. John Ford for relaying the second juvenile Ragfish sighting.

The Creature Below the Floathouse?

How I enjoyed receiving the following mystery this week.

Be sure to have your sound on when you read and listen to the clip below.

Yes, it’s a male Pacific Harbour Seal! So many people do not realize that the male Harbour Seals establish and defend territory in the water (unlike species of sea lion and elephant seal who defend territory on land).

From Discovery of Sounds in the Sea . “Harbor seals were thought to be the least vocal of the pinnipeds. Recent studies have shown, however, that males produce underwater vocalizations during the mating season to attract females or to compete with other males. Males establish territories in the waters offshore of haul-out sites. Using underwater vocalizations, they defend their territories against other males and display to females traveling through the area. Their underwater vocalization is described as a roar with a peak frequency at approximately 1.2 kHz. Harbor seals also produce a wide variety of in-air vocalizations, including short barks, tonal honks, grunts, growls, roars, moans, and pup contact calls.”

It is remarkable isn’t it that these sounds were not known to be made by male Harbour Seals until ~1994.? This is the most common marine mammal on so many coasts and yet . . . we know so little.

Note: The person who sent me the mystery preferred to remain anonymous and that the location of the recordings not be provided. I can share that it was in the Sunshine Coast area of British Columbia. However, this underwater sound could be from ANYWHERE male Pacific or Atlantic Harbour Seals wish to pass on their genes. 🙂

See below for some of the research into Harbour Seal vocalizations.


From the research of Leanna Matthews:

“Similar to other aquatically mating pinnipeds, male harbor seals produce vocalizations during the breeding season that function in male-male interactions and possibly as an attractant for females. I investigated multiple aspects of these reproductive advertisement displays in a population of harbor seals in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska. First, I looked at vocal production as a function of environmental variables, including season, daylight, and tidal state. Vocalizations were highly seasonal and detection of these vocalizations peaked in June and July, which correspond with the estimated time of breeding. Vocalizations also varied with light, with the lowest probability of detection during the day and the highest probability of detection at night. The high probability of detection corresponded to when females are known to forage. These results are similar to the vocal behavior of previously studied populations.

However, unlike previously studied populations, the detection of harbor seal breeding vocalizations did not vary with tidal state. This is likely due to the location of the hydrophone, as it was not near the haul out and depth was therefore not significantly influenced by changes in tidal height.

I also investigated the source levels and call parameters of vocalizations, as well as call rate and territoriality. The average source level of harbor seal breeding vocalizations was 144 dB re 1 μPa at 1 m and measurements ranged from 129 to 149 dB re 1 μPa. Analysis of call parameters indicated that vocalizations of harbor seals in Glacier Bay were similar in duration to other populations, but were much lower in frequency.

During the breeding season, there were two discrete calling areas that likely represent two individual males; the average call rate in these display areas was approximately 1 call per minute.

The harbor seal breeding season also overlaps with peak tourism in Glacier Bay, and the majority of tourists visit the park on a motorized vessel. Because of this overlap, I investigated the impacts of vessel noise on the vocal behavior of individual males. In the presence of vessel noise, male harbor seals increase the amplitude of their vocalizations, decrease the duration, and increase the minimum frequency. These vocal shifts are similar to studies of noise impacts on other species across taxa, but it is unknown how this could impact the reproductive success of male harbor seals.

Finally, I looked at the role of female preference for male vocalizations. Using playbacks of male vocalizations to captive female harbor seals, I found that females have a higher response to vocalizations that correspond to dominant males. Females were less responsive to subordinate male vocalizations, which had a shorter duration and a higher frequency. Given that male harbor seals decrease the duration and increase the frequency of vocalizations in the presence of noise, it is possible that these vocalizations become less attractive in noise.


Click here for Harbour Seal vocal samples from Discovery of Sound in the Sea.

Sources:

Discovery of Sound in the Sea (DOSITS) – Harbor Seal Sounds (Phoca vitulina).

Hanggi, E. B., & Schusterman, R. J. (1994). Underwater acoustic displays and individual variation in male harbour seals, Phoca vitulina. Animal Behaviour, 48(6), 1275–1283. 

Matthews, Leanna. (2017). Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina) Reproductive Advertisement Behavior And The Effects Of Vessel Noise. SURFACE.

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