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

2018 WILD Calendar

They’re ready – my 2018 Wild Calendars.

The selected images are below. All photos are from around NE Vancouver Island, BC, CANADA.

Great thanks to all who helped in the selection of the images. The aim is that these represent the biodiversity of life in the cold, dark NE Pacific Ocean and be compelling in creating a sense of connection and humility about the Ocean upon which our lives also depend.

This may be the only calendar ever to have a Wolf Eel on its cover thanks to people like you. People unified in what the words and photos of “The Marine Detective” are aimed at: Connection. Humility. Inspiration. Wonder. Empowerment. Understanding that there are common solutions to socio-environmental problems. Caring More. Consuming Less. Voting for the future and . . . . knowing our place IN the environment.

Further information on the WILD calendars can be found after the calendar images below. If you would like to purchase please click here.

Cover WILD Calendar 2018 ©Jackie Hildering

January image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

February image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

March image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

April image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

May image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

June image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

July image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

August image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

September image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

October image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

November image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

December image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

2018 WILD Calendar back cover ©Jackie Hildering.

These are large calendars printed on sturdy paper. They are coil bound, and there is a hole to hang them. Dimensions 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.

Click here to purchase on-line.

Shipping: $5.50/item in Canada; $10/item for USA; $12/item for additional countries.

And yes, these images are available as canvases. 🙂 I can be contacted via this link.


Not a Show. Not a Breach. Not a Surprise.

There’s another viral video showing a Humpback Whale very close to a boat.

Here it is, posted on YouTube on June 23rd, 2017.

Media coverage includes statements like the following:

– “Humpback breaches next to boat”. This whale is not breaching. This whale is feeding; using a strategy called “lunge feeding”.

– “Boaters in the right place at the right time”. No they are not.

– “Whale puts on a show for boaters”. Whales do not put on shows for humans in the wild. They are carrying out their lives. In this case, a whale is trying to engulf as many small schooling fish as possible. At this time of the year, the whales are particularly hungry. Likely this Humpack is recently back from the breeding grounds where there is little to no food for them.

– “Whale surprises boaters”. This cannot have been a complete surprise. As you can see, their cameras were at the ready. This suggests they knew there was at least one whale in the area and likely the whale had already been feeding at the surface. Maybe there were also a lot of active sea birds as a clue that there was a density of fish in the area.

[Update: Via various media sources, it is confirmed that the boaters knew the whale was in the area and that they chose to move closer e.g. “Paul Ziolkowski told WABC his family and friends had been fishing for a couple of hours . . . . and saw the whale a couple of times. The whale was about 60 yards away when they decided to move a little closer to get a better view . . . ” Longer versions of the video also show they had a fishing line in the water when doing so.]

It can only be hoped that the result of this video going viral leads to increased awareness of how unpredictably Humpbacks can surface; that they can be astoundingly oblivious of boats; and that they really need their space. Toothed whales like Orca have biosonar. So many boaters are not aware that baleen whales like Humpbacks do not have this biosonar. So many are not even aware that Humpback Whales are now very commonly encountered close to our coasts, having made a remarkable and very recent return from the brink of extinction.

For the sake of whale AND boater safety,  please click here for the Marine Education and Research Society’s “See a Blow? Go Slow!” campaign to reduce the risk of collision with whales.

See to reduce risk of collision with whales.


Key points include:

Oh sigh! “The Dodo” put this into the world on June 26th, 2017 with the text “Whales Surprise Guy on Kayak | This guy had the cutest reaction when whales surprised him up close.” No. Just no. This too could not have been a surprise. The birds are an indicator and the whales would have surfaced previously, feeding int he area. This is a boater getting in the way of feeding whales and putting himself at risk. This is another case of the media rewarding boater bad behaviour. 

Enough is enough! Your help needed to stop disturbance of marine mammals in Canada

You’ve seen it haven’t you, the video of the little girl getting pulled into the water by a sea lion habituated to people feeding him?


And  . . . you’re likely baffled and outraged that there has been no penalization for those humans misguided enough to cause this habituation?

Please then, while there is so much public attention on this “incident” and the limits of the current Canadian Marine Mammal Regulations, let’s make it count.

Let’s ensure that the amendments that would much improve these regulations are FINALLY passed into law. It will take less than 5 minutes of your time to help, I promise. But I need to provide a bit of background to maximize our chances of succeeding. If you are already aware of the limitations, click here to go directly to “This Is How We Create Change”.

The Problem:
Currently, the Marine Mammal Regulations under the Fisheries Act (Section 7) state “No person shall disturb a marine mammal  . . .” but there is no definition of disturbance. Thereby, there are significant limitations to prosecuting people whose behaviour puts marine mammals at risk e.g. an expert witness is needed to testify that a marine mammal was indeed “disturbed”.  

KW_2016-09-08_JH_Wastell Islands-12598

Vessel under power and almost on top of a member of the A30 matriline of Northern Residents (Threatened population). Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

The Solution:
The solution has been available since 2004 but has yet to be entered into law by the Federal Government.  That’s right, 13 years ago, the “Regulations Amending the Marine Mammal Regulations” were drafted. I was part of the process. They have twice gone through a public review process and still  . . . no action.

They are incredibly solid and will allow for b
etter prevention, enforcement and understanding of threats to Canada’s marine mammals because they: 

  • Define “disturbance” as “approaching the marine mammal to (a) feed it; (b) swim with it or otherwise interact with it; (c) move it or entice or cause it to move from the immediate vicinity in which it is found; or (d) tag or mark it.”
  • Specify minimum approach distances to marine mammals for boats and aircraft e.g. that boats must stay at minimum of 100m away.
  • Require reporting to DFO of any accidental contact with a marine mammal (e.g. entanglement or collision).

These regulations would of course also reduce risk to humans e.g. the girl being pulled into the water by a habituated sea lion and injury to boaters as a result of colliding with a whale.

Vessel at high speed near Northern Resident Orca (Threatened population). Did not slow down while clearly aware of the whale’s presence, and presumably, the potential of other whales being in the area. Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

Here’s How We Make Change

Please, now while there is so much focus on acts of disturbance like feeding sea lions, contact your Member of Parliament and insist upon these regulations being passed into law. 

You can find their contact information by clicking this link.

In case it is of help, here is sample text that could be used:

“I am aware of the limitations of the current Marine Mammal Regulations and that, for more than a decade, amendments have existed that would much improve the protection of Canada’s marine mammals (many of which are at risk). It is unacceptable that the Federal Government has yet to pass these into law. Thereby, I ask you, as my Member of Parliament, to urgently undertake action to enable the “Regulations Amending the Marine Mammal Regulations” to come into force. If further background is needed to understand why there is such urgency, see this link”

Please also share this information so that more will contact their MPs.

How’s this for astoundingly misguided behaviour? Boats are to remain at least 100m away from seal and sea lion haulouts and rookeries. Steller Sea Lions are protected under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Male California Sea Lion being hand fed. Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

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Boat at high speed in proximity of Humpback Whales “Slash” (BCY0177) and her 2016 calf (on left). Collision is a serious risk for whales AND boaters. Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

A video went into the world on May 20th, 2017 entitled “Killer Sea lion drags girl into Steveston waters” (Steveston, British Columbia). When it was brought to my attention, I posted the following on social media:

“NOT a “Killer Sea Lion”. Rather – misguided humans. Please help educate around why a mature male California Sea Lion grabbed a child that was allowed within a metre of him. This is absolutely not natural behaviour. THIS is indisputably a sea lion that has been fed and habituated to humans. This is predictable. By humans not respecting the wild, the wild loses wariness, associates humans with food (or some other “reward”), and most often . . . loses entirely. THIS is yet another reason why the amendments to the marine mammal regulations should finally be passed by our government. They define “disturbance” and enter into law . . . no feeding, no swimming with, no touching, stay 100m away, etc (they have been drafted since 2004!).  Please, if you witness marine mammal distress or disturbance (includes feeding) call the Incident Reporting Line 1-800-465-4336.” 

The resounding response of outrage to the incident is what has led to my believing that we can make this count; that we can ride this wave of awareness to have the amended regulations passed.

Thank you so much for caring as you do and helping to ensure the protection of Canada’s marine mammals.

For best practices to avoid disturbance of marine mammals see

Close passes like this contribute to habitation; animals losing their wariness; and the disruption of life processes like feeding, nursing and resting. Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

Shelled Sea Slug! A small mystery solved.

Here’s a bit of a mystery that took me more than a year to sort out.

On April 27th, 2016, I found this egg mass while diving in Browning Pass with God’s Pocket Resort. This is to the north of where I live and is somewhere I only have the joy of diving a couple of times a year.

Mystery sea slug egg mass among horseshoe worms. (From Neil McDaniel re. worm ID – “they are Phoronids most likely Phoronopsis harmeri” – April 2016. ©Jackie Hildering.

I recognized it was likely a sea slug egg mass but did not know the species.

More than a year passed. On May 7th, 2017, I had a chance to dive the same site again and so hoped to find the species who laid the eggs. We quickly swam to where I had found the egg mass the year prior, into the shallows (~5m), and hovered over the ocean bottom strewn with bits of shell remains.

And I found these . . .

Tiny snail-like animals, plowing through the bits of shell and urchin remains. One, two, three . . . six of them!

I tried to calm myself down, to get photos, and to watch how, despite their soft bodies and the sharp bits of shell, they were able to even push under the surface.

They were Stripe Barrel Shells (Rictaxis punctocaelatus with shells only to 2 cm long)!

A “Striped Barrel Shell” beside an urchin spine, giving a sense of how small these animals area. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

These are often mistaken as being a marine snail (prosobranch) like a whelk but they are a type of “bubble shell” sea slug. They are also not nudibranchs. They have a thin shell and do not have “naked gills”. Therefore they do not belong in the “nudibranch” sub-group of sea slugs (opisthobranchs).  For the classification super nerds, see this link or the graphic at the end of this blog for my attempt at offering clarity.

Plowing down into the shell debris! ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Please know that I am not suggesting that this is a rare species. Rather, they are hard to find. Their size makes them hard to see; divers often do not target the sand or shell-covered bottoms where they live; AND . . . . they are often just under the surface.

I was incredibly fortunate therefore to find them out and about – maybe feeding on algae and/or trying to smell where a mate might be (and we think WE’RE challenged in finding a partner!)

And how about those eggs? Are they a match?

Yes, they are! I was able to confirm this thanks to the knowledge and brilliant documentation of Jeff Goddard on the Sea Slug Forum (see below).

Source: Sea Slug Forum; Jeff Goddard. 


Another little mystery solved.

Another big influx of wonder about the life in the NE Pacific Ocean! 🙂


Attempt at sea slug classification ©Jackie Hildering.

Giant Siphonophore (Prayja species)

Here’s another fabulously unique jelly-like drifter for you. It’s a “Giant Siphonophore” which can be up to 50 metres long. That’s right – 50 metres – albeit the sightings near the surface are usually much smaller like these two I saw north of Port Hardy (around 2 to 3 meters).

They are not usually common off the coast of British Columbia but, like the recent sightings of many pyrosomes, their presence indicates that there must be warmer waters. They are regulars off the coast of central California.

Paired swimming bells and long stem of a Giant Siphonophore (aka Bell-Headed Tailed Jelly) ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Siphonophore jellies are so remarkable. While they appear to be a single animal, they are a colony of individuals (“zooids”) with very specialized jobs. The paired bells aid the propulsion of the colony (pneumatophores).  The units of the long stem are known as “cormidia”. Can you discern the individual units in the image below? Each of these segments has parts for reproduction (gonozooids), cacthing prey and digestion (gastrozooids), and defence (dactylozooids)by having stinging cells (nematocysts). While this species does deliver a bit of a sting, it packs no where near the punch of the most well-known siphonophore – the Portuguese Man o’ War.

Tail segment of a Giant Siphonophore with dive buddy and his video light in the background. This one did not have the swimming bells. The bright yellow colour of the “zooids” in the stem is distinct in this species of siphonophore. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

What had me quite confused when I first saw the species, is that Giant Siphonophores often do not have the swimming bells – just the stem of individuals. These apparently have a role in reproduction (and are known as eudoxids) but cannot regenerate the whole colony. (Added bonus to this blog – more words for the next time you play Scrabble!)

Another perspective on the paired swimming bells (pneumatophores). ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

In what little information I could find on this species, there was this fabulously, dramatic descriptor: “The giant gelatinous predator moves silently through cold, dark waters, propelled by a pair of expanding and contracting swimming bells. Its rope-like body is actually a colony of almost a thousand individual subsections, each performing a specific task. Some provide propulsion, others, reproductive functions; but most specialize in capturing and devouring prey. When hunting, these sections deploy thousands of slender, stinging tentacles to capture drifting krill, copepods, small fish, and other jellies. Almost anything blundering into this deadly net of tentacles soon finds itself stuffed into the nearest waiting mouth.” (Source: The Ecology Center).

And just in case this all is not fascinating enough, the species is also bioluminescent. It produces a bright blue light when disturbed, briefly illuminating our dark, mysterious, life-sustaining sea.


Decorator Crabs! The best-dressed in the NE Pacific Ocean.

Are you ready? I’ve been collecting these photos for a long time. Now, finally, I think I have enough to deliver this marine fashion show to you – the best dressed of the NE Pacific Ocean!

Decorator crabs are camo-crabs. They pluck bits of life from their surroundings and attach it to themselves. AND, if their surroundings change, they change their outfit.

Graceful Decorator Crab covered with hydroids including the “Raspberry Hydroid” which was only recognized as a new species in 2013 and is only known to live near Telegraph Cove (Weynton Pass) and Quadra Island (Discovery Passage). ©Jackie Hildering.

This is highly functional fashion. Not only does this covering of life allow the crabs to hide from potential predators, it also apparently changes the way the crabs feel and taste in a way that deters their predators. Sponges taste bad or are even toxic to many predators and animals like hydroids and other “cnidarians” have stinging cells. Thereby, if you cover yourself with sponges or cnidarians, predators be gone!

Graceful Decorator Crab adorned with “Strawberry Anemones” (not actually an anemone species but a “corallimorph”. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Indeed, even though decorator crab species look like walking gardens, often what they attach are not algae but other animals – hydroids, sponges and bryozoans.

Additional bonuses of carrying other organisms on your back may be:

  • You have potential snacks within a pincher’s reach.
  • Your camouflage allows you to get closer to your prey.
  • You are carrying weapons!

From A Snail’s Odyssey: “Apart from passive camouflage from potential predators, other functions of the behaviour may include disguise for closer approach to prey, and provision of tools for active defense, such as a branches of hydroids containing functional stinging cells or pieces of sponges or tunicates containing toxic chemicals.”

Graceful Decorator Crab with snippets of sponge attached to his/her carapace (Hooded Nudibranchs in the background). This individual realized it had been seen and switched to the defence strategy of looking big since “so many fish predators are limited by the size of their mouths” (Source: Crabs and Shrimps of the Pacific Coast); ©Jackie Hildering.

Note too that not all growth on the back of crabs is the result of decorating and remember that crabs moult, crawling out the back of their shells in order to grow. Also from A Snail’s Odyssey:  “In some cases these camouflagings result from settlement of spores and larvae . . . . Passive buildup of growths is greater with increasing age as moulting frequency decreases.  Also, in many species there is a final or terminal moult which, if the species’ exoskeleton is receptive to settlement of larvae and spores, leads to an even greater build-up of cover.”

Graceful Decorator Crab adorned with (and atop of) Glove Sponge. ©Jackie Hildering.

“Spider crab” (superfamily Majoidea) species are the ones that most often adorn themselves. From Greg Jensen‘s Crabs and Shrimps of the Pacific Coast: “Many spider crabs . . . mask themselves with algae or encrusting organisms so that they can hide in plain sight. The decorator crabs are equipped with curved setae much like the hook part of Velcro fasteners: after shredding material a bit with their mandibles, they press it into place. The largest species tend to stop actively decorating once they outgrow most of their predators.”

Crab predators include the Giant Pacific Octopus and fish species like Cabezon, some rockfish, Surfperch, Wolf Eel and the Staghorn Sculpin. Of course, at low tide, birds and mammals are also predators.

Hoping this adds to the wonder, connection and respect for our marine neighbours. Enjoy the rest of the show!

[For research on decorator crabs with great diagrams explaining how how attachment occurs see this link.]

Well that’s unique! Decorated with Sea Vases (species of tunicate). ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Try not to smile!

Another Graceful Kelp Crab adorned with Raspberry Hydroids.

Here you can even see where the Graceful Decorator Crab has clipped off bits of sponge. AND s/he’s in the act of attaching clippings. ©Jackie Hildering.

Longhorn Decorator Crab. ©Jackie Hildering.

Heart Crab (I THINK) – not likely to have decorated itself but rather this is the result of the settlement and accumulation of organisms = a walking ecosystem. ©Jackie Hildering.

Graceful Kelp Crab with adornment of Sea Lettuce. ©Jackie Hildering

Graceful Decorator Crab in front of a Painted Sea Star. S/he had just moved from being camouflaged among kelp to moving in front of the sea star. ©Jackie Hildering.

This Graceful Decorator Crab has adorned him/herself with bits of Barnacle Nudibranch egg masses for camouflage. You can see the egg masses behind the crab.

Decorator crab species in the NE Pacific include:

  • Graceful Decorator Crab – Oregonia gracilis
  • Graceful Kelp Crab – Pugettia gracilis 
  • Longhorn Decorator Crab – Chorilia longipes
  • Other species too will sometimes put a bit of camouflage on their rostrum e.g. Northern Kelp Crab – Pugettia producta

Pyrosomes! Say What?

Pyrosomes – literally “fire bodies” in Greek – are weird and wonderful marine organisms that have been sighted in large numbers from Oregon to British Columbia’s central coast to Yakutat Alaska! The inspiration for their name is that, when alive, they can generate “brilliant, sustained bioluminescence” (Bowlby et al).

A beach full of Pyrosomes ©Marie Fournier.

January 24, 2017: A beach scattered with Pyrosoma atlanticum. Stunning photo by ©Marie Fournier. Location: West Beach on Calvert Island; 51°39’13”N; 128°08’27″W. 

Specifically, it is Pyrosoma atlanticum that is being seen in large numbers and about which I have been getting inquiries dating back to February of last year. More about this species later. First some general information about this genus.

As gelatinous as pyrosomes appear, they are not closely related to jellyfish. They are colonial pelagic tunicates often found in dense aggregations. Tunicates are highly evolved. They even have a primitive backbone (a notochord).

February 19, 2016 (the first  inquiry I got about this species): A single Pyrosoma atlanticum colony found and photographed by ©Tiare Boyes while diving at ~70′. It was being snacked on by hermit crabs and marine snails. Location: Just outside God’s Pocket; 50°50’15”N, 127°33’40”W.

Pyrosomes on salmon trolling gear.
©Dobie Lyons.

Colonial? Yes, each pyrosome is made up of thousands of individual “zooids” that are connected by tissue (a tunic) to form a rigid, bumpy, hollow tube that is open at one end. This design allows the individuals to filter feed. Cilia draw water into each zooid where plankton are removed with mucous filters; the filtered water passes into the tube; and then out the back end of the colony. This current not only allows feeding but also propulsion of the colony.

But wait, it gets even more remarkable. The individuals making up the colony are clones. Thereby, the colony can regenerate injured and broken parts. “Unless all individual clones are killed at the same time, a colony can theoretically live forever, shrinking and growing based on available food and physical disturbance.  Individual clones are hermaphroditic; they make both eggs and sperm (Oceana).” It is hypothesized that when colonies meet, they may also reproduce sexually.

One Star Trek inspired biologist has referenced pyrosomes as the “the Borgs of the sea”. I just have to share that description with you:

 “One long pyrosome is actually a collection of thousands of clones, with each individual capable of copying itself and adding to the colony. And like members of the Borg, which are  mentally connected, pyrosome members are physically connected– actually sharing tissues. And while the Borg live in a big scary ship, pyrosomes are the big scary ship. The whole colony is shaped like a giant thimble with a point on one end and an opening on the other . . . . Each little “wire basket” is the stomach of one member of the colony. They take water in through a mouth on the outside of their space-ship body, pass it through the little basket to filter out the nom bits, and squirt water out the other end, into the big hollow space in the middle” (R.R. Helm; Deep Sea News).

“Big scary ship”? The “Giant Pyrosome” (Pyrosoma spinosum) can indeed be up to 18 long with an opening reported to be up to 2 m wide. But that is a species found in tropical waters.

The pyrosome species being sighted along the west coast is much smaller. Pyrosoma atlanticum (class Thaliacea) can reach lengths of 60 cm but as you can see from some of the images here, those being reported nearer to shore are much smaller, ranging from about 5 to 8 cm long. This species may be colourless, pink, grey, or bluish-green.

It is the most widespread pyrosome species. It is found in all oceans with the generally accepted range being between temperate latitudes of 50°S to 50°N.

October 1, 2016: Pyrosoma atlanticum were also being seen but much further offshore. Photo: ©Christie McMIllan. Location: About 145 km off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Thereby, up to around mid Vancouver Island, British Columbia is part of their range but they are usually much further offshore. It is only when wind and tides wash them onto beaches that more of us get to see them. The species already generated a lot of interest much further to the south when they were getting blown ashore in Oregon from October to December 2016. They were also being sighted far off BC’s coast in October.

It was already unusual to see them off BC’s coast beyond 52°N in March. In May 2017, they were being reported off Yakutat, Alaska, beyond 59°N. This is extremely unusual and is indicative that there must be a warm water mass carrying them further north.

December 2016 photo from ©Stan Hutchings and Karen Hansen. Location: Quigley Creek in Laredo Channel; 52°39’15”N, 128°44’05”W

For those lucky enough to see them at night, pyrosomes bioluminesce with an intense, bright, blue-green light that can apparently last more than 10 seconds. Their bright lights inspired biologist T.H. Huxley to write in his1849 journal: “I have just watched the moon set in all her glory, and looked at those lesser moons, the beautiful Pyrosoma, shining like white hot cylinders in the water.”

Pyrosoma are unique not only in how brilliant and sustained this bioluminescence is, but also because they are among the few marine organisms where light is made in response to light, not only in response to touch. Thereby, a wave of light passes from one individual in the colony to the next AND from colony to colony (Bowlby et al)! The light is believed to actually be made by bacteria living within the zooids.

Oh to see that!

Thank you to those who relayed all the queries and sightings. This is a solid case of how the observations, interest and knowledge of many allow a bigger picture to come together. This picture may have relevance to science and certainly has value in generating greater interest in our lesser known, wonderfully weird, light-emitting, totally tubular, marine neighbours.

A Pyrosoma atlanticum colony. ©Stan Hutchings and Karen Hansen.


Video by Patrick Anders Webber. 

Particularly large Pyrosoma atlanticum, 35 nautical miles off Neah Bay, Washington. In photo: Dobie Lyons. Photo by Alan Tyler.



My 1,000th Dive – Fishes, Friends and . . . So Much More

Yesterday, I completed dives number 1,000 and 1001.

This is not a big deal if you are a warm water diver where it is common to do 3 or more dives a day.

But, for me at least, I feel it is important to reflect upon this milestone. How did I get here? The equivalent of ~31 days spent underwater over the last 17 years, almost all in the cold, dark NE Pacific off northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia?

And, where am I going?

Younger me on January 9th, 2000 in a wet suit before I had even done a dive from a boat. Now am on to my 2nd battered dry suit and am most often on the other side of a camera.

Younger me on January 9th, 2000 in a wet suit before I had even done a dive from a boat. Now, I’m much greyer; on to my 2nd battered dry suit; and am most often on the other side of a camera.

I was 36 when I started diving. (I’ll save you doing the math – yes, that means I am 53 now). It was a year of some very big life decisions including leaving solid ground when it came to employment and what many would have considered “a career”. I let go. I followed my internal compass knowing only that I needed to learn from Nature again.

Learning to dive did not feel like one of the big decisions. Looking back, it seemed almost like a flirtation; a “sure, why not?”. Maybe that’s the way it works with the big things in life. There were some pretty big clues that it should be on my path though. For example, back when I worked in the Netherlands, I had hung all kinds of marine animals from the ceiling of my shower. Clearly I wanted to feel like I was under the Ocean. Also, my most crystalline, happy childhood memories are of spending seemingly endless hours exploring the beach when we lived in Chemainus (southern Vancouver Island).

Adrift with so many rockfish during yesterday's dives. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Adrift with so many rockfish during yesterday’s dives. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

But know that while saying “yes” to taking a dive course was easy, diving has not come easily to me. I’ll spare you the details of how encumbered the instruction was; that I even inflicted injuries upon myself; and how the learning never stops. (If you would like to see what mask squeeze looks like, click here.) I remember feeling that achieving my Dive Masters was bigger than anything I had achieved in university.

But when I saw that first sea star underwater, it was like a lightning bolt went through me. I knew. It was as if I heard a click, as if a puzzle piece fell into place. This was going to be important. But I could never have known how important.

Lone Mottled Star. Yes, the sea stars are still in trouble. An example of how the Ocean may be testifying to environment issues. See here for more. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Lone Mottled Star. Yes, the sea stars are still in trouble – an example of how the Ocean may be testifying to environment issues but because this reality is hidden, too few of us notice and take heed. More information at this link. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

It felt like a lot of puzzle pieces clicked into place that year. Since then, some have fallen out of place leaving an odd shaped hole. This is certainly how life works. Some pieces never were a good fit or were only part of the big picture for a brief while. Okay, enough already of that puzzle metaphor and about what has come and gone, but was once essential in getting to where I am now.

Now . . . 1,000 dives completed.

Now . . .  the extraordinary privilege of knowing one small part of the planet from individual fish to individual whales. “Knowing”? Correction  . .  I am learning from the life in these cold, dark waters.

Now . . .  “The Marine Detective”.  It’s a handle that I hope captures the mystery and the correct humility. I am a student of the Ocean and, in recognizing that privilege and importance, I want it to count.

The Ocean. Mother Ocean. The ultimate teacher. It’s where life began and upon which life depends. It’s often where the impacts of our disconnect and misguided value systems appear first. It’s our opportunity to have the humility to realize how little we know. It’s our opportunity to connect and to heal and to know how little we are.

Leaving solid ground. Being adrift. Better knowing when and how to fight the current. Learning so many lessons about the life around me and, about myself.

What lies ahead? Another 1,000 dives. More lessons. More puzzle pieces. More trying to make it count.

I am so grateful for it all – to have the health that makes this possible; to being able to live where I do; to my dive buddies; and to you who care enough to read these words, making the effort so worthwhile.

From the depths – thank you.

Below, additional photos from yesterday’s dives shared with fishes, friends, and so much more.

One of yesterday's dives was a Lingcod Egg Mass survey. That's buddy Natasha Dickinson recording depth, size, etc. The males guard the egg masses to ensure their kind has a better chance of survival. More information here. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

The purpose of one of yesterday’s dives was to do a Lingcod Egg Mass Survey. That’s buddy Natasha Dickinson recording depth, size, etc. The males guard the egg masses to ensure their kind has a better chance of survival. More information on “Lingcod – Fastidious, Fanged Fathers” at this link. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.


Dive buddy Natasha examining an unguarded egg mass for the Ling Cod Egg Mass survey. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Dive buddy Natasha examining an unguarded egg mass for the Ling Cod Egg Mass Survey. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.


Oops - got distracted from the survey by a mature male Wolf Eel. How could I not?! More on this remarkable species here. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Oops – got distracted from the survey by a mature male Wolf Eel. How could I not?! More on this remarkable species at this link. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.


Swimming with the fishes . . . so many fishes and testament to Rock Fish Conservation Areas being so important. Our dive club has been monitoring this site for over 20 years. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Swimming with the fishes . . . so many fishes and testament to Rockfish Conservation Areas being so important. Our dive club has been monitoring this site near Port Hardy for over 20 years. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.


Another "distraction" - mature male Wolf Eel. Intriguing that this one had many juvenile rockfish swimming around his head. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Another “distraction” – mature male Wolf Eel. Intriguing that this one had many juvenile rockfish swimming around his head. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.


Oregon Tritons (marine snail species) feeding on an unguarded Lingcod Egg Mass. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Oregon Tritons (marine snail species) feeding on an unguarded Lingcod Egg Mass. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.


Dive buddies . . . could not do it without them. Here, Natasha Dickinson and Alexandra Spicer. Dear dive buddy Jacqui Engel was unable to join due to the flu but her name absolutely needs to appear on this post where I am reflecting on 1,000 dives and how I got here. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Dive buddies . . . could not do it without them. Here – Natasha Dickinson (left) and Alexandra Spicer (right). Dear dive buddy Jacqui Engel was unable to join yesterday due to the flu but her name absolutely needs to appear anywhere where I am reflecting on the importance of diving in my life and how I got here. [P.S. it was 5.5°C!] ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Below, a past reflection on diving. I wrote this poem after my 600th dive.  It still all applies.

Constricted by my dry suit,
Thirty pounds bound to my waist,
Hunchbacked by my cylinder,
A mask suctioned to my face,

I leave the world we’ve cultivated,
To attempt to meet our every whim,
To where Nature’s voice can still be heard,
Far above civilization’s din.

No governments, no borders,
Nor economies present.
When down here, I’m reminded,
Of life’s depth and true intent.

I’m an awkward and brief visitor,
In this world of colour and perfection.
I fill with humility, wonder,
Passion and quiet introspection.

For Mother Ocean is home to life,
Older than mammals can comprehend.
I’m grateful that I may learn from her,
Leaving solid ground when I descend.

Diving brought me greater purpose,
Love, vision and camaraderie.
I think that what some find in a church,
I find . . . deep . . . within the sea.


May There Be Depth . . .

It’s a time of year of excesses and absences; of light and dark; of warmth and cold; of celebration and elation . . . but also often of freneticism and vacuity.

My wish for you and for myself is that within it all, we find depth – abundant depth of emotion, and connection, and meaning.

My depth of gratitude to all of you who contribute to that for me – the sense of shared values and common goals and the abundant motivation.

Be merry. Be bright. Feel the wonder. Add to the light.


White-Spotted Rose Anemone. I've known this individual for about 8 years. ©2016 Jackie Hildering.

White-Spotted Rose Anemone. I’ve known this individual for about 8 years. ©2016 Jackie Hildering.

2017 WILD Calendar

2015 calendar at UBC

Photo gives a sense of the size of the calendar . . . maybe! 2015 calendar with Blue Whale skeleton in background.

2017  .  .  . may it be a year of even greater understanding of our connection to the wild.

Below, I have shared the images from my 2017 WILD Calendar. All photos are from around NE Vancouver Island, BC, CANADA and their inclusion in next year’s calendar is largely the result of voting on social media.

I am very happy to again be sending them far and wide. Thank you so much for this. It is extremely heartening to have this support and help in increasing awareness about the life in the cold, dark NE Pacific Ocean and our connection to it, no matter how far we are from her shores.

That’s what all the photos and words are about as “The Marine Detective” and what I’ve strived for with the calendar. Inspiration. Connection. Understanding our capacity for positive change when our value systems change. Caring More. Consuming Less. Voting for the future and . . . . knowing our place IN the environment. 

Further information on the WILD calendars can be found after the calendar images below. This includes where they can be purchased.


Cover WILD Calendar 2017 ©Jackie Hildering



January image 2017 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.



February image 2017 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.



March image 2017 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering



April image 2017 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering



May image 2017 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering



June image 2017 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering



July image 2017 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering



August image 2017 WILD Calendar©Jackie Hildering



September image 2017 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering



October image 2017 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering



November image 2017 WILD Calendar©Jackie Hildering



December image 2017 WILD Calendar©Jackie Hildering



2017 WILD Calendar back cover ©Jackie Hildering

These are large calendars printed on sturdy paper. They are coil bound, and there is a hole to hang them. Dimensions 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 a biodegradable, transparent plastic envelope.

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Shipping: $5.50/item in Canada; $10/item for USA; $12/item for additional countries.

Calendars are also sold at Strong Nations (Nanaimo; East of Java (Port McNeill); the West Coast Community Craft Shop (Port Hardy); the Campbell River Museum and Beaver Aquatics (Campbell River); and at the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea (Victoria).

And yes, these images are available as canvases. 🙂

Contact via this link.