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

How Do Octopuses Poo?

It’s one of the characteristics that unifies every living thing on the planet – we all need to get rid of waste.

How do octopuses do it? See the video and explanation below.

Why share? Because I solidly believe the world can be a better place through understanding and respecting the commonalities and differences of others AND through marvelling at the natural world.

With great thanks to Krystal Janecki for her video and Neil McDaniel and Jim Cosgrove for their knowledge.

Video above: Giant Pacific Octopus defecating by ©Krystal Janicki November 5 2018, Madrona in Nanoose Bay, British Columbia, Canada. Observations are that in areas where octopuses appear to be eating more bivalves like Swimming Scallops, the poo is whiter / paler in colour. In areas where they appear to be eating more Red Rock Crabs, the poo is various shades of red. (Source: Jim Cosgrove, personal communication).   

The detail below on octopus digestion is from “Super Suckers – The Giant Pacific Octopus and Other Cephalopods of the Pacific Coast
by James A. Cosgrove & Neil McDaniel (Harbour Publishing):

“The first structure for food gathering [in octopuses] is the interbrachial web, the umbrella-like membrane between the arms that the octopus used to enfold food such as crabs, shrimps and sometimes even fishes and birds.The web forms a bag-like container that holds prey close the the mouth . . .

Giant Pacific Octopus hunting. Notice the webbing between the arms = the interbrachial web. 
©Jackie Hildering.

The second structure is the mouth. An octopus has two pair of salivary glads, anterior (front) and posterior (rear). The posterior salivary glans produce a toxin called cephalotoxin. in giant Pacific octopuses this is not known to be deadly to humans, whereas in the blue-ringed octopus of the South Pacific it has killed people. When an octopus captures food in its web, it secretes cephalotoxin into the water, where it is absorbed through the gills of its prey. The neurotoxin affects the nervous system and causes the prey to lose consciousness and stop struggling. The octopus can then use its suckers to aid in dismembering prey such as crab.

The beak, the hardest part of the octopus, is made of the same chitonous material as human fingernails. It is black and looks like the beak of a parrot. The mouth also has a specialized tongue called a radula. The file-like organ is covered with tiny, sharp teeth that are replaced when they wear down, much as sharks regrow teeth. The radular teeth shred the prey’s tissue once the beak has bitten the food into chunks. Working together with the beak and radula are secretions of the anterior (front) salivary gland. The gland produces a mixture of substances called enzymes, which cause the food to break down quickly inot a jelly-like substance that can be easily digested. A combination of the enzymes and the radula enables an octopus to winkle even the tiniest bit of tissue out of the tip of a crab’s leg.

Giant Pacific Octopus beak. It’s made of keratin.

Once the food is captured, eaten and swallowed, it travels along a short tube called the esophagus (similar to the throat in a human) to a structure called the crop. This is not exactly the same as a bird’s crop, but it does function as a storage place for undigested food.

If the stomach is empty, food passed immediately from the crop to the stomach, which despite distinct differences, functions much like our stomach. In the giant Pacific octopus the digestive enzymes do not come from the wall of the stomach but are produced by the live and introduced into the stomach through ducts. These enzymes cause the food to break down into small molecules that the blood absorbs and transports back to the liver. There they are processed and distributed to the cells of the body. This dual-function liver is different from a human’s whose liver primarily deals with the products of digested food.

Summary of octopus digestion. Source: Super Suckers by James Cosgrove and Neil McDaniel
Harbour Publishing. Illustration by Adrienne Atkins.

Now we find another major difference from vertebrates such as humans and also from squids. Once the food in the octopus stomach is digested, the waste material has to be evacuated. The octopus stomach, however, has only a single tube leading in and out. This means that the waste material must be evacuated through the same tube the food entered before more food can be introduced for digestion. You might call this the “digestion on the instalment plan.” The waste comes out of the stomach into the intestine, which encapsulates it and moves it along till it eventually reaches the end of the intestine located at the entrance to the funnel [aka siphon]. Octopus poop, ejected from the funnel, look a bit like a slender . . . ribbon . . . .

In giant Pacific octopuses the processing of food, depending on what is being eaten, can take many hours. On average these octopuses make six hunting trips a day, reposing in their den most of the time while they process food.”

Below, video of a giant Pacific octopus hunting. In this encounter, the octopus passes directly over a mature male Wolf Eel in his den. THEN, a Decorator Warbonnet emerges as well.


Diagram below names addition octopus anatomy.

Further octopus anatomy. Source: Super Suckers by James Cosgrove and Neil McDaniel
Harbour Publishing. Illustration by Adrienne Atkins.

Into the Forest

Submerge into the forest with me.

Escape for just a little while.

Immerse into the beauty. Feel the fragility?

Know your connection and reliance and . . . embrace the humility of it all.

Hoping these photos from today’s dive in a Bull Kelp forest provide you with all of that.

For more on the importance of kelp forests, please see the posts at this link. 

Down we go.November sun streaming into the Bull Kelp forest and . . . trees above the surface.
©2018 Jackie Hildering.


Split Kelp, Striped Sunstar and female Kelp Greenling. See her (orange fish)?
©2018 Jackie Hildering


Blood Star, Crimson Anemone, Pink Soft Coral, Giant Plumose Anemones, etc!
©2018 Jackie Hildering


Striped Sunstar just below the surface.
©2018 Jackie Hildering


Crimson and Giant Plumose Anemones (with a school of rockfish in the background).
©2018 Jackie Hildering


Proliferating Anemones on the stipes of Split Kelp and on a species of coralline algae.
©2018 Jackie Hildering.


Lingcod in the forest.
©2018 Jackie Hildering.


Northern Kelp Crab climbing in the Bull Kelp Forest.
©2018 Jackie Hildering.


And . . . following my bubbles to the surface, sun refracting through the Bull Kelp. Back to the terrestrial part of our world so reliant on the Ocean’s algae for the production of oxygen, buffering of carbon dioxide and as fuel in marine food webs. 
©2018 Jackie Hildering.

People’s Choice!

Still shaking my head at my site having won the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada’s “2018 People’s Choice Award for Best Canadian Website“. It is a People’s Choice Award so the winning is because of YOU.

Please see below from my interview with Trish Weatherall for the North Island Eagle where I try to express what the award means. Below that interview, I have included a listing of the other sites nominated for the award. Included are their social media links to make it easier to follow these great science resources.

Thank you so much for your support and belief in “The Marine Detective”.

Marine Detective wins People’s Choice
for Canadian science web site

By Trish Weatherall  – North Island Eagle 

The Marine Detective has gone national! In October, Port McNeill’s Jackie Hildering received the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) 2018 People’s Choice award for favourite Canadian science web site, for her site

Article as it appeared in the North Island Eagle. Click to enlarge.

Her reaction to winning the award is, “Stunned euphoria and a great depth of gratitude. I still feel like I have not come close to processing it. The other websites nominated for the award are of such a high calibre and most represent organizations (and even funded ones!) rather than an individual compelled to do this work.” 

The Marine Detective was up against 9 other popular Canadian science web sites: Earth Rangers; Hey Science – Science Sam; Inside the Perimeter; Quebec Science; Research2Reality; Science Alive; Science for the People; The Weather Network – Out of this World; and Tomatosphere – Let’s Talk Science. [Please see links for these sites below.]

Canadians voted online for their favourite site for two weeks beginning Sept. 24. Hildering received an email on Oct. 10 from the SWCC that said, “I’m pleased to tell you that your site blew it out of the water and The Marine Detective is the Winner of SWCC’s 2018 People’s Choice Award for Favourite Canadian Science Site! Your followers and, I suspect, new fans gave your site more than enough love to win. Congratulations!”

Hildering, who is also a whale researcher, marine educator, diver, photographer and co-founder of the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS), created the Marine Detective web site in 2010 with a goal of educating the public about life in the Pacific-North ocean through her underwater photography.

“Awards like this, give some sort of measure to what I try to do,” said Hildering. “It lends credibility and recognition and has amplified the reach of what I am trying to achieve as The Marine Detective. But, much more importantly, it has made so clear that there is a large community that believes in the importance of this work. I feel so supported, affirmed, motivated and grateful. To know that people cared enough and believed in the work as they did, this is like jet fuel for me to keep at it. I feel like I have been lifted up by those who voted and moved forward to continue the work.”

The Marine Detective web site uses the tagline ‘Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there’, and includes a blog, her ocean life photos, and the ability to order her prints on canvas, her WILD calendar, and her Find the Fish children’s book.

“I want what I capture in photography to lead to greater interest and connection to the North-East Pacific Ocean and greater conservation actions for the sake of the well-being of future generations,” she said. “There is such a bias toward warmer waters having more life in them and this is highly problematic in too many of us not understanding that it is these dark plankton-rich waters that can sustain giants like the world’s biggest sea star, barnacle, sea lion, whales, etc.”

Hildering is striving to bring this understanding to more Canadians through as many venues as possible. In addition to the web site, she has a Facebook page (with the popular Find the Fish photo on Fridays), holds public information sessions throughout coastal BC, and has been featured on Animal Planet’s Wild Obsession series, and two BBC documentaries.

In early October, she was filmed locally for a PBS documentary on whale evolution.

“An important part of the documentary will be our area and speaking for how we humans can evolve further in our attitudes and actions towards whales and the ecosystems for which they are indicators.”

She is planning on writing more children’s books and a book for adults that will focus on what she has learned in the North Island area and how easy it is to create positive change when fear is replaced by knowledge and when our value systems change.

She has also recently applied for the Sony Alpha Female program for a chance to be one of five women to receive mentorship, training and support through a $25,000 grant and $5,000 in camera equipment.

“I want what I learn and experience in our remarkable area to count for more,” she said. “I want the words and photos to go further to create more socio-environmental good and counter eco-phobia and eco-paralysis where people are overwhelmed thinking that the problems of the world are disparate rather than knowing there are common solutions and that it is about gain in quality of life rather than loss.”

Social media links for the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada
“The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada foster quality science communication, linking science & technology communicators from coast to coast.”

Runners up for the People’s Choice Award:

  • Research2Reality: “Research2Reality is a groundbreaking initiative that shines a spotlight on Canadian scientists who are engaged in innovative and leading edge research.”

Other Canadian science sites that were nominated: 

  • Earth Rangers: ” Earth Rangers is the kids conservation organization! Our programs inspire over 100 thousand members to learn about the environment and help protect animals.”


Shine Brighter . . .

The following is not a science post. It is an #OceanVoice post = my thoughts about hope, our connection to the environment, and positive action for the sake of greater health and happiness. It is meant to be inspirational and, maybe, empowering.


It’s hard. I know it can be hard. But, it’s the only way forward, and out of the dark.

We live in complicated times where fear is used as a blunt tool.

Fear of the other. Fear of loss. Fear of change. Fear amplified in our not understanding the way forward is the same for most (if not all), socio-environmental problems. Thereby, our light can diminish and even be exhausted whereby . . . we add to the darkness.

So important to realize is: Fear thrives in the dark. Fear masks truth. Fear chokes potential. Fear makes us automatons, marching on, ignoring the reality around us. Fear walks hand-in-hand with disempowerment, the same neurons firing, limiting the way we look at the world and ourselves. And above all, FEAR LOATHES CHANGE.

Thereby, fear is such a powerful tool to be used by those who benefit from things remaining the same.

How to counter fear? Shine the light forward, living lives of connection, empowerment, celebration of human ingenuity (but not as an exit strategy) and understanding that using less is about GAIN, not loss.

Shine on. Show the way out of the dark.

For more #OceanVoice, please see click here. 

Lessons Learned from Octopuses

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving and World Octopus Day (OCTOber 8th = get it?).

There’s so much to be grateful for. The health and freedom that allows me to live this life of depth; the love and support of buddies, family and community; AND the lessons learned, ESPECIALLY from octopuses.

What essential life lessons learned from them?

  1. Do not fear what may look foreign;
  2. Respect alternative intelligences;
  3. If necessary, blend in to escape detection;
  4. When you know what you want, hold on tight;
  5. Trust in your ability to squeeze through tight spaces and come out okay on the other side;
  6. Ink out the negative in your life and jet away, leaving it behind you;
  7. Know your home and keep the garbage outside; and
  8. Be big-hearted (octopuses have three), guard the next generation, and use your beak when needed!

And what’s going on in this photo? All is told about my buddy, this female Giant Pacific Octopus, and the Copper Rockfish (see him/her?) in my blog “Gentle Giants. What to do when you find your dive buddy with a Giant Pacific Octopus on her head“.

And thankful for YOU that you care enough to read this blog and help make my efforts feel so worthwhile. I’ll stay at it till I am an octogenarian (and beyond).

Today’s Dive – a photo essay and ode to Bull Kelp

Kelp forests – where would we be without them?

Habitat for so many species, oxygen production, carbon dioxide buffering, navigation aid, food production, and then the astounding aesthetic beauty that bonds us from the surface to the depths.

For you, photos from today on both sides of the world bonded by Bull Kelp.


Waiting to dive with dive buddy Jacqui Engel (pictured here). The first shift of divers is in the water.

What to do but soak up the beauty?

So much beauty.

The audio backdrop . . . 3 Humpbacks exhaling, their blows rolling over the water together with the growls of Steller Sea Lions; gulls shrieking in competition for herring at the surface; and Pacific Harbour Seals occasionally groaning while basking in the sun. This is “Squiggle” (BCX0097) the Humpback. We, at the Marine Education & Research Society, have documented him since 1999.

Waiting just a little longer .

And they’re up! Here, buddy Dwayne Rudy surfaces.

And down we go, below the kelp. Here, so many Proliferating Anemones with babies under the protective canopy of their mother’s tentacles, and many Green Urchins.

Do you see the babies of different colours under their mother’s tentacles i.e. Pink moms with orange babies and vice versa. Unlike with Brooding Anemones, the babies of Proliferating Anemones can be of different ages i.e. they need not all be the same brood. Also, see the Blue-Lined Chiton? For detail on the differences between Brooding and Proliferating Anemones, see my blog at this link.

The we just hung under the surface, basking in the sun shining through the kelp. I tried to capture the beauty for you . . .

Under the canopy of Bull Kelp.

Time to go up after an hour’s blissful escape. Here is buddy Jacqui on our safety stop.

Then I photographed at the surface for at bit to try to capture the beauty of the kelp mirrored there. Thank you Jacqui for the photo.

Time to head back to the boat (seen here in the background, on the right).

Hello buddies! Left the right: Dwayne, Brenda, Natasha, Jacqui and Andy in our dive club’s boat. Dive club is the Top Island Econauts.

I guess when you frequently take photos of your buddies underwater, they are going to return the favour at the surface. Thank you Jacqui for this photo. 

When you’re happy and you know it. Thank you kelp for all you give (and to you Jacqui​ for the photo).

And below, for your amusement, Jacqui also videoed a strange marine mammal.

Video re. August 1st, 2018 Orca / Boat Interaction Near Langdale

Recently, there have again been posts shared widely on social media promoting “encounters” where Orca are very close to boats.

My video compilations below about an August 1st incident are an attempt to counteract the effects of such promotions in their increasing pressure on the whales.

It is an attempt to educate, not to shame or vilify.

Those in the video appear to have acted in ignorance but there is the moral and ethical weight to know regulations and the repercussions of your actions, including when you put videos of such encounters into the world.  Sharing such imagery perpetuates ignorance around what is legal, rewards those who have undertaken such behaviours, and feeds the pressure to be “up close and personal”

Know that behaviours shown by the whales is associated with disturbance i.e. repeated tail-lobbing and the tail breaches / caudal peduncle throws.

The incident is under investigation by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

For Marine Mammal Regulations, best practices and boater safety tips see Report incidents to 1-800-465-4336.

Part One

Part Two – shows the boat is in close proximity to the whales while at high speed.

PRISMM – survey to estimate distribution and abundance of marine megafauna off British Columbia

PRISMM = the Pacific Region International Survey of Marine Megafauna.

Yes, I now have a t-shirt with “marine megafauna” on it which I consider a measure of a very happy and fortunate life. I was a spotter on PRISMM for two weeks. Colleagues were aboard for up to six consecutive weeks.


“Scientists board the CCGS John P. Tully at the Institute of Ocean Sciences. July 3, 2018”. Photo by Darren Stone, Times Colonist / Vancouver Sun. Source: Vancouver Sun.


The survey, led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Cetacean Research Program, is aimed at determining the distribution and abundance of marine mammal’s in Canadian Pacific Waters. It involves ten weeks of surveying and two research vessels (two weeks overlapping between the two vessels).

Vessel #1. Now complete: Six weeks (July 3rd to August 13th) were surveyed from the CCGS John P.Tully (69 m), covering more than 6,000 km of BC’s offshore waters. In addition to a visual survey effort, an acoustic array was towed 24 hours a day to allow for the detection of deep diving cetaceans such as Sperm Whales and species of beaked whales and to provide detection of additional species when sighting conditions were poor.

Vessel 2. Ongoing: Four weeks (August 6th to September 6th) are being surveyed from the CCGS Tanu (51m long). These weeks will focus on BC’s coastal waters.

The maps below show the area covered by the Tully – from the west coast of Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii to 200-nautical-miles (370 km) offshore (to the edge of Canada’s exclusive economic zone). The Tanu is covering the waters on the inside of Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island.


The lines show all the transects to be systematically covered by survey effort from the Tully i.e. the vessel travelled each of these lines to allow visual and acoustic survey effort.


Photo by Robin Abernethy, DFO, shows what area had been covered about five weeks into the PRISMM survey. Every dot represents a sighting. 


Detail about the PRISMM Survey from Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s website.
“Surveys of this magnitude have been conducted before by DFO in Atlantic Canada and the Central Arctic, but not in Canadian Pacific waters . . . The objective is to obtain data for as many cetacean species (e.g. whales, dolphins, and porpoises) as possible, as well as other marine species (seals and sea lions, sharks, sea turtles). [Hence “marine megafauna” as not all species are marine mammals.] Important research identified for these species include the assessment of population status, abundance trends and seasonal distribution. The emphasis will be on estimating abundance of marine mammal populations, which requires systematic surveys of all waters off British Columbia. However, this survey also provides a chance to refine our knowledge of the critical habitat of species listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), and for observation of species not listed under SARA, on which there has been less research effort in the past.”


Mola mola were among the marine megafauna surveyed. Photo taken during first two weeks of PRISMM. 


This is not the first line transect survey conducted by the Cetacean Research Program off British Columbia’s coast. For many years, surveys have been conducted for two weeks in spring and two weeks in summer. It is also important to acknowledge that the Raincoast Conservation Foundation conducted surveys of coastal BC waters (the area being covered by Tanu during PRISMM) in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008 publishing much-valued abundance estimates for Harbour and Dall’s Porpoises, Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, Humpback, Minke and Fin Whales and contributing to the knowledge of line transect survey methodology.

The catalyst for the more extensive and systematic PRISMM line transect survey is an American regulation, the Marine Mammal Import Provisions Rule, that went into effect on January 1st, 2017 (with a 5-year grace period). To comply with this regulation by January 1st, 2022, countries importing seafood into the United States must be able to prove their fisheries monitor and limit marine mammal bycatch with the same standards as U.S. fisheries are required to do under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Reportedly, such extensive surveys will be conducted every eight years (Source: Vancouver Sun).


In order to allow for the best possible abundance and distribution estimates, it is necessary to adhere to the line transects, consistent speed, and further protocols.Thereby, PRISMM did not involve some of the research objectives of past surveys where a smaller vessel is launched to achieve DNA sampling, identification of individual whales, and prey sampling.


Surveying. Chief Scientist Linda Nichol on “big eyes” and Hitomi Kimura on “little eyes”. Team member Caroline Fox surveying birds for Environment Canada.


Spotters relay sightings to the data recorder. Here, much bespectacled Bruce Paterson is on shift. 


In addition to the survey effort, moored acoustic recorders were retrieved and deployed during PRISMM. These Autonomous Multichannel Acoustic Recorders (AMARs) are moored deep below the surface (up to ~2,400m) to passively monitor for cetacean vocals (they do not send out any sound). They need to be retrieved to get the recorded data, allowing for acoustic detection of cetaceans, and to have their batteries replaced so they can be repositioned. The retrieval of AMARs is a thing of wonder.  The recorder with its buoy is released from the mooring when it receives a signal from the surface (i.e. has an acoustic release). You can imagine how much attention is paid to where the boat is positioned and how intently we are all waiting, looking for the device to surface.

An AMAR surfaces with the Tully deck crew ready to bring it aboard.


Bringing an AMAR on deck. Yellow devices contain the acoustic recorders. 


Four AMARs were successfully retrieved in the first two weeks of PRISMM. Here with DFO Research Technician and friend, Robin Abernethy.


Marine megafauna sighted to date include:

  • Blue Whales (endangered)
  • Sei Whales (endangered)
  • Fin Whales (threatened)
  • Humpback Whales (of special concern)
  • Grey Whales (of special concern however the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has recommended three populations be recognized of which two be protected as endangered populations)
  • Minke Whales
  • Sperm Whales
  • Killer Whales (multiple ecotypes, threatened and endangered)
  • Short-Finned Pilot Whales
  • Risso’s Dolphins
  • Cuvier’s Beaked Whales
  • Baird’s Beaked Whales
  • Pacific White-Sided Dolphins
  • Northern Right Whale Dolphins
  • Dall’s Porpoises
  • Harbour Porpoises (of special concern)
  • Northern Elephant Seals
  • Steller Sea Lions (of special concern)
  • Pacific Harbour Seals
  • Northern Fur Seals
  • Sea Otters (of special concern)
  • Mola mola
  • Blue Sharks

The rarest of the rare have not been sighted to date on PRISMM:

  • North Pacific Right Whale (endangered)
  • Basking Shark (endangered)
  • Leatherback Turtle (endangered)

Humans involved in PRISMM:

Tully PRISMM Science crew July 3 to July 17: Back row left to right: Thomas Norris, Nicholas Riddoch, Kai Meyer, Elise Keppel, Robin Abernethy, Caroline Fox. Middle row left to right: Bruce Paterson, Jacklyn Barrs, Elizabeth Kusel, HItomi Kimura, John Ford, Ali Bowker. Kneeling in front left to right: your truly and Linda Nichol (Chief Scientist). 


Same crew with less serious poses. Those with the head phones are the acoustics team. Photo: Sheena Majewski. 


Tully PRISMM science crew July 17 to August 13. Yes, there may be a “Life Aquatic” theme here. Back row from left to right: Bruce Paterson, Erika Reigh Holland, Lisa Spaven, Thomas Doniol Valcroze (Chief Scientist), Wendy Szaniszlo, Christie McMillan, Kai Meyer, Robin Abernethy, Pina Gruden. Front row from left to right: Sheena Majewski, Karen Giouard, Kyla Graham, Elizabeth Kusel, Nicholas Riddoch. 

Tanu PRISMM Science crew August 6 to 15. Back row from left to right: Nicole Koshure, Ashley Kling, Caroline Fox, Alison Ogilvie and Anna Hall; Front row right to left:Hilari Dennis Bohm, Linda Nichol (Chief Scientist) and Ali Bowker. 

Tanu PRISMM Science crew August 25 to September 6. Back row from left to right: Robin Abernethy, Thomas Doniol Valcroze (Chief Scientist), Kai Meyer. Middle row: Janet Mossman, Lisa Spaven. Front row: Jacklyn Barrs, Alison Ogilivie and Bruce Paterson. 

Additional photos from my two weeks on PRISMM

Far off the west coast of Vancouver Island with ideal surveying conditions.


Fin Whale.


Blue Shark.


Black-Footed Albatross. There were so many amazing pelagic bird species includes Sooty and Pink-FootedShearwaters, Storm Petrels (Fork-Tailed and Leach’s) Mottled Petrel, Northern Fulmars, gull species including Sabine’s, South Polar Skua, Peregrine Falcon, Parasitic Jaegers, etc. 


Black-Footed Albatross lifting off. Wing span up to 2.4 m.


So many stunning sunrises and sunsets


Another sunset far offshore.


Humpback Whale.


West side of Haida Gwaii.


West side of Haida Gwaii.


Two Rock Doves hitching a ride. See them?


Dall’s Porpoises.


Docking in Port Hardy after two weeks at sea. Robin Abernethy left and Elise Keppel right. 


Till next time Tully!

Sources / related articles: 

Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Pacific Region International Survey of Marine Megafauna (PRISMM)

Global News, September 26, 2018, Endangered sei whales spotted in Canadian waters for first time since 1960s

The Conversation, January 10, 2017, New US seafood rule shows global trade and conservation can work together 

Vancouver Sun, April 11, 2018, Ottawa undertakes massive cetacean survey off B.C. coast to ensure continued fish exports to U.S 

R. Williams, M. G. Burgess, E. Ashe, S. D. Gaines, R. R. Reeves. U.S. seafood import restriction presents opportunity and riskScience, 2016; 354 (6318): 1372 DOI: 10.1126/science.aai8222

So many hardships endured. 😉 Hey, when you have a large crew out for many days in big seas, you need many flavours of ice cream! This was of course an exceptional event = the celebration of a team member’s birthday. Photo: John Ford.

Sharks Among Us – The Brown Cat Shark

Here’s a mystery shared (and solved) by Farlyn Campbell.

This was found in May of 2018 north of Port Hardy.

Photo: Jared Towers. Brown Cat Shark egg case found on May 30, 2018 near Doyle Island off NE Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Found by Jared and Farlyn when they came upon a rope with buoy drifting in the ocean. They removed the rope due to its potential to entangle animals and of course placed the egg case back in the ocean. 

It’s the egg case of a Brown Cat Shark (Apristurus brunneus) with an embryo developing inside and it’s mind-blowing how long it takes before it hatches. Read on!

The Brown Cat Shark is a common species of shark off British Columbia’s coast but, here we go again . . . very little is known about it.

Most sharks (about 60%) have “viviparous” reproduction where the young develop inside the female and hatch out when fully developed.

However, Brown Cat Sharks have “oviparous” reproduction where the eggs hatch outside the body of the female. The embryo develops inside the egg, feeding on the yolk. Yes, this is how birds develop too. The egg cases of oviparous sharks are not shelled however, as you can see above. They have distinct shapes per species but all have this tough “leathery” membrane. The egg cases are also known as a “mermaid’s purses”. (See the end of this blog for further information on reproductive strategies in sharks).

Female Brown Cat Sharks lay one egg case at a time that contains a single embryo. Each egg case is around 5 cm long and 2.5 cm wide. In the case of Brown Cat Sharks, the embryo develops inside for more than 2 years! In our cold waters, maximum known incubation period is 27 months. The size of the hatched pup is 7 to 9 cm. (Source: Love). Development is shorter where temperature is warmer.

The distinctive “tendrils” on the egg cases of Brown Cat Sharks are believed to help anchor them to hard surfaces.

In British Columbia, the females carry (and deposit) between 1 to 16 mature eggs most often between February and August. (Source: Love and McFarlane). Further to the south in their range, they females apparently lay egg cases year round.

Little is known about what feeds on the egg cases but bore holes suggest that gastropods like whelks drill into them.

Brown Cat Shark – Details 

See below for more information on the 16 species of shark known to be off the coast of BC. Image source:  Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Sharks of British Columbia. 

Cat sharks (Scyliorhinidae) are the most diverse and largest family of living sharks. There are ~157 species worldwide. Their common name may be in reference to their cat-like eyes.

Brown Cat Sharks are harmless to humans. They feed on small true shrimps, pelagic red crabs, euphausiids, mysid shrimps, isopods, squids, and small fishes (Source: Love) Off the coast of BC, maximum documented size for the Brown Cat Shark is 70.4 cm for males and 65.1 cm for females (Source: Wallace et al).

The Brown Cat Shark is a cold water species, found in waters from 5 to 8°C in the Eastern Pacific. They appear to be most common from British Columbia to northern Baja California, Mexico with their known range extending from Alaska to Columbia in South America. They are probably also off Panama, Ecuador, and Peru.

Known global range of the Brown Cat Shark. Source: IUCN. 


Brown Cat Sharks are a deep-dwelling species, often over mud/sand and on the outer continental shelf. Known depth range is 33 to 1,298 m. They are most often found at depths of 137 to 360 m in the cold waters off the coast of British Columbia. Where it is warmer, they are likely to be deeper e.g. most often at depths of 656 – 932 m off southern California (Source: IUCN).

Distribution of Brown Cat Shark off the west coast of Canada from 1965 to 2007. Source: McFarlane.

As aforementioned, the Brown Cat Shark is one of the most common shark species off the coast of BC but so little is known about it and there have not been the recommended efforts to fill knowledge gaps.

Risks to the Brown Cat Shark include that it is commonly taken as bycatch in deepwater trawl fisheries (Source: IUCN). The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) reported in April 2007 that there was not enough information known about the species to evaluate how at risk it was =  Data Deficient. MarFarlane et al, 2010 determined that the Brown Cat Shark was among those shark species off the coast of BC that was a high priority for further study.  This has not yet happened. Reportedly, there are no management measures currently in place for the Brown Cat Shark anywhere in the world (Source: IUCN).

Shark Reproduction 

Unlike most fish, sharks have internal fertilization, where the eggs are fertilized inside the female’s body. The males have reproductive structures known as “claspers” (modified parts of the pelvic fins). Claspers are appropriately named as, not only do they transport sperm into the female’s oviduct, they also anchor into the female.

Most sharks are viviparous, giving birth to fully developed young. As mentioned above, Brown Cat Sharks are not. They are oviparous.

Shark egg development modes in further detail:

Oviparity = egg-laying. After fertilization, the egg cases are deposited into the ocean. There is no development of the embryo inside the female. The embryo develops inside the egg case feeding on the yolk. The only oviparous shark off the coast of BC is the Brown Cat Shark. The skates off our coast are oviparous as is the Spotted Ratfish. (See the image at the end of this blog contrasting their egg cases / mermaid’s purses).

Viviparity = after fertilization, the embryo develops inside the mother and the young are fully developed when born. There are two types of viviparity:

  1. Placental viviparity:
    We humans and most other mammals and reptiles also developed via placental viviparity. The embryos develop inside the mother, attached to her placenta (in the case of viviparous sharks, the umbilical cord is between the pectoral fins). Through the placenta, the mother’s blood delivers nutrients and oxygen to the embryo and waste is transported away. Examples of sharks off the coast of BC who develop by placental viviparity: Sixgill Shark, Sevengill Shark, Blue Shark, Pacific Sleeper Shark, Spiny dogfish.
  2. Aplacental viviparity (Ovoviviparity): In this case, there is no placenta to nourish the embryo. The young develop inside the eggs while in the mother’s oviduct and are born fully developed. They feed from the yolk as well as from glands in the oviduct walls (there are varied ways this “uterine milk” is delivered). The embryos hatch into the oviduct and finish development feeding from gland secretions and unfertilized eggs (known as being “oviphagous”). In some species, the first pup to hatch eats their developing siblings. This is referenced as being “embryophagic” or “adelphophagic” (translates literally into “eating one’s brother”) and is not known in any other animals other than some species of sharks. You can imagine that final litter size is small in sharks with this “intrauterine cannibalism”. Examples of sharks off the coast of BC who develop by aplacental viviparity are: Tope (Soupfin) Shark, Pacific Angel Shark, Spiny Dogfish, Common Thresher Shark, Bigeye Thresher Shark, Shortfin Mako Shark, Basking Shark and Salmon Shark. Those whose embryo development is known to include embryophagy are the: Common Thresher Shark, Bigeye Thresher Shark, Shortfin Mako Shark, Basking Shark and Salmon Shark (Source: Elasmo-Research).

Sharks off the Coast of British Columbia

Image source:  Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Sharks of British Columbia. Click to enlarge.

In BC waters there are 16 species of shark from 11 families.

Brown Cat Shark (Apristurus brunneus)
Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias)
Sevengill Shark (Notorynchus cepedianus)
Salmon Shark (Lamna ditropis)
Blue Shark (Prionace glauca)
Pacific Sleeper Shark (Somniosus pacificus)
Common Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus)
Bigeye Thresher Shark (Alopias superciliosus)
Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus)
Green-Eye Shark (Etmopterus villosus)

Protected under Canada’s Species at Risk Act:
Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) – Endangered
Sixgill Shark (Hexanchus griseus) – of Special Concern 
Tope (or Soupfin) Shark (Galeorhinus galeus) – of Special Concern

Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
Hammerhead Shark – 2 known sightings up to 2016 (Source: Royal BC Museum)
Pacific Angel Shark  – 1 known sighting up to 2016 (Squatina californica)

Contrast of egg cases commonly found along coastal British Columbia. Only the Big Skate can have more than one embryo per egg case. Reported to be up to a maximum of 7 embryos but more often 3 to 4.



Why is our cold ocean suddenly tropical blue?

What’s making local waters this amazing milky turquoise colour you would expect for the tropics? It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot by those on the northwest side of Vancouver Island recently (and undoubtedly its being seen elsewhere too). It’s a Coccolithophore bloom.

Say what?!

Coccolithophore bloom near Port Alice – July 2018. Photo: ©Harvey Prescott. Thank you Harvey! 

Coccolithophores are a group of plant-like plankton (phytoplankton). Coccolithophores are single-celled and have been around for some 220 million years (give or take a million) and there are now more than 300 species. This bloom is likely due to the Emiliania huxleyi, abbreviated as “Ehux” (like the way Tyrannosaurus rex is known as Trex).

In addition to the aesthetic beauty of the colour, there’s often bioluminescence during a Coccolithophore bloom. It’s very worth it to go for a night paddle to see the magic. Coccolithophores are not believed to create bioluminescence. Thereby, the light would be due to another plankton species in the mix, giving off light when physically disturbed most likely to reduce predation.

The colour of the ocean changes because of the “armour” of round calcium carbonate plates Coccolithophores produce and shed. These plates make Coccolithophores unique in the plankton world. They essentially have a suit of armour made of calcium carbonate. The plates act like incredibly small mirrors / sequins making the sunlight reflect back out of the water.

Electron micrograph of the Coccolithophore Ehux. Source of the electron micrograph – University of South Hampton

Because of the reflective properties of the plates shed by Coccolithophores, the blooms can clearly be seen from space (click here for satellite images of Coccolithophore blooms).

It’s reported that Coccolithophores do really well in areas where the temperature is moderate, the sun is usually out, the water is calm, and nutrient levels are lower. These conditions allow them to flourish and outcompete other species of phytoplankton.

Coccolithophore bloom near Port Alice – July 2018. Photo: ©Harvey Prescott.

Their impact on the environment is complex, as is of course most often the case in an interconnected system.

Food supply:
More algae generally mean more food for the food web. Since Coccolithophores do well in nutrient-poor areas, this means they are an important source of nutrition where other phytoplankton may not be able to thrive. However, in areas where there are more nutrients, the increase in Coccolithophores may lead to a shift in what species of phytoplankton are fuelling the food web rather than to an increase in the amount of nutrients.

Climate related:
Coccolithophores also influence the amount of the climate-changing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but the net impact is not fully understood. The plates contain carbon (CaCO3 = calcium carbonate) which would be expected to lead to reduced carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere as a result of carbon being fixed into their bodies and plates in their plates, ultimately sinking to the ocean bottom.  However, the process of calcification, by which they produce their plates, increases the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (source ScienceDirect). Calcium carbonate is alkaline so the large scale shedding of the shells can also influence ocean pH.

With regard to additional impacts on temperature, the high reflectivity of the plates causes light and heat to be reflected rather than absorbed by the ocean. Also, Ehux contributes to the sulphur cycle by releasing dimethyl sulfide when feeding. Dimethyl sulphide contributes to marine cloud formation and climate regulation (source ScienceDirect).

Oxygen levels: Coccolithophores are phytoplankton and thereby photosynthesize, producing oxygen. However, to be considered in areas with low current, is that the large numbers of Coccolithophores sinking to the ocean bottom and decaying (consumption by bacteria) could lead to less oxygen being available to other organisms (hypoxia). This is not a concern in high-current areas.

In addition to EHUX being of great interest to science regarding why they flourish and what this means for the environment, they are also fo interest for biotechnology and geology.

They produce “polyketides” that are of interest for antimicrobial, antifungal, antiparasitic, and antitumor properties (source JGI Genome Portal).

They make up a large part of the sediment of the ocean and allow for information to be gained about the earth’s history. Know too that their bodies, over large expanses of time, become incorporated into rock e.g. the White Cliffs of Dover (source University of South Hampton – EHUX). 

Hoping this information about the bloom of Coccolithophores enhances interest in the microscopic life that has such an impact on our day-to-day lives AND an appreciation of the the complexity of the biochemical processes that maintain life on our BLUE planet.

Moonstar (BCY0767) the Humpback during a Coccolithophore bloom in 2016 in parts of Queen Charlotte Strait and inlets of the Broughton Archipelago. Photo: ©2016 Jackie Hildering.


  1. T. Tyrrell, J.R. Young, in Encyclopedia of Ocean Sciences (Second Edition) via Science Direct – Coccolithophores
  2. NASA Earth Observatory – What is a Coccolithophore? ,  What do they do to the environment? and Colour the Bering Sea a new shade of blue
  3. University of South Hampton – EHUX.
  4. JGI Genome Portal 

Friend Captain Andrew Hyslop during a Coccolithophore bloom in the Strait of Georgia in 2016. Photo ©Richard Scott-Ashe, August 21, 2016.