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

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.

Opalescent Nudibranch – 3 Distinct “Hermissenda” Species in the North Pacific Ocean.

As a result of making the following post on social media, I learned that there has been a change in classifying the “Opalescent Nudibranch”.

It was Robin Agarwal who educated me and shared the following incredible photo from Monterey, California.

As you can see, the species on the left is more similar to the one I posted and which we call the “Opalescent Nudibranch” in British Columbia.

However, it has been determined (2016) that there are 3 species in the “Hermissenda” genus (all are up to about 9 cm long). One is found in the Northwest Pacific Ocean from Japan to the Russian Far East so there is no worry about confusing that one on our coast.  But, for the other two species, their range overlaps in Northern California where Robin took the photo.


This has of course led to the need for two common names to differentiate them there. The species on the right is being referenced as the “Opalescent Nudibranch” (reinstating the species name Hermissenda opalescens). The one on the left has retained the name Hermissenda crassicornis and is being referenced as the “Thick-Horned Nudibranch” where the species ranges overlap.

However, off British Columbia’s coast we are only likely to see the species on the left with its range being from Alaska to Northern California. Thereby, I anticipate this beautiful species will keep on being referenced as the “Opalescent Nudibranch” in the vernacular.

What are the differences between these two species?  I am so glad you asked as I totally nerded out and made a summary table to differentiate the 3 species reported in the research “The Model Organism Hermissenda crassicornis (Gastropoda: Heterobranchia) Is a Species Complex“.

The table is just for you my fellow nudibranch nerds.

But, I’ll cut to the conclusion. Don’t be fooled by the colour of the two species found in the Northeast Pacific Ocean. The colour of the cerata in BOTH species can vary from light brown to dark brown to bright orange. Cerata are the structures on some sea slugs species’ backs that have both a respiratory and defence function. The tips contain the stinging cells (nematocysts) of the nudibranch’s prey e.g. hydroids.

The easy way to differentiate the two Hermissenda species in the Northeast Pacific Ocean, is to look for white lines on the cerata. The species most often found off the BC Coast has white lines. The other does not. See my photo below to note this easily identifiable feature (and, if you need some amusement, have a look for the little hermit crab).


And now, for that summary table I promised you.

Then, more photos of the beautiful Hermissenda species found off our coast – Hermissenda crassicornis.

I share these to show the variation of colour in the species  but also, because by any name and classification, there can never be enough photos of such a stunning ambassador for the colour and biodiversity found in these cold, dark seas.

Source of table information and photos: Lindsay, T., & Valdés, Á. (2016). The Model Organism Hermissenda crassicornis (Gastropoda: Heterobranchia) Is a Species Complex. PLoS ONE, 11(4), e0154265. Click to enlarge.

Feeding on Orange Hydroids. ©Jackie Hildering.

Hermissensa crassicornis feeding on Bushy Pink-Mouth Hydroids. Red-Gilled Nudibranch also snacking away in the background.©Jackie Hildering.

Hermissensa crassicornis on Eel Grass. ©Jackie Hildering.

With a “Jointed Three-Section Tubeworm”. ©Jackie Hildering.

Feeding on hydroids, Red Soft Corals to the left and crawling on a Red Ascidian (highly advanced invertebrate, the most advanced of all in the image). ©Jackie Hildering.

Hermissensa crassicornis feeding on Pink-Mouth Hydroids. Here you can very clearly see the distinctive white lines on the cerata. ©Jackie Hildering.

Hermissensa crassicornis on Bull Kelp. Hooded Nudibranchs in the background. ©Jackie Hildering.

On Red Soft Coral. ©Jackie Hildering.

Hermissensa crassicornis on Solitary Pink-Mouth Hydroid. ©Jackie Hildering

Hermissensa crassicornis egg mass. ©Jackie Hildering

Who Goes There? Dizzying tracks in the sand.

Let me take you on a little mystery that filled me with big wonder, inspiration and happiness.

It goes back to July of 2017 when I was naturalist around Haida Gwaii with Maple Leaf Adventures.

Let’s make it a photo essay.

To set the stage, here’s the boat and the crew.

Crew from left to right: Mate -Lynsey Rebbetoy, Deckhand -Terese Ayre, Naturalist -You-Know-Who, Captain- Ashley Stokes, Chef -Yasmin Ashi.

You’ll note that the beautiful, historic sailing ship was operated by an all female crew on this trip. Important to note? Yes, but let me not digress.

Here’s the beach at Woodruff Bay near Cape St. James.

The discovery was made by the child I was so glad was on the trip.

Meet Kay from Germany.

Like any smart, curious and observant young person would, she asked what had made the crazy, convoluted patterns in the sand.

Here’s a closer look . . .

. . . and an even closer look.

I didn’t know what species had made those remarkable, dizzying tracks. But, the best things had come together – a mystery, a child, and the chance to discover the answer together.

We struck out to solve the mystery and found lots of little clam shells near the tracks.

We looked more closely at the tracks.

And found the tiny clams IN the tracks.

And then we noted what they were doing. They were licking the sand!

We had found the animal that was making the tracks and concluded the tiny clams must be feeding on organic material in this way. It is known as “deposit feeding” whereby the bivalves use their inhalant siphons to sweep the sand for detritus and microbes = snacks.

We were in awe at thinking of how much sand they must process to leave such long individual tracks and that they must be doing this quite quickly.

Upon returning to the ship, I was able to use the resources there to determine that the tiny clam was some species a “Tellin”.

However, it took my emailing my mollusc expert friends to have the species of Tellin confirmed.

Naturalist supreme, Bill Merilees, let me know I had “met British Columbia’s most beautiful clam Tellina nuculoides, the Salmon Tellin.” He also shared the results of his work to study their growth rings (imagine the dedication needed to count the growth rings of a large sample of tiny clams.) Bill’s research suggests Salmon Tellins can live to age 11 or 12.

Armed with their species name, I was able to find out a bit more.Their maximum size is 2 cm and their range is from southern Alaska to northern California. I presume the “salmon” in their common name refers to their beautiful colour.

I became even more awe-inspired to learn that research supports that bivalves like Tellins select particles based on physical and/or chemical properties that are poorly understood! (Source:

Imagine THAT while you watch my blurry video of the Salmon Tellins licking the sand.

To conclude, I will resist all the puns I could be using to be “tellin” it like it is. (Oops, clearly I am not entirely successful in resisting.)

Rather, I will share the quote with which mollusc expert Rick Harbo responded when I asked him about the species and their tracks.

He reflected on the tracks made by mollusc species who feed in this way with the words of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings  . . .

“All who wander are not lost”.


The happiness that comes with connection to nature and making discoveries – Kay with a boa of “Feather Boa Kelp” that had washed onto the beach. Be on the lookout for Salmon Tellins on a fine sand beach from Alaska to California. Note that other mollusc species (and worms, some sea slugs, etc) also leave tracks in the sand. More on other trail-blazing species in the future. 

What’s it Going to Be? Fight or Flight?

I learn a lot from social media.

Screen grab from SeaLegacy video of
emaciated Polar Bear. See post below.

The reactions to recent posts I’ve made have given me much to think about.

These include two horrifically compelling videos: (1) a fish full of ingested plastic; and (2) an emaciated Polar Bear.

These videos are included at the end of this blog. I hesitated to share them on social media because I know that at the heart of my “The Marine Detective” community, there are people as aware and motivated as I am. It’s not educating you really need.

Screen grab from video of a Mahi Mahi with
plastic in its intestines. See post below.

You need confirmation of solutions and protection from despondency.

But I did share the videos and you’ll notice in my text on the posts (also below) that my decision to do so was because I believed they were powerful resources for others who may not yet fully “get it”.

I am very aware that it’s a delicate dance. To engage, connect, inspire and educate for the sake of more people undertaking positive action. Graphic imagery can help motivate but it can also lead people to disengage, succumb to eco-paralysis and eco-phobia; and/or disappear into the pit of despair.

It’s about fight or flight.

When faced with a threat that’s what we do*.

And climate change, plastics pollution, lack of security – these are threats.

There are many who flee (or freeze). It’s too much. They deny. They try for alternative explanations. They turn away. They shut down. They need to believe there is somewhere to flee to.

Then there are those who fight. Who become further motivated. Who become even more resolute in their actions and intentions.

What makes the difference? In the work I am compelled to do, I need to understand as best as I can.

What do the fighters need to keep fighting?

And what could motivate those who flee to turn around? To see the way forward?

Of course there are many variables at play but what has been further solidified for me as a result of these recent social media posts is that the difference between flight and fight can be  . . . knowing its worth the fight.

We run from what is overwhelming, terrifying and what is perceived to diminish our quality of life.

We fight for what we know is right and are more inclined to do so when we know how to fight and who and what we are fighting.

Who and what are we fighting?
We are being manipulated by the consumer / disposable / fossil fuel paradigm to be fearful and to continue in the way that will ensure their continued power. We are to value acquisition above time and relationships. We are to equate success with stuff. We are meant to feel discontent and that with further purchasing, life will be enhanced. Not only does this paradigm thrive on fear, it grows fat on inequality (sexism, racism, etc).

How to fight?
Realize there’s so much potential for positive change when we remove fear and recognize there are common solutions to socio-environmental problems.

It’s not climate change vs. plastic pollution vs. poverty, etc.

It’s not life depreciating.

There is great gain in:

  • Understanding our connectedness (through ecosystems and through our purchasing and voter behaviour).
  • Valuing human ingenuity but not as an exit strategy and never without true precaution.
  • Using less (less fossil fuels, less disposables, less harmful chemicals).
  • Not being about perfectionism and absolutism and righteousness and bipolarity e.g. “environmentalist” vs. “resource user”.
  • Working for equality. Empowering our fellow humans reduces poverty, violence and even overpopulation.
  • Embracing our power to make positive change.

Really, it’s no surprise that empowered people are happier people.

To you, the fighters who have read this, I hope it has been of use to you.

To those who are inclined to flee, my understanding to you and respect that you have read this far. May this have a roll in your choosing to reject fear and embrace action that leads to greater happiness and purpose. We need you.

For me, the exercise of writing this has been affirming of the path forward.

Because we are even more inclined to fight when we better know how to win.

Text I posted with the following video: “I expect very few people here need further motivation to reduce plastic use but – maybe of use in your circles? Mahi mahi (fish) in Puerto Rico full of plastic. Of course, what we can’t see is the micro-particles of plastic that enter our food chain. Don’t be despondent. Be deliberate.”

Text I posted on Facebook regarding the following:
“I have waited with sharing this. Again, because I believe so many of us here “get it” and I do not want to contribute to eco-phobia and eco-paralysis. But also again, this is so compelling and powerful to be shared with those who do not YET get it. This is what a starving Polar Bear looks like. Is it a certainty that THIS Polar Bear is starving because of climate change? No. Is it a certainty that reduced sea ice makes it far more difficult for Polar Bears to hunt and that they will starve? Yes. And THIS is what a starving Polar Bear looks like. Gutting to watch.
Adds to my motivation to reduce carbon through my consumer and voter behaviour.
Don’t be despondent. Don’t turn away. Mobilize your sorrow and outrage. Reduce carbon footprints.”
For more detail please see CBC “As It Happens” information by clicking here. The article also addresses concerns about why the bear was not fed.

* What further catalyzed this blog is the podcast by Ashley Ahearn in which fight and flight are discussed as reactions to climate changes.
See “You probably have eco anxiety. You just don’t know it.”


Find the Fish – The Book!

It’s a monumental day in my world and many of you here have provided the sense of community and support that have made the following a reality.

My first book can now be ordered.

My  . . . first  . . . book!

Find the Fish cover. Book is softcover 8.5″ wide x 11″ high (21.5 cm x 28 cm) with saddle-stitch binding (two staples).  

It’s “Find the Fish” – an eye-spy style book. It’s the “Where’s Waldo” of the marine world aimed at increasing awareness of the life in the NE Pacific Ocean.

In addition to being fun, the book is intended to add to the knowledge of just how diverse and colourful life is in these cold, dark waters. Text provides background on the images and invites children to look for other species as well as the featured fish.

It is soft-cover and features eleven searches for fish. Each search is spread across two pages to be 17″ by 11″ (43 cm x 28 cm). Answer pages are included showing the location of the fish with additional labeling of other species. Please see example pages below.

Example 1 of the Find the Fish challenges in the book. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Example 2 of the Find the Fish challenges in the book. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Example 3 of the Find the Fish challenges in the book. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Two of the four answer pages providing the location of the fish and labelling of additional species. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

All photos and text are by yours truly with illustrations of the featured fish generously provided by Andy Lamb of Coastal Fishes of the Pacific Northwest. Fish ID help was also provided by Gregory Jensen of Mola Marine.

Find the Fish is aimed at children ages 5 to 10 and the adults who love them!

The books are $18 each (tax included). YOU CAN ORDER BY CLICKING HERE 🙂 . 

Again, thank you for YOUR role in making this a reality.


  • Shipping in Canada $3/book; USA $6/book; international airmail $10/book.
  • No shipping charge if picking up in Port McNeill. Please contact me by clicking this link before placing a local order.
  • Softcover 8.5″ wide x 11″ high (21.5 cm x 28 cm).
  • Saddle stitched binding (two staples).
  • Cover + 32 colour pages which include:
    • Introduction to the fish and the importance of camouflage.
    • 11 Find the Fish challenges spread across two pages.
    • 4 answer pages.
  • Self-published as Marine Matters Publishing. 

Product testing! 🙂