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

Enough Carbon Monoxide to Kill a Chicken ?

If you live on the West Coast, you may have heard someone say . . .   “There’s enough carbon monoxide (CO) in Bull Kelp to kill a chicken”.

Recently, while teaching a marine naturalist workshop, I was asked if this was true. And oh what a rabbit hole this took me on, leading not only to chickens, but elephants! Actually, just one elephant but it’s a whole menagerie of facts. You’ll see.

I knew that carbon monoxide is a byproduct of respiration in some brown algae like Bull Kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana). I also knew that carbon monoxide is one of the gases found in the float-like structure called the “pneumatocyst”, keeping the kelp buoyant so that the fronds can better photosynthesize, nearer to the sun. The stem-like structure, the stipe, is also hollow and directly connected to the pneumatocyst and, thereby, must contain some carbon monoxide too.

However, I had never checked if the amount of carbon monoxide could indeed be measured by the official scientific unit of “chicken killer”.

The fact-finding mission took me all the way back to 1917 and the research of Seth Langdon who discovered that there was carbon monoxide in Bull Kelp and then exposed the concentration to various animals. And yes, he killed chickens. So it’s true.

But it gets even more interesting.

Bull Kelp float (pneumatocyst) and fronds. ©Jackie Hildering.

 

Jump ahead to 2013 and the Masters thesis of Lauran Liggen. How thrilled I was to learn from her work that, not only is there enough carbon monoxide in Bull Kelp to kill a chicken – there’s enough to kill an adult man (don’t worry, she did not use Langdon’s lethal methods to prove this).

Specifically from her research: ” Earth’s atmosphere contains only a small amount of CO (~0.000025%) whereas pneumatocysts contain an average concentration of 1.6%  . . .  A study conducted by Landgon (1917) determined whether or not the concentration of CO was at a toxic level by exposing pneumatocyst gases to animals and measuring their physiological effects. Subsequently, the statement familiar to most phycologists [cool people who study algae], that the pneumatocysts of Nereocystis have enough CO “to kill a chicken” was a product of Langdon (1917). Without harming any animals, data collected during this study can further support this statement. 1.6% CO is a potentially toxic amount given that concentrations of CO greater than 100 ppm (0.01%) could kill or render a person unconscious (Suner et al. 2008). Given that an average adult male has a lung capacity of 5800 ml and the largest recorded pneumatocyst in this study (725 ml) had a CO concentration of 1.6%, if an average sized man inhaled the gas inside the largest sampled pneumatocyst, then in one breath he would ingest 1500 ppm of CO, 15-times greater than the maximum concentration a person could tolerate before passing out.”

Wow. Just wow. That’s a lot more than one chicken.

 

So where does the elephant come in? 

While trying to source the chicken and Bull Kelp story, I came across the following about Bull Kelp in the book “Pacific Seaweeds” by super phycologists, Louis Druehl and Bridgette Clarkston: “Ronald E. Foreman, in pursuit of his PhD (University of California, Berkley, 1970), discovered that the float, which may have a volume of up to 3 litres . . . has carbon monoxide, an infamous poison as one of its buoyancy gases. Some years ago LD [Louis Druehl] had the opportunity to test the herbivore’s ability to detect the kelp-packaged carbon monoxide. While teaching a seaweed course for the University of Alaska, [he] shared an apartment complex with Bo, a circus elephant [say WHAT?!] and once presented Bo with an entire fresh bull kelp. Bo’s response was to yank the plant from [his] hands (poor table manners) and eat the blades. Then, to Louis Druehl’s surprise, Bo stomped on the float, releasing the gas before he ate it. Does this behaviour suggest elephants once lived in association with kelp and learned to avoid the poisonous gas?”

Let me answer that. No! This is a sample size of ONE with a circus elephant who lived in an apartment complex in Alaska. This may not have been the wildest of elephants but possibly a pretty wild apartment complex. 🙂

Can’t make this stuff up and it’s great to be able to report that naturalists didn’t. Those who have been saying “Bull Kelp is kept afloat with enough carbon monoxide to kill a chicken” are right. In fact, they’ve been low-balling the amount. (I would suggest that there is more valuable messaging around Bull Kelp and its great importance as habitat, fuel for the food web, oxygen production and carbon dioxide absorption.)

And once again, with this blog, I feel like I have fulfilled part of my calling by providing essential, factual, life-enhancing information. In this case, involving kelp, chickens and an elephant named Bo.

You’re welcome.

 

Note: The genus for Bull Kelp, “Nereocystis”, is Greek  for “mermaid’s bladder”.


For more on Bull Kelp, please see previous blog “Journey Through Kelp” at this link. 

Sources:

All photos in this blog ©Jackie Hildering.

 

Phenomenal Feather Stars

Phenomenal?  Yeah they are.

The lineage of “feather stars” (members of the crinoid class) goes back 485 million years, give or take a million. They crawl around. They swim in the most extraordinary way. You’ll see. 🙂

Another non-scientific name used for feather stars is “sea lilies” but I avoid that. As pretty as the name is, I believe it adds to confusion. These are animals, not plants. They are echinoderms, relatives to sea stars, brittle stars, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. Also “sea lily” is a name more often used for the crinoid relatives that have a stalk into adulthood. Only juvenile feather stars have a stalk. Then, get this . . .  they detach and crawl down their own stalk to perch directly on the bottom! (Source: A Snail’s Odyssey). See below.

 

 

There are many feather star species in the world but the detail here is about the species commonly found in shallow water off the coast of British Columbia – Florometra serratissima (range is from the Aleutian Islands to Baja California).

Feather stars have 5 feathery arms that split to form 10 or more arm branches that are used to gather bits of organic matter (snacks) out of the water. With arm’s outreached, Florometra serratissima is up to 25 cm wide and they are up to 31 cm tall. Feather stars also use their arms to swim as recently captured in this video by dive buddy, Brenda Irving. They swim as if “walking up an invisible staircase” (quote from Lamb and Handby).

Phenomenal – right?

The following detail on their locomotion is largely compiled from the brilliant resourceA Snail’s Odyssey by Tom Carefoot, Professor Emeritus, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia.



How do they swim? 

“Florometra serratissima is the only swimming species of crinoid on the west coast of North America. It swims by graceful undulation of its arms in 3 sets, each set moving successively but overlapping. Thus, while about one-third of the arms are in power stroke, another third are in recovery, and the last third somewhere in between. During the power stroke the arms extend out maximally for greatest frictional resistance, while during the recovery stroke they bend inwards to minimise resistance.”

“The sets comprise two triplets and one quadruplet, are their composition with respect to specific arms is invariable (see sequence below). In the scenario shown, swimming is initiated by the blue triplet making a downstroke, followed 1sec later by the green quadruplet, and 2 seconds later by the orange triplet. An entire sequence is completed, then, in about 3 seconds, and the pattern may be repeated for up to 30 seconds.” (Source: A Snail’s Odyssey).

After several strokes to move vertically (to a mean height of 29 cm at an average speed of 5.4 cm/sec), individuals often turn 90 degrees and swim horizontally. If there is current, they will swim with the current. Horizontal swimming is achieved by the 5 arms furthest away from the bottom making stronger downward pulses than the arms closest to the bottom. (Source: Shaw and Fontaine. See Figure 3 at this link if you wish to better understand the horizontal movement).

Swim speed was found to occur in “short, repeatable bursts of 10 to 30 seconds. Continuous swimming beyond 4 minutes provokes a refractory period lasting 5 to 17 minutes during which individuals are incapable of swimming.” (Source: Shaw and Fontaine).

Feather stars end up back on the ocean bottom by stopping movement, and then “parachuting” down (as can be seen at the end of the video above).

Swimming and crawling can be stimulated by current and touch from predators such as Sunflower Stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) and crabs. Research supports that if touched by a Sunflower Star, there is about a 5 second delay followed by “several power strokes carrying the stimulated individual 1 to 3 metres away.  This cycle can be repeated several times and capture by a sea star is actually thought to be rare.” (Source: A Snail’s Odyssey).

Particles of food are captured by the pinnules, moved by tube feet and cilia and form a bolus, which is moved down a “food grove” toward the mouth. This delicate looking animal has to be strong enough to be in high current areas as that’s where the feeding is good. The cirri hold on to surfaces and allow the Feather Star to crawl. ©2019 Jackie Hildering.


Yes, they also crawl! 

Crawling has been found to be feather stars’ main means of getting around with swimming being only in response to a predator or touch.

“Stalkless crinoids such as Florometra serratissima anchor to the substratum [ocean bottom] using flexible cirri [these have been described as holding on like bird’s feet do]. The cirri are jointed and can slowly bend and straighten. . . . ” (Source: A Snail’s Odyssey).

The arms are also involved in crawling around. The 10 arms attach to the bottom with small hooks, the central part of the feather star’s body (the calyx and cirri) is lifted. “The arms then contract and extend on opposite sides of the body, which moves it in one direction or the other. Repetition of this behaviour will gradually move the individual to a new location.” (Source: A Snail’s Odyssey)


What a remarkable species with relatives dating back 485 million years and defences including: (1) being able to regenerate arms; (2) having a body that has little nutritional content, is hard, and may taste bad AND; (3) is strong enough to withstand the current that delivers snacks, but light enough to allow swimming as an escape response.

 

Above: Feather star near Telegraph Cove at about 10 m depth. Species reported to be from 10 to 1252 m. Believe this to be a female! From A Snail’s Odyssey: “Studies on feather stars Florometra serratissima at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, British Columbia mostly have separate sexes, but a small percentage is hermaphroditic. Breeding is continuous throughout most of the year and “dribble” spawning is the norm. Gonads appear as swellings on special pinnules of the arms, known as genital pinnules. Genital pinnules occur on all 10 arms, but concentrate in the lower third of each arm. Male individuals can be recognised by the creamy white colour of their genital pinnules, and females by pink or orange-coloured pinnules.” More detail on reproduction of feather stars at this link. Photo ©2019 Jackie Hildering.

Above: This remarkable photo by Neil McDaniel shows an individual with eggs (orange) and allows you to see the incredible fine details of the “feathers” – the pinnules of Florometra serratissima. 

Above: Another fantastic capture by Neil McDaniel.  Florometra serratissima climbing down his/her stalk to live an an adult, moving around on its cirri and swimming.

Round Lipped Boot Sponge (1 m tall) near Powell River, festooned with feather stars (Florometra serratissima). Also, see the juvenile Giant Sea Cucumbers?

 

Feather stars at the same site as the individual in the video – the Knight Inlet Sill. Animals to the right are brachipods. ©2019 Jackie Hildering.

 

Above: Dive buddy, Brenda Irving, just before taking the video above. Here with the coral Primnoa pacifica which is usually found at great depth but the upwellings at this site in Knight Inlet lead to it occurring much shallower too, up to ~15 m. The animals on the coral in this image are Orange Hermit Crabs. Detail on this species of coral and this extraordinary site can be read at “A Proposal to Create a Marine Refuge at the Knight Inlet Sill, British Columbia to Protect Unique Gorgonian Coral Habitat” by Neil McDaniel. Click here.


Sources:

Dry Land

It’s a rarity as “The Marine Detective”, that I share my photos of land.

But . . . I can’t find the words to express how moved I am by the song “Dry Land” by Joan Armatrading (from 1975).

Overcome by the beauty, depth and poignancy, I’ve attempted to use my above-the-surface photos to express this.

Lyrics include: “Been a long time at sea – and the season of loving – has long awaited me. Tides and waves have kept me – kept me going. I’m longing for the calm . . . .”

Hope you’re overcome too.

All my photos in the slideshow are from coastal British Columbia (NE Vancouver Island, Central Coast and Haida Gwaii).

Lyrics (by Pam Nestor):

Let me sail to the depths of your soul

Let me anchor as near as I can to your shore

I’m coming into dry land

Been a long time at sea

And the season of loving

Has long awaited me

 

Tides and waves have kept me

Kept me going

I’m longing for the calm

I’m heading for the pastures

I can see on your dry land

Let the sea that once did take me

Bring me back safe to your door

For I long to touch the dry land of your shore
 

Clear back to land I’m rowing

Clear the deck let me touch your soul

Maybe I’ll bring you back a gift of love

I’ll promise you so much more.

 

Song can be found at this link on iTunes.

 

 

Extinction? Every individual’s name was known.

 

Upon hearing the quote above, the truth of it gutted me.

If we lose the endangered Southern Residents, it will be the first time in human history that we let a population vanish having studied them for so long that each individual is known, most since their birth.

Currently at 75 whales, we know what has depleted the Southern Resident population. We know the current threats they face (and we know that these are synergistic). We know that the threats will be intensified due to a changing climate. We know enough to provide a life history on every individual that dies – their age, their lineage, their culture.

This captures so powerfully how we are participants in their demise. There is no surprise here. There is even acknowledgment by Canada’s National Energy Board of how precarious their survival is. In reviewing a proposed pipeline expansion they report: “Project-related marine shipping is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on the Southern resident killer whale”.

And yet the recommendation is, to proceed with the Project. 

Please take the time to reflect on this, to help share the reality but not to give in to despondency. Rather rise to a roaring “HELL NO”. NOT on our watch. NOT with our knowing.

I will say it again and again and again: the whales are barometers of our value systems and indicators of environmental health. How we treat them will ultimately be a measure of how we treat ourselves. 

We have to do better in understanding this and seeing the GAINS in weaning off fossil fuels, disposables, excessive consumerism and governments that wield fear and short-term economic arguments at the potential cost of . . . so much loss. 

Recognize the common solutions to socio-environmental problems, and apply your power as a consumer and as a voter.

Care more. Consume less. Vote for future generations. 


 

Thank you Alexandra Morton for this wisdom, shared on March 4th by Dr. Paul Spong of OrcaLab.

For better understanding of the plight of the Northern and Southern Residents, see the Recovery Strategy at this link. See Section 4 for Threats. There are many.

The main threats are recognized to be prey availability (in particular, Chinook Salmon), chemical and biological pollutants and physical and acoustic disturbance. These are synergistic i.e. if the whales do not have enough Chinook, the fat-soluble toxins (both historic and emerging) enter their systems impacting immunity and ability to reproduce. If the whales are stressed by acoustic and / or physical disturbance, this can impede their ability to hunt, to fight disease and to carry out other essential life processes like nursing and resting. 

For more detail on the National Energy Board decision I reference above, see my previous blog at this link. 

Photo: L-Pod in Blackfish Sound in 2009 ©Jackie Hildering. .

 

Business is business, and business must . . .

Please know that in reference to the graphic and words above, I am not trying to be provocative nor glib.

It would be easy to avoid providing comment on the latest developments around the potential expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline but this is counter to what I am trying to achieve as The Marine Detective​. This is all about empowerment for change that serves future generations.

Thereby, below are my thoughts resulting from now having reviewed what I could of the National Energy Board’s “Reconsideration Report for Trans Mountain Expansion Project“.

It is respected that there is solid reporting and acknowledgement that “the designated Project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects” (detail below). However, I cannot respect the rationale along the lines of: there is already so much bad stuff happening that doing more bad stuff is justified. Nor do I agree with the conclusion that approval of the Project is in the interest of Canadians and the Board’s final recommendation that “the Governor in Council approve the Project by directing the issuance of a certificate of public convenience and necessity to Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC, subject to 156 conditions.”

This all reveals the lack of appropriately valuing future generations of humans, let alone endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Many of you will get my reference to The Lorax, where despite the knowledge of environmental impacts when seeing starving and stressed animals, the Once-ler says:

“I, the Once-ler, felt sad

as I watched them all go.

BUT . . .

business is business!

And business must grow . . .”

What to do?

Keep at it with political and consumer choices and supporting legal / First Nations challenges that do consider the health of future generations and transitioning from a fossil fuel based economy to alternatives that do not contribute to climate change.

To stay with the Seussian theme and wisdom, if you’ve read this far you are one of those who “cares a whole awful lot.”

A whole lot of people caring a whole awful lot is what creates change that does benefit future generations.

 


Below are sections from the National Energy Board’s “Introduction and Disposition (an excerpt from the Reconsideration Report)” which can be found at this link.

Pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) the Board is of the view that the designated Project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. Specifically, Project-related marine shipping is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on the Southern resident killer whale, and on Indigenous cultural use associated with the Southern resident killer whale. This is despite the fact that effects from Project-related marine shipping will be a small fraction of the total cumulative effects, and the level of marine traffic is expected to increase regardless of whether the Project is approved. The Board also finds that greenhouse gas emissions from Project-related marine vessels would result in measureable [sic] increases and, taking a precautionary approach, are likely to be significant. While a credible worst-case spill from the Project or a Project-related vessel is not likely, if it were to occur, the environmental effects would be significant . . . ”

 

The evidence in the MH-052-2018 hearing is clear that the Salish Sea is not the healthy environment it once was. It is subject to a number of stressors, including vessel traffic and resulting noise, environmental contaminants, and a decline in salmon. The causes for the current state of the Salish Sea are numerous and diverse, and these effects have accumulated over time. There appears to be no serious controversy among the Parties with regard to these points, nor does there appear to be any serious controversy that Project-related marine shipping is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. This is despite the fact that Project-related marine shipping would comprise a relatively small increase in the total vessel traffic in the Salish Sea, and that increased pressure on the Salish Sea and its marine life can be anticipated regardless of whether the Project proceeds . . . ”

 

Given the cultural, environmental, and commercial importance of the Salish Sea, the Board has adopted an holistic approach to its consideration of the designated Project and how it fits into the wider context of the many current stressors on that body of water, the marine animals and fishes within it, and the people who derive cultural use, livelihood, or pleasure from it. The Board concludes that, while Project-related marine shipping’s incremental addition to cumulative effects on the Salish Sea will not be large, it will add to already significant effects.”


Links:

  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca): recovery strategy 2018. See Section 4 for “Threats”. There are many but the main threats are recognized to be prey availability (in particular, Chinook Salmon), chemical and biological pollutants and physical and acoustic disturbance. These are synergistic i.e. if the whales do not have enough Chinook, the fat-soluble toxins (both historic and emerging) enter their systems impacting immunity and ability to reproduce. If the whales are stressed by acoustic and / or physical disturbance, this can impede their ability to hunt, to fight disease and to carry out other essential life processes like nursing and resting. 

 

 

For the Love of Fish – Bilz Rockfish

What on our blue planet is going on in this photo?!

 

Well, this is William van Orden aka “Bilz Rockfish” of Quadra Island. Since 1995, he has been driven to make replicas of NE Pacific Ocean fish species and other marine life. It was my great fish-nerd joy today to spend some time with him and his wife Barb.

Above, William is holding the mould from the exact fish in the image below. This is the King-of-the-Salmon that died near Oak Bay on September 21st, 2017 (Photo is from the Oak Bay News). For more on this remarkable species, see my blog item at this link.

By making moulds of fish and marine invertebrates that have died as a result of bycatch or washing up like this, William can then make exact replicas for the purposes of education, conservation and art. Incredible care is taken to ensure that every detail is captured in the cast and that the painting is as accurate as possible for the species.


Replica of the head of the September 21st, 2017, Oak Bay King-of-the-Salmon.

 

Replicas of the head of the same King-of-the-Salmon. As a result of this, I learned that the nose can push outward as you see by contrasting the top and bottom casts (from the same fish). Presumably this would be to hunt prey which include “variety of fishes, amphipods, copepods, euphusiids [krill species], fish larvae, polychaetes [bristle worms], squids and octopuses.” Source: Love, Dr. Milton. Certainly More Than You Want to Know about the Fishes of the Pacific Coast: A Postmodern Experience. The fish you see in the background is a 71 cm long Opah (Moonfish). These are fish species that belong in the NE Pacific Ocean but we so rarely get to see them and their awe-inspiring adaptations. 


From the Bilz Rockfish website: “Every scale, pore and wrinkle is duplicated. The cast fish are then coloured with acrylic paints using an extensive collection of photos and notes. The quest is to create a permanent three-dimensional record of every fish [species] found along the Pacific coast. With over 400 different molds cluttering his shop, it would appear that the quest has turned into an obsession.

Indeed, the detail is remarkable (as is his wonderful ichthyology obsession). For example, today I realized why Starry Flounder must be called STARRY Flounder. See all the tiny star patterns on the fish’s skin?

Cast of a 64 cm Starry Flounder.

I also learned something more about the “design” of female anglerfish.

Likely you know that anglerfish females have a lure that contains bacteria which create light (bioluminescence) to attract prey in the deep, dark depths that they dwell. This lure is marked “A” in my image below. What I learned from William is that the lure can be reeled in closer to the female’s mouth and  . . . as “A” is drawn inward, “B” gets longer i.e. “B” is the counterweight to the lure appendage!

 

 

Speaking of appendages, see the little male attached to the female anglerfish? The male bites onto the female and fuses with her. He gets her nutrients. She gets his sperm. I have included a National Geographic video clip at the end of this blog that shows a mated anglerfish pair.

Below, is a cast of 90 cm Rougheye Rockfish determined to be at least 150-years-old. The age was determined by scientists counting the annual growth bands on this individual’s otoliths (ear bones). Research has determined that the species can even get to be 205-years-old!

Other fish in this image are a Decorated Warbonnet (facing left below the Rougheye Rockfish) and, on the right, a deep-dwelling fish (a clue being the huge eyes to pick up on very low light) with the enchanting common name of Ox-eyed Oreo.

 

The fish in the image below is a cast of a 137 cm Longnose Lancetfish (who you calling long nose?!). The species is thought to most often be in the depths off our coast. However, William has found shallow dwelling species like sticklebacks and Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers in the stomachs of individuals he has cast. This suggests that at least those individuals were in the shallows. An additional great quote by Dr. Milton Love is “Longnose Lancetfish are another species for which the term “little is known” fits like a snug shoe.”

137 cm long Longnose Lancetfish. To the left, a male Steelhead (spawning stage). To the right, the Opah (Moonfish). And below, a 10 cm Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker. See him/her?

I have wanted to see William’s workshop for a long time. We’ve been in communication over the years as we have just a few interests in common. 🙂 I have used some of his casts for educational purposes (e.g. his replicas of salmon species) and I might even have a few casts hanging near the shower. Hey! All the cool kids are doing it (at least we marine biology / diver types).

But of course, there is also solemness to seeing the replicas of these awe-inspiring marine neighbours. They are the result of animals who have died.

This struck me the most powerfully with what you see in the image below. These are Ochre Stars with Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, cast by William in an attempt to bring more awareness to the plight of the sea stars.

 

He had also made a cast a of the species most impacted by the Syndrome off our coast – the Sunflower Star. It made me clench my teeth and hold back tears, understanding fully why he made this replica. Because, it is conceivable that this could become the only way we see this species, once so common off our coast. For more on Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, please see this link. 

Deepest of sighs.


Below, more images of Willam’s work and the promised video showing a mated anglerfish pair.

To contact William / Bilz Rockfish, click here. The ideal for rare fish finds (deceased) is that they be of use to science and be cast for the purposes of education and conservation.

Underside of a 51 cm Black Skate.

 

Grunt Sculpin (species to 9.3 cm).

 

Close-up on the mould for the King-of-the-Salmon.

 

Below, National Geographic video of mating anglerifish. Species is the “Fanfin Sea Devil” (Caulophryne jordani). 

Markus . . . and the Octopus.

Today something extraordinary happened.

It happened when we placed a memorial for a dear departed friend, Markus Kronwitter.

My primary reason for sharing this is for Markus’ family and friends but, I think others will find something here too.

You see, a Giant Pacific Octopus attended and sat right atop the memorial.

Let me recount using photos.

Memorial made by Stephanie Lacasse.

 

Markus owned and operated North Island Diving in Port Hardy. He was a dear friend and incredibly important to our dive club, the Top Island Econauts. He died more than 3 years ago and the memorial today was to honour him and maybe offer some comfort to his wife Cecelia and his two daughters, Rosie and Jennifer.

The location was Five Fathom Rock just outside Port Hardy.  Part of Markus’ legacy is that he fought for this rocky reef to be recognized as a Rockfish Conservation Area. (More about the significance of that in my eulogy at the end of this blog).

After we shared thoughts about Markus at the surface, down we went to the highest point of the reef. We would wait there till the memorial was carefully descended by Steve Lacasse of Sun Fun Divers using a lift bag and rope.

We wanted to position the memorial there, near a sunken metal beer keg. The keg used to be a mooring float on this site. It was put there by Markus but, by mysterious means, had sunk to the bottom.

As soon as we got to where the memorial was to be placed, I saw a Giant Pacific Octopus, fully out in the open.

You can even see the beer keg right in the background.

After about 5 minutes, he retreated partially into his den, likely because of some annoying underwater photographer with flashing lights.

Note that I do know this was a male Giant Pacific Octopus because the third arm on the right was a “hectocotylus arm”. Only males have the hectocotylus which stores sperm. More on that at this link. (This individual also had an injured arm. It was only about half length but will regrow. Yes, some of the awe that is octopuses, is that they can regenerate limbs.)

Giant Pacific Octopus in his den.

But then . . . when Steve arrived with the memorial, the Giant Pacific Octopus darted out of his den, landed right atop the memorial and started flashing white. See the memorial under the octopus in the photos below?

Steve Lacasse with the octopus on the memorial which was still attached to the rope and lift bag.

 

You can imagine how we marvelled as this unfolded and that some pretty big emotions were felt.

Eventually, the Giant Pacific Octopus moved away. Then, the memorial could be positioned as we had intended, but not before a mature male Wolf Eel also went swimming by.

There’s no photo of that I am afraid. I was a little overwhelmed.

Memorial positioned.

 

Dive club members from left to right: Dwayne Rudy, Steve Lacasse, Natasha Dickinson, Gord Jenkins and Andy Hanke.

Somewhat dizzied by emotion, we continued with the dive.

Below, I include some photos of what we saw, especially to give Markus’ loved ones a sense of what this site is like.

Mature male Wolf-Eel in his den, very near the memorial.

 

One of 100s of Black Rockfish at this site (and a Mottled Star).

 

Male Lingcod guarding an egg mass with 100s of eggs.

 

Male Ling Cod. The boulders here give an indication of why this is such ideal fish habitat. There are so many crevices to hide in and rocks to lounge upon.

 

Rose Anemones aka Fish-Eating Telias. Sun shining down from the surface, five fathoms above us.

 

Tiger Rockfish – longevity can be 116 years WHEN given a chance.

 

See the male Lingcod under the huge mass of eggs? He’s got a lot to protect!

 

And then . . . just as we were about to ascend, there he was again – the same Giant Pacific Octopus.

The Giant Pacific Octopus with dive buddy, Natasha Dickinson.

 

How I wish we could have stayed longer. We had to surface to a far less mysterious world, but with hearts full and so much to tell Cecelia, Jenny and Rosie.

Goodbye Markus.

We’ll be visiting again soon.


My Eulogy for Markus. 

It’s my great honour to say a few words before we dive on Five Fathom Rock to position Markus’ memorial.

I of course found it excruciating to try to find the words fitting of Markus, because you have to tap into the emotion to find the words.

It’s been more than 3 years since Markus died. Cecelia, Jenny and Rosie you need the words and, even more, you need this place where your thoughts and feelings can be anchored.

In trying to find the words, I dared remember what it felt like to be around Markus. I don’t think that I know anyone else who was quite like him in knowing the right thing to do, no matter how hard it would be and no matter how many injustices he had suffered.

Markus was about making things better and standing up for what was right. He was a man of truth and science. He appeared unflinching in facing reality. He did not suffer fools. He saw through people with crystalline clarity. He walked his own path – in red “holely soles” and multi-coloured pants – and had the wisdom to stop to have Cecelia join to walk beside him.

He made hard decisions.

He . . . was . . . a . . . fighter.

He fought to be here on northern Vancouver Island.

He fought for his girls.

He fought for our dive club.

He fought for the fishes, now flourishing beneath us.

He fought for his life.
[When diagnosed with cancer, he was told he had 2 years to live. He lived for 14 years post diagnosis].

And he has left an extraordinary legacy.

Part of this, is the legacy of Five Fathom Rock.

Markus fought for this to be a Rockfish Conservation Area so that the fish that live here might get a chance to grow bigger, reproduce more, and to thrive.

And there’s success. It’s so beautiful down there Rosie, Jenny and Cecelia. The fishes are thriving – there are clouds of rockfish and it’s so powerful to think that some, like the Tiger Rockfish, might get a chance to live to be more than 100-years-old.

If there were any place where I could picture Markus, it would be here darting around with yellow fins, fish-like himself. Clearly so at home . . . here.

His efforts for Five Fathom included trying to have a mooring here and his creativity was to use a big metal beer keg. It’s down there now, on the highest part of the reef , close to where there are 2 Wolf-Eels. It’s where we’ll attach the memorial.

And how perfect that this will happen at a time when the Lingcod fathers are protecting the next generation, standing guard, not suffering fools, making very clear when you’re trying to get too close without good intent. Fiercely fighting for the next generation, with an extraordinary sense of place.

He loved it here.

It’s impossible to forget him here.

Not that there is any possibility of forgetting Markus or what he stood for.

His legacy of course includes you Rosie, Jenny and Cecelia. He loved you so much and I can’t even imagine how hard he fought wanting to be here still to protect you, to make sure you would always be okay.

Jennifer and Rosie, you are fighters like your Papa Markus.

Jenny – I also think you have his sense of purpose.

Rosie  – I think you have his sense of place.

Cecelia – the love in your eyes makes clear how you carry Markus with you always.

Markus Kronwitter.
It is here on Northern Vancouver Island that he found his wild.
It is with you three, that he found love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Compilation of photos and video below.

 

Twenty Years . . .

Twenty years ago today I returned to British Columbia after having taught in the Netherlands for many years. I wanted to learn from Nature and I wanted to make it count.

Forgive the following introspection.

You’ll understand such reflection comes with anniversaries and being perplexed by the passage of time even though it is the one great constant . . . one minute passing into the next, days stacking into years, and years becoming the stories of our lives.

1999 – Photographer unfortunately unknown.

So much has changed. So much has not.

Thank you to the many of you for being part of this path. Thank you for helping show the way forward whereby I continue to learn from Nature and strive to make it count for those who are ultimately my guides, and my bosses . . . children.

There’s something that will never change.

 

August 2018. You’ll note my ability to point at things has not diminished. 😉 Photo: Captain Kevin Smith, Maple Leaf Adventures.

Cetacean Gender – Male or Female? How to Know?

The information here on The Marine Detective is, in part, intended to answer important life questions like “How Do Octopuses Poo?“. Right up there as life-enhancing information is the answer to “How can you determine gender in cetaceans?” (Cetaceans are whales, dolphins and porpoises and it is important to use this term because, for example, Orca are actually members of the dolphin family.)

Please know that I am being serious here. This is meant to be anything but giddiness-inducing, whale-porn-perceived content. Further, I believe to my core that the more knowledge we have of our marine neighbours, the more understanding, connection and respect there is for the Ocean and thereby, the better the hopes for our own species.

And, in that regard, I am here to serve.
So here you go.

Pacific White-Sided Dolphins with very young calves whereby it can be concluded the adults at their side are females. ©Jackie Hildering.

 

The following allow determination of gender in cetaceans:

  • Presence of a calf beside the mother. BUT this can be difficult to determine unless the calf is really young i.e. it just could be a smaller, unrelated individual travelling with a larger one;
  • DNA testing BUT this is not useful to the average person;
  • Seeing a male’s penis BUT it is usually concealed inside the body / genital slit where it isn’t creating drag and losing heat;
  • There can be behavioural clues BUT you need some pretty good understanding of a species for this; and
  • Physical differences between genders (other than the penis). BUT, with the exception of differences between adult dorsal fins in some cetacean species, these features are on the underside of the animal. This means you don’t often get a chance to see them.

But look!
It’s a female Pacific White-Sided Dolphin!

 

How do I know? Female cetaceans have mammary slits and the genital slit is larger, containing both the vagina and anus. See below. The mammary slits contain the mammary glands which produce milk for baby.

Note too how all cetaceans have a belly button. All mammals have belly buttons of course as we develop in utero, attached with an umbilical cord to our Mom’s placenta. 🙂

 

 

Here is the contrast between a male and female Pacific White-Sided Dolphin.

 

These difference exist right from birth.

In the case of the really big dolphins – Killer Whales / Orca – not only are there these differences, but the pigmentation pattern in the pelvic area is different in males and females too, right from birth. Males have a larger area of white than the females do. See below.

Of course AFTER the age of puberty, it is really easy to discern a mature male Orca, from a female because the dorsal fin is much larger in mature males. The pectoral fins are larger too and the edges of the tail are often curved downward. Mature males are also larger than females. BUT these physical difference only start developing around the age of thirteen. Many people make the error of presuming an Orca with a smaller dorsal fin is always a female. Nope, the individual with a smaller dorsal fin could be an immature male.

[If you would like more information on the 3 ecotypes / 4 populations of Orca in the NE Pacific Ocean, see related blog item “What’s the Bigg’s Deal?”.]

To the trained eye, the dorsal fins of mature male Pacific White-Sided Dolphins are also different from that of females and immature males.

The dorsal fins of the mature males are stockier and often have more nicks and scratches as shown in the photo below.

ID photo of the dorsal fin of a mature male Pacific White-Sided Dolphin by Alexandra Morton. Her research into Pacific White-Sides continues with Dr. Erin Ashe.

 

In Dall’s Porpoises, the mature males’ dorsal fins also look different than that of the females and juvenile males. The angle is different as you can see from the images below. This is very, very difficult to discern while in the field however i.e. I can look at a photo of their dorsal fins and determine gender in mature Dall’s Porpoises but, in real time, I rely on behavioural clues and/or the presence of a calf.

How to discern gender in Harbour Porpoises?

Good luck! The mature females are bigger in this species but that is VERY difficult to discern and I have never seen the underside of a Harbour Porpoise except when a Bigg’s Killer Whale was making an attack. Harbour Porpoises are very cryptic and very rarely are they acrobatic.

Picture quality is really poor in this photo of a mother Harbour Porpoise with her calf.
Terrible photo is by yours truly.

 

Want to know the detectable gender differences in Humpback Whales?

The genital and mammary slits can be very difficult to see. What is much easier to detect is that, from birth, only females have a bump know as the “hemispherical lobe” (note that nobody knows what this structure is for). However, where in dolphins you can get a clear look at the pelvic area when they leap out of the water, this is not the case with Humpbacks. The way they breach, there is a big “skirt” of water obscuring the pelvic area.

That’s why we researchers get really excited when Humpbacks lie on their backs and tail lob, as in the photos below. THEN there is a chance of seeing the pelvic area. Please see our Marine Education and Research blog at this link for detail on discerning gender in Humpback Whales.

Source: Marine Education & Research Society blog “It’s a Girl! “Lucky” the Humpback Whale“.

 

So there you go, armed with more knowledge about our cetacean neighbours. To reiterate, I’ve made the effort to share all this because I believe that the more we see those we share the planet with as individuals and the more understanding we have  . . .  the better we can be. That you for being someone who cared enough to read this.

Since I am feeling quite “teachery” with this blog, how about a test? 🙂 “Oh yes!” (said no one ever).

But if you want to test your knowledge, see the images below. Are these male or female Pacific White-Sided Dolphins? Scroll down after the three images for the answers.

Question #1 – Male or female? ©Jackie Hildering.

 

Question #2 – Male or female? ©Jackie Hildering.

 

Question #3 – Male or female? ©Jackie Hildering.

Answers:
The genders of the Pacific White-Sided Dolphins in the last three images are:
#1 is male
#2 is male
#3 is female. The mammary slits are difficult to see but you can clearly see the larger genital slit and that there isn’t a separate slit for the anus.

Heartbreak

[Note the following is aimed at those with an association with Telegraph Cove, British Columbia. There have been developments whereby I am being asked many questions and have chosen this as a way to answer and to bundle information. If you do not have an association with Telegraph Cove, this blog item may not have interest for you.]

The emotion:

Yes, I am heartbroken.

It’s the heartbreak that comes when decisions made by people you care about, hurt other people you care about.

It’s the hurt that comes from loving a place and the community associated with it.

It’s about an ending that did not need to be.

It’s about whale watching from Telegraph Cove, British Columbia.

I am sharing this information because of the number of questions I am being asked about what happened. I am being seen as a source of information because of my attachment to Telegraph Cove and my involvement with both parties – Telegraph Cove Resorts and Stubbs Island Whale Watching. I believe this necessitates my explaining my association with them.

Also, candidly, the writing of this is also likely to help me process what has happened. I have only recently learned of the developments myself.

My background in Telegraph Cove: 

For almost 20 years, I have been involved with Stubbs Island Whale Watching which has operated out of Telegraph Cove since 1980. Telegraph Cove is a historic boardwalk community on NE Vancouver Island. For many years it has been owned and cared for by Telegraph Cove Resort Ltd.

It was a whale watching trip with Stubbs Island Whale Watching in 1998 that was the catalyst for my returning to British Columbia after having taught in the Netherlands. I wanted to learn from Nature and, having experienced firsthand the understanding that came from the power of seeing whales in the wild, I hoped I could apply my skills as an educator to contribute more directly to conservation.

In 1999, I began as a Naturalist with the company. I became Head Naturalist and, since 2011, I have served as an advisor to the new ownership for issues related to conservation and education. These roles were aimed at helping to make the experience of seeing marine wildlife count for the sake of conservation because  . . . not all whale watching companies are created equal.

The environmental ethics and contributions of Stubbs Island Whale Watching’s founders (Mackays and Borrowmans) were world renown and tied directly to whale research, and their location and use of larger boats meant that noise and fossil fuels could be better managed.

The aim was to enhance and ensure delivery of a program that could maximize meaningful messaging that might help people undertake life changes for the health of the whales (and future generations). The value of the experience, in terms of potential conservation outcomes, had to be so good that it could make the carbon and noise worth it. The aim was to continue the company’s ethics of being anything BUT about “getting up close and personal”. It was to try really hard to make the privileged experience of seeing whales in the wild count, tangibly.

The education delivered on the boats was a big part of this as was my hiring and training the biologists that had the depth of dedication and ethics to carry out this program. It has been such a source of joy to see how these team members have carried the experience of working from Telegraph Cove, and learning from wildlife, into their careers in conservation-related fields.

My being a co-founder of the Marine Education and Research Society is directly linked to Telegraph Cove and Stubbs Island Whale Watching. It was from their boats that we first documented the return of Humpback Whales and, since 2004, they have been our greatest data contributor as well as providing support in many other ways.

The kindness, generosity and support of Telegraph Cove Resort Ltd. has also played a major role in my life regarding diving, education and research. My boat is moored there. I dive from there. My footsteps have stomped on that boardwalk thousands and thousands of times.

Maintaining the historical flavour of Telegraph Cove is clearly a labour of love and the Whale Interpretive Centre (WIC) could not succeed without the involvement and support of Telegraph Cove Resorts. I am a past director, manager and chair of the society behind the WIC and still provide tours there when asked.

I will say it again, there are many people I really care about whose lives are connected to the beautiful place that is, Telegraph Cove.


The facts: 

So what has happened?

Autumn 2018

  • Stubbs Island Whale Watching was put up for sale by the three owners for a variety of personal reasons.

December 2018

  • Telegraph Cove Resorts Ltd. informed Stubbs Island Whale Watching they would not be renewing their lease.

January 22, 2019

  • Telegraph Cove Resorts announces that another whale watching company will now be operating out of Telegraph Cove.
  • Stubbs Island Whale Watching makes an announcement about the repercussions. There is no more Stubbs Island Whale Watching.

The announcements: 

Media release Stubbs Island Whale Watching – January 22, 2019 

Stubbs Island Whale Watching is closing its doors after 38 years

BC’s first whale watching company, Stubbs Island Whale Watching, is
closing its doors after 38 years in business.  Renowned for its dedication
to ethical wildlife viewing, education and conservation, the company has
welcomed nearly half a million visitors to the North Island experience
since it was established in 1980.

The closure comes following an unexpected change in the company’s office
space lease agreement with Telegraph Cove Resort after more than three
decades operating from that location. Our lease agreement will end on
January 31, 2019.  Stubbs Island Whale Watching was put up for sale at the
end of the 2018 season, but we planned to continue operating the company
until a purchaser was found. The changes to the lease agreement came as a
surprise.

Guests from all over the world come to experience whales in the wild and
the company’s ethical whale viewing practices have been part of what made
us so renowned. Stubbs Island Whale Watching is informing reservations
holders of the change and attempting to shift reservations to Discovery
Marine Safaris in Campbell River, a smaller company owned by one of the
three owners of Stubbs Island Whale Watching.

For information call: 1-250-928-3185.

Thank you for your years of support.

The owners of Stubbs Island Charters Ltd. Heike Wieske, Geord Dunstan, Roger McDonell” 


Telegraph Cove Resort – January 22, 2019

The following is from the January 22nd article in the Campbell River Mirror with quotes from Telegraph Cove Resort.

“Stubbs Island’s announcement today was quickly followed by an announcement by Telegraph Cove Resort that it was teaming up with Victoria-based Prince of Whales Whale & Marine Wildlife Adventures “to enhance marine wildlife habitat and research while providing greater opportunities for outstanding eco-tourism.”

Resort owners Gordie and Marilyn Graham said they are pleased to welcome one of the province’s “largest and most-respected whale watching and eco-adventure companies” to their recreational seaside haven. The release made no mention of their relationship with Stubbs Island.

“I’ve always been impressed by the Prince of Whales’ work in marine conservation and academic research,” Gordie said. “Their principled approach dovetails perfectly with our continuing efforts to protect marine wildlife while delighting and educating visitors with awe-inspiring experiences in nature.

The Grahams established a campground and marina at Telegraph Cove in 1979, drawing enthusiasts to the great recreational ocean fishing. Over 40 years, their work restoring original buildings for tourist accommodation has brought life back to the former sawmill town. Today, the resort, which can accommodate up to 500 guests, also includes a restaurant and pub, general store, small hotel and Telegraph Cove’s Whale Interpretative Centre.

One of the last boardwalk settlements left on Vancouver Island, Telegraph Cove attracts thousands of whale watchers, fishermen, boaters, campers and kayakers every year.

As well as building a tourist mecca, 210 km northwest of Campbell River, the Grahams have invested in marine life protection and education, donating more than $150,000 to salmon enhancement projects.

Meanwhile, Stubbs Island Whale Watching is informing reservations holders of the change and attempting to shift reservations to Discovery Marine Safaris in Campbell River, a smaller company owned by one of the three owners of Stubbs Island Whale Watching. Guests looking for information can call: 1-250-928-3185

Stubbs Island Charters Ltd. started whale watching in 1980 out of Telegraph Cove and has worked to establish a reputation as a company that puts the wildlife first. The company supported research and education efforts, providing meaningful education to guests, modeling best practices, and sharing expertise to help build a community now known as the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association. For the past six years it has received a “Certificate of Excellence” from Trip Advisor for its many five-star reviews.”


There you have it.

Any further factual developments will be added to the content here.

My deep empathy to those for whom this news is difficult too.

Onward, facing reality and being guided by what is best for the whales and what they reveal of human value systems and the state of the environment  . . . upon which our lives depend.

 

Telegraph Cove in 2008. ©Jackie Hildering.


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