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

Posts from the ‘MARINE MEGAFAUNA’ category

Beware of taxi-crabs and “Cling like hell to your rock”

Oh how did I get to be today-years-old without knowing of this Robert Service poem that is so timely and speaks for a limpet?

His poem “Security” includes:

So if of the limpet breed ye be,
Beware life’s brutal shock;
Don’t take the chance of the changing sea,
But – cling like hell to your rock.

Yes!

Full poem is below which includes life lessons about taxi-crabs 🦀

Keyhole Limpet which I photographed near Port Hardy. Diodora aspera builds a shell up to 7.6 cm across.


 

Security
Robert Service

There once was a limpet puffed with pride
Who said to the ribald sea:
“It isn’t I who cling to the rock,
It’s the rock that clings to me;
It’s the silly old rock who hugs me tight,
Because he loves me so;
And though I struggle with all my might,
He will not let me go.”

Then said the sea, who hates the rock
That defies him night and day:
“You want to be free – well, leave it to me,
I’ll help you get away.
I know such a beautiful silver beach,
Where blissfully you may bide;
Shove off to-night when the moon is bright,
And I’ll swig you thee on my tide.”

“I’d like to go,” said the limpet low,
“But what’s a silver beach?”
“It’s sand,” said the sea, “bright baby rock,
And you shall be lord of each.”
“Righto!” said the limpet; “Life allures,
And a rover I would be.”
So greatly bold she slacked her hold
And launched on the laughing sea.

But when she got to the gelid deep
Where the waters swish and swing,
She began to know with a sense of woe
That a limpet’s lot is to cling.
but she couldn’t cling to a jelly fish,
Or clutch at a wastrel weed,
So she raised a cry as the waves went by,
but the waves refused to heed.

Then when she came to the glaucous deep
Where the congers coil and leer,
The flesh in her shell began to creep,
And she shrank in utter fear.
It was good to reach that silver beach,
That gleamed in the morning light,
Where a shining band of the silver sand
Looked up with with a welcome bright.

Looked up with a smile that was full of guile,
Called up through the crystal blue:
“Each one of us is a baby rock,
And we want to cling to you.”
Then the heart of the limpet leaped with joy,
For she hated the waters wide;
So down she sank to the sandy bank
That clung to her under-side.

That clung so close she couldn’t breath,
So fierce she fought to be free;
But the silver sand couldn’t understand,
While above her laughed the sea.
Then to each wave that wimpled past
She cried in her woe and pain:
“Oh take me back, let me rivet fast
To my steadfast rock again.”

She cried till she roused a taxi-crab
Who gladly gave her a ride;
But I grieve to say in his crabby way
He insisted she sit inside. . . .
So if of the limpet breed ye be,
Beware life’s brutal shock;
Don’t take the chance of the changing sea,
But – cling like hell to your rock.

 


I ensured this is indeed Robert Service in all his glory by ensuring it was in the “The Complete Works of Robert Service” (1945) but could not find further detail on when he wrote it.


My additional posts featuring limpets:

 

It’s Their Ocean

It’s their Ocean.

Photo below was taken during a chance encounter with mature male Steller Sea Lion as he glided by Bull Kelp.

I can’t share this photo without providing the following information because sea lions and seals are caught at the interface of human love / hate in British Columbia. It’s volatile.

Photo: October 4th near Telegraph Cove.

Please know we don’t target seal or sea lion haul outs. We do not want to force an interaction and contribute to habituation.

But, sometimes, they find us. And that is a great gift.

It is in fact against federal law to conduct “swim with” operations where divers and/or swimmers are put in the water with the purpose of having interactions at haul outs. This has been the case since July 2018 when the amended Marine Mammal Regulations went into effect. They explicitly state: “No person shall approach a marine mammal to, or to attempt to .  . . swim with it or interact with it.” 

Habituated wild animals lose their wariness which will not work well for them, or us. Wild animals do not allow you to touch them nor to put your hand in their mouths. Human injury has resulted as a resulted of seals and sea lions becoming habituated to humans / divers. Of course it has.

Habituation is especially a concern in this time where seals and sea lions are being vilified for interactions with fisheries. Horrific hate language and imagery are being perpetuated on social media. It’s one thing to have an opinion. It’s another to perpetuate hate. 

In my work as a marine educator, I’ve asked for clarity regarding the Marine Mammal Regulations and their enforcement. It’s part of my job with the Marine Education and Research Society to educate about laws involving marine mammals. There is also a personal layer of concern because dear friends are involved with swim-with operations whereby there are implications for their businesses and welfare.

My understanding is that the lag in enforcement regarding “do not swim with” has been due to having to prioritize resources (e.g. enforcement of infractions around endangered whales) and wanting to provide an opportunity for education before enforcement.

This is also the case regarding it being against the law to feed seals and sea lions. This used to be a common practice at some fish processing plants and tourism facilities. Education was provided first. Enforcement of the law will now follow.

I am sharing this information in an effort to educate on the law and what best serves wild animals.

Pacific Harbour Sea emerging from the kelp forest. It’s something I will never forget. We were ending our dive and entering in the shallows for our safety stop. I noticed something moving in the Bull Kelp. Then I realized it was seal playing there, corkscrewing her/himself around the stipe of kelp and then spinning out of it and . . . repeat. I put down my camera. I tried to drink it in, to learn, and to realize I had formed a bias to perceive seals as I saw them on the surface. I had unconsciously undervalued their intelligence and playfulness. I did lift my camera as the seal moved out of the forest. Yep, a gift.


*Canada’s amended Marine Mammal Regulations include:
No person shall approach a marine mammal to, or to attempt to:
(a) feed it;
(b) swim with it or interact with it;
(c) move it or entice or cause it to move from the immediate vicinity in which it is found;
(d) separate it from members of its group or go between it and a calf;
(e) trap it or its group between a vessel and the shore or between a vessel and one or more other vessels; or
(f) tag or mark it.


Regarding the vilification of seals and sea lions, please see our Marine Education and Research Society backgrounder “To Kill Seals and Sea Lions?” at this link.

A Smack of Jellies

The last little while there have been hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of Moon Jellies = a “smack” of them. That truly is the collective noun for jellyfish.

It should also be the collective noun for the number of jellyfish photos I am delivering in this blog.

 

May these photos from my last dives north of Port Hardy offer you a bit of escape. I tried to capture trees in photos of jellies and the reflection of the jellies against the surface of the water. I hope the images communicate interconnectedness of land, sea and sky. May  they also contribute to understanding and connection to our neighbours in the sea.

Moon Jellies are easy to discern from other jelly species by having the clover shape which is 4 gonads / sex organs (Aurelia labiata to 40 cm across). 


Most jellies in the class to which Moon Jellies belong (the Scyphozoan) release eggs and sperm into the water column. But in Moon Jellies, when the male releases sperm, the pulsing action of the female Moon Jelly brings the sperm in contact with the eggs under her arms and the are brooded there. The following three photos show females with eggs. The eggs are the less translucent white structures. 

 

 


And as if this was not all amazing enough there was also a ” blizzard* of babies . . . just LOOK at how many juvenile Widow Rockfish there are!

It was so extraordinary to see them nipping at the bells of the Moon Jellies, darting about everywhere. There was another phenomenal explosion of young like this in 2016 and, with site fidelity being so strong, those fish may well be the bigger ones we saw at these sites too.

 

 

The following facts about Widow Rockfish are from Dr. Milton Love’s brilliant “The Rockfish of the NE Pacific”: The mothers produce one brood of about 95,000 to 1,113,000 eggs/year which hatch as larva from their mothers (rockfish are viviparous). They stay in the plankton for about 5 months feeding on copepods and krill and can grow up to 0.61 mm/day. Then they settle out to be in nearshore areas like you see here and feed on salps and jellies, small fishes, crabs, amphipods and krill.

Why are they named “Widow” Rockfish ? “. From Dr. Love’s book too: Julius Phillips, a great observer of the rockfish fisheries of California during the mid-twentieth century, believed the term widow can about because the “black peritoneum an small effeminate mouth give the impression of lonesomeness to occasional specimens that appear amount the more common bocaccios, chilipepper and yellowtail rock cods” (Phillips, 1939).

Maximum  life expectancy for Widow Rockfish (Sebastes entomelas) is 69 years. Maximum length 60 cm. Females typically bigger than males.

The bounty of babies has been reported by myself and others to those monitoring rockfish health. To my knowledge, nobody knows why there have been these two explosions of young of this species (2016 and 2020).

 


And to conclude, I had hoped that I might also photograph a Lions Mane Jelly with land in the background. On the last dive of nine, the light and life lined up to allow me to take this photograph.

 

The Lion’s Many Jelly is one of two of the biggest jelly species commonly found off our coast = Cyanea capillata (the other is the Egg Yolk Jelly). Maximum size of Lion’s Mane Jellies is to 2.5 m across with 8 clusters of 70 to 150 tentacles which can be . . . 36 m long! This is the largest jelly species in the world. Know that the larger ones tend to be further offshore and that they can retract their tentacles. These two species are also the only two common jelly species in our waters that can create a sting that irritates human skin, even when the jellies are dead or you get a severed tentacle drifting by your face.

A Lion’s Mane Jelly is the murderer in a Sherlock Holmes short story entitled “Adventure of the Lion’s Mane” (I kid you not), BUT the “victim” had a preexisting heart condition. The solution to the irritation is vinegar (acid), meat tenderizer (enzyme) and I know that many fishers swear by Pacific canned milk. Research at this link puts forward that vinegar is the only real solution. Clearly I’ve never been stung badly enough to deter trying to photograph them.


Photo below is of planktonic me after a full dive trying to capture jellies and trees in the same image. Photo by dive buddy Janice Crook.

Breath-Taking Beauty . . . Orca Resting Lines

Of all the Orca behaviours I have been privileged to see, it is when they are in “resting lines” that I most transported into awe. It makes so clear how socially bonded the whales are and how coordinated their behaviours can be.

Northern Residents the A12s in a resting line in 2007.

Science has determined that toothed whales like Orca do not sleep but only “rest”, shutting off one half of their brains at a time (scientifically known as “unihemispheric sleep”). They have to maintain this level of brain activity since they are voluntary breathers and must therefore consciously come to the surface to inhale and exhale.

Occasionally, Orca rest alone. They then float on the surface, motionless, blowhole exposed, “logging” for only a few minutes.

Far more often the Orca rest together, uniting in these very tight groups, fin to fin. This can happen at any time of day and I have witnessed resting line behaviour for up to 8 hours.

Northern Residents the A34s (A12s daughter and offspring) resting in 2017.


Once in resting line formation, the whales are usually silent (although there are a couple of matrilines that do occasionally vocalize) and move slowly forward, undertaking a remarkably synchronous and regular dive pattern. They often take short, shallow dives for around 2 minutes and then they all take a longer dive. When they resurface, their breaths are incredibly coordinated and their dorsal fins often line up perfectly.They are of course particularly susceptible to disturbance by boats when they are resting – both due to sound and proximity. 

“We are one” the behaviour seems to display and I certainly believe that this resting is also of great social and cultural importance to Orca.

At its most simple level though, a resting line of Orca is truly  . . . breath-taking beauty.


Photos below = resting line of members of the D, C, A5 and I15 matrilines in August 2020. All photos taken with a telephoto lens. 

 

 

The A23s – the Story of One Whale Family

[This blog was originally published on January 15th, 2016. Republishing now as a result of having seen this family yesterday.]

A43 "Ripple" of the A23 matriline. @2015 Jackie Hildering.

A43 “Ripple” of the A23s, August 22, 2015. @Jackie Hildering.

The A23 matriline of Northern Resident Killer Whales / Orca has been seen by thousands and thousands of people.

They are one of the families that most often chase salmon in the Johnstone Strait area (NE Vancouver Island) and therefore, have been observed and photographed by so many whale watchers and have been studied by researchers since the early 1970s.

They are also featured in the documentary “Realm of the Killer Whales” for which the PBS film crew, under special permit in 1997, was able to get remarkable footage of the A23s beach-rubbing in the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve (see this link for underwater footage of beach-rubbing – as of timestamp 48:15).

A23 Matriline Quick Facts
Members of the N. Resident population; ~302 whales (end 2018); threatened population.
– “Residents” do not stay in one area; they are inshore fish-eating Killer Whales / Orca. Prefer salmon, especially Chinook. They often share their catches. 
– They stay with mother, siblings and offspring their whole lives.
– Mating can happen when different N. Resident matrilines come together but, ultimately, males leave with their family and females leave with theirs.
– Each matriline sounds different; aiding in determining degree of relatedness and avoiding inbreeding.
– Only the N. Residents (and a few families of resident type Orca in Alaska) have the culture of rubbing on smooth, stone beaches. Click here for more.
– In BC there are also S. Resident Killer Whales (endangered); and mammal-eating and offshore fish-eating populations (both threatened).
– Only the N. Residents have the culture of rubbing on smooth, stone beaches. Click here for more.
– See this link for more on the kinds of Killer Whale populations in BC.

So many human eyes have been cast upon them, but so few of us are aware of what this family has endured. This is the story of the A23s, and what one Killer Whale family’s history reveals about us.

Knowledge about the A23 matriline goes back to at least 1969 when we did not even know that there are different populations of Killer Whales with distinct culture. We also sure didn’t have knowledge of their intelligence, long-lived family bonds, and limited numbers (all Killer Whale populations in BC are at risk).

Here’s some sample text from around 1969 that gives a sense of who we were at the time:

  • From “Killer Whale!“, the 1963 book by Joseph J. Cook and William J. Wisner:
    • “ . . . the fiercest, most terrifying animal in all the world  . . . capable of attacking anything that swims, no matter how large. They are afraid of nothing, not even boats or ships.”
    • “The killer whale is well designed for a career of destruction and mayhem”.
    • “How different the orca, which seems to be filled with a burning hatred. Nothing that lives or moves in the water is safe from its assaults. It’s size, power, speed, agility and disposition have made this black monster feared wherever it is known.”
  • And from 1973 US Navy diving manuals:
    • Killer Whales are “extremely ferocious” 
and will “attack human beings at every opportunity”.

Extremely ferocious? Terrifying? Monster? Designed for a career of destruction and mayhem?

Please see below for my summary of what the A23s are known to have endured since 1969 (based largely on the longterm population study by DFO’s Cetacean Research Program).

A23s story of one family www.TheMarineDetective.com

Summary of the known history of the A23 matriline. Click to enlarge.

Note that at least three family members were hunted down and captured; one is still in captivity (poor Corky’s been there since December 1969!); and two or three have been hit by boats. Further, it is very likely that family members were shot at and possibly killed but that this has not been documented because the late Dr. Michael Bigg only began his revolutionary work to study Killer Whales as individuals in 1973. It is not known how A27, A29 or A63 died.

Oh Corky! The longest surviving Killer Whale in captivity.
–  On December 11th, 1969 A23 “Stripe” and her calves, A21 and A16 “Corky”, were among 12 whales captured at Pender Harbour, BC. Six were released including A23 and A21 and six were retained to be sold to aquariums – this included “Corky”, desirable as a young female who might give birth in captivity.
– In 1977, she indeed was the first to conceive and give birth in captivity. She has been pregnant 7 times but none of her calves survived beyond 46 days.
– Corky is still in captivity today in San Diego.
– Read more about Corky from OrcaLab at this link (click “Corky Campaign” and then “Corky’s Story”).

There is a firsthand account of the 1973 ferry accident, which most likely involved A21, that provides insight into the bonds between Killer Whales. It is from Killer Whales  – The Natural History & Genealogy of Orcinus orca in British Columbia & Washington State by Dr. John Ford, Graeme Ellis and Kenneth Balcomb (1997): “The following is an account of a collision between a ship and a killer whale that demonstrates the persistence of the whales in helping one of their pod mates. It is drawn from a letter written by Captain D. Manuel of the M/V Comox Queen . . . the ship was en route from Comox to Powell River on 26 December 1973:   . . . .  It was a very sad scene to see. The cow and the bull cradled the injured calf between them to prevent it from turning upside-down. Occasionally the bull would lose its position and the calf would roll over on its side. When this occurred the slashes caused by our propellor were quite visible. The bull, when this happened, would make a tight circle, submerge, and rise slowly beside the calf, righting it . . . While this was going on the other calf stayed right behind the injured one . . . It appears the young whale did live for at least fifteen days. We later received a report from a resident of Powell River, who, on 10 January 1974, observed “two whales supporting a third one, preventing it from turning over.”

In having the great privilege of often seeing Killer Whales in the wild, it is so powerful to recognize a family like the A23s and be aware of what they have endured. Granted, some tragedy was accidental, but so much was the result of our ignorance and vilification.

Click here for the new (2020) Northern Resident Catalogue.

But the story of the A23s also provides insight into how we have changed, now that knowledge has replaced fear and the fallacy of the “educational value” of Killer Whales being in captivity has been exposed as desire for commercial gain.

We’ve come a long way. As an indicator of this, on December 11th, 1969, members of the A23 matriline were being pursued and captured for captivity. Forty-six years later (January 14th, 2016), in the wilds of Johnstone Strait, the A23s (and A25s) were being studied by Jared Towers of the DFO Cetacean Research Program. Continuing the work pioneered by Dr. Bigg, he photo-documented them, took note of how the vessel-strike scars were healing (see photos below), and collected prey samples so that winter diet may be better understood.

A23s on November 9th, 2015. Photo: Jackie Hildering.

A23s on November 9th, 2015. Photo: Jackie Hildering.

The Killer Whales of British Columbia have been studied as individuals in this way longer than any other marine mammal. The knowledge gained has led to where we are now. For the most part, there is no social license/tolerance for Killer Whales being in captivity. There is federal legislation aimed at the protection of BC’s Killer Whale populations and their habitat. They are not to be disturbed as per the Marine Mammal Regulations and further measures, and there is global interest in them with evidence of this including the contribution whale watching makes to BC’s economy.

Now, the dominant perceptions are that Killer Whales are iconic; powerful symbols of all that is wild and free; and that it is remarkable, considering our complicated history with them, that there has never been a documented attack by a Killer Whale on a human in the wild. Many of us would agree that the descriptors “ferocious”, “terrifying”, “monster” and “designed for a career of destruction and mayhem” are better applied to humans than Killer Whales when we act with ignorance, greed, and disconnect from nature.

What story will the next 46 years tell – about us, about them?

I am so hopeful that we will better understand how our use of contaminants and fossil fuels impacts them, and the rest the marine ecosystem upon which human health also depends.

Thereby, there will be more positive stories for our future generations – and future generations of the A23 matriline.

 

A23 and A25 matrilines in Johnstone Strait, January 14, 2016. ŠJared Towers, DFO Cetacean Research Program.

A23 and A25 matrilines were in Johnstone Strait, January 13 and 14, 2016. Photo from August 26, 2015. From front to back: A60, A69, A109, A43, A61. Photo: Jared Towers, DFO Cetacean Research Program; taken with telephoto lens under research permit.

 

A60 vessel strike scarring

 

A95 vessel strike scars

 

 

 

A Lone Giant

[If you are coming here from Instagram, please see this link for background on Sea Star Wasting and where to report sightings.]


Endangered? I gasped when I saw this adult Sunflower Star on my last dive and hung nearby for a little while. I found myself thinking in a way that could be interpreted as prayer.

Did you realize Sunflower Stars are now so rare – these giants that should be abundant on the coast from Alaska to Mexico?

 

Endangered? Many of us who have been monitoring Sea Star Wasting Disease since 2013 certainly think so and there is a campaign in Washington State to have them recognized as such.

There has been such misunderstanding and “ocean blindness” about what has been going on. Even reputable news outlets have put into the world information about the Disease that speaks of sea stars as if they were one species and hence, if some sea stars are sighted, well then everything is fine.

It’s not fine. At least 20 species of sea star have been impacted by Sea Star Wasting Disease. Some are recovering well but . . . this the world’s largest sea star species, the Sunflower Star, Pycnopodia helianthoides, is NOT.

We sometimes see waves of juveniles, maybe resulting from more adults being at depth who are close together enough that when they broadcast spawn,  fertilization results (broadcast spawning is when males and females release their sex cells into the water on cue). But, ultimately these juveniles disappear.

Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD) is the largest wildlife die off in recorded history. That be truth. But because it is happening below the surface there is less engagement, funding, and knowledge.

Does it matter? Yes, it matters a lot, ecologically and with regard to what the Disease may teach us.

Sunflower Stars have a similar ecological niche to Sea Otters re. grazing on urchins and maintaining kelp forests (see video below). You know that if Sea Otters were dying en masse we would certainly be engaged, invest in research, and want knowledge.

A close-up of the same individual.

What is the cause? Specifically for Sunflower Stars, it is known that there is a virus that has been around for more than 70 years that, since 2013, is having an unprecedented impact .

Why would a virus that is not new be able to have a greater impact? Due to stressors and yes, these are believed to be related to climate change.

To those wonderfully engaged humans who have read all of this, please know this is not an additional problem that requires novel solutions. You are the last people who I wish to burden, you who care as you do. The plight of Sunflower Stars is a symptom of what is the same set of problems re. short term economies, absence of precaution, fossil fuel use, and consumerism.

Reporting sightings? I have reported the sighting of this lone, adult Sunflower Star to add to the knowledge of the impacts of SSWD. Citizen science is so important to understanding. Further information on the Disease and where to report sightings of sea stars can be in my blog at this link. 

And to you dear Sunflower Star,
May you find another of your kind for the sake of biodiversity, ecology, human learning and understanding, and so that your species will not disappear from children’s drawings of life on our coast.

May it not be that we continue on a path where Sunflower Stars slip away from our memories, or that we end up talking to children about “There used to be these giant, colourful sea stars . . .”

💙

 

Sighting was made on June 15th, near Port McNeill.

Video below re. Sea Star Wasting Disease and ecological impacts.

 

April 22nd – 50th Earth Day and It’s My Birthday

April 22, 2020

Fifty years ago today, was the first Earth Day. It was aimed at awakening action against the impacts of industrial development on the environment, and therefore, on human health.

With coincidence, fifty-seven years ago today, I was born. I predate Earth Day so that was not the motivation behind my mother’s experimentation with castor oil but – thanks Mom and Dad! ☺️

So today is B-earthday.

Of course every day is an Earth day and I am pretty joyous to be alive every day too. But this April 22nd, maybe there’s more reason for introspection for all of us?

I have never felt more grateful for the Nature around me and understood my place within it, small as I am.

I have taken such comfort in watching Nature continue on around me, never better knowing the connection between Nature and human well-being  . . . physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

I see how, with the necessity of our retreating, Nature has expanded.

I understand all the more what I value, what I miss, and what I hope for a world changed.

What I wish for you and me for today:

  • Immersing in Nature no matter where you are. Gently hug a houseplant if that’s what circumstance allows. Even that has scientifically proven health benefits.
  • Reflecting on our place IN the environment and the positive practices to carry forward into a post COVID-19 reality.
  • Supporting those who, in particular, work for the well-being of society through action for the environment. This need not be a donation albeit that not-for-profits are of course also struggling now. Oh, and have your heard of the work of the Marine Education and Research Society?! ☺️ Please know the great value of sharing the messaging of those whose work you believe in. For example, more “likes” and “follows” is not about world domination for those like myself (it sure is not). Your promotion helps expand reach. Thank you.

Happy Earth Day to you and happy B-earthday to me. 💙

Surprise, I’m going diving.

 

 

Lessons Learned from Whales: Be a “Killer” Female

Three “disclaimers” before sharing one of the very valuable lessons I have learned from whales.
1) For the purposes of this blog, I am referencing the world’s biggest dolphin as both “Orca” and “Killer Whales”. Please know that “Orcinus orca” only camouflages our branding and past misunderstanding of the species as it roughly translates into “demon of the underworld”. Clearly the species did not name itself.

2) When referencing being a “killer” female it is as per this definition: Killer: adjective slang: highly effective; superior; cool; awesome; really badass. I do NOT want to playing into jokes about female rage, especially for those women going through menopause.

3) If you think you’ve read or heard similar content from me before, you’re right. I reference this lesson in presentations and I wrote a similar blog 10 years ago. I am reviving it for International Woman’s Day 2020. I am reviving it because this lesson is of even more value to me now that I am a decade older.


Now here goes . . .

The most valuable lessons I have learned about being female, I have learned from Killer Whales / Orca. For example, it is through my knowledge of these highly cultured whales that I know Nature’s plan for older females.

Let’s face it, human society does not generally help in this regard. As time etches lines into our interiors and exteriors – society does not tell us we are a-okay!  No, the general messaging is about loss, faded youth and endings. Firm up! Dye that hair! Want some Botox baby? We’re sweeping you aside, ‘cause you’re old!

Thank goodness I believe in Mother Nature.

One of my teachers – A12 aka “Scimitar”; born around 1941 and now passed away. She was a Northern Resident (inshore fish-eating) Orca who was the grand dame of the A12 matriline.

 

As I weather the physiological and psychological changes of age, I know there is purpose in all this. Humans and Killer Whales are among the very few animal species where females go through menopause; where they can live beyond their child-bearing years as “post-reproductive females”.

In the case of Killer Whale females, they can give birth between the ages of around 12 to 40 but can live to at least age 80 (life expectancy is not yet certain since Killer Whales have only been studied as individuals since 1973). Thereby, female Killer Whales may live almost twice as long as they have babies. On the face of it, this appears to violate one of Mama Nature’s great laws. That is, if you’re going to use our food, you better pass on our genes.

But Nature makes sense. Therefore, the role of post-reproductive females must be so valuable that it “justifies” their using the population’s resources.

Science in fact believes that the old female Killer Whales are the teachers and decision-makers. These grandmas, wizened by their years and the lessons of the generations before them, are believed to teach mothering skills; how and where to hunt; and they are known to share food, especially with their eldest son. These activities would benefit the population by ensuring that the offspring are better able to survive and mate . . . passing on shared genes. Since first posting this blog a decade ago, there has been further science published on this. Please see sources below.

The role of the older females has been acknowledged in science with the convention being that each family group of Killer Whales is named for the eldest female (e.g. the A12s). Also, the collective name for a group of Killer Whales is “matriline” which loosely translates into “follow your mother”.

Female Killer Whales have taught me that I am not less as I age but rather that there is teaching to be done and leadership to be embraced.

Never in the history of humankind have the females of our species had access to the resources we have now. It’s far from equality BUT imagine, imagine my sisters (and brothers) if instead of being manipulated by a paradigm that is aimed at making us feel less, we chose to be more. Think of how we could unite against inequality in its many forms.

Instead of absorbing, and perpetuating, disempowering messaging about being older, imagine a world where older woman rise into their potential. What a force that would be for the DNA of our kind – not distracted by what is not, but working for what will be.

These years are to be lived . . . as a killer female.

Another one of my teachers – A30 aka “Tsitika” with one of her sons, A39 “Pointer” in 1999.
ŠJackie Hildering.


 

 

Photo by “:Sealives”.

Me. Age 56. Soon to be 57.

Where once I had rapid access to a brain full of facts, I now have intuition.

Where once I had 20/20 vision, the lenses of my eyes have become far less flexible but, I see more.

Where once I was rubbed raw by our society’s perceptions of success as a woman, I have (largely) found my way.

Where once I fought my body, I now have healed into gratitude for its strength and health; the life it lets me live and how it is the manifestation of the DNA of those before me.

Where once I was unlined, I am weathered. The lines are getting deeper and more abundant, revealing that as I age, I laugh more – openly and loudly – and hide my emotions far less.

Where once I felt I had to prove I could do it all alone, a gift of age has been to reach out to younger generations. Their skills and values helping me. My skills and values aimed at being in service to them.

#IWD2020 #EachforEqual

 


Research on menopause in Killer Whales 


Better Vision in 2020

Hers’s an unlikely combination of introspection and natural history. It’s what results when you bring together a photo of a Giant Pacific Octopus’ eye with the bad word play of “2020 vision” regarding the new year.

Introspection: In a human lifetime, you don’t get to cross the threshold into all too many decades. Like many of you, it makes me take pause . . . wanting to understand where we are and how to move forward with focus. It’s what happens when you want to make sense of a world which appears to have increasing numbers of cartoon-character-like heads of state. It makes me think about the state of heads, and how to find one’s way without despondency, denial and inaction.

 

I write these words largely to solidify my resolve and vision in this decadal transition but share them here in the hopes that they may be of use to you.

Better vision for better futures:

  1. The paradigm: Realizing why there are forces in the world who would rather flirt with the health of future generations than undertake action that would benefit their own grandchildren. They are those who have benefited the most from lack of equality, fossil-fuel use, rampant consumerism, and use of disposables. Despite the enormity of their power, positive change is happening and in the death throes of the paradigm, the very nature of truth is being challenged. When one shouts loudly, it is not likely they are more correct. It is an attempt to drown out the truth. They are the spasmodic utterances of the entitled. The aims are confusion, distraction, discontent (just keep buying more little girl and happiness will be yours), despondency, overwhelm and (of course) the blunt tool of FEAR. The hope is that we shut down and not notice the steps forward toward a paradigm based on greater equality and sustainability.
  2. Less is more: These are words I have shared so often. Above a true level of need, using less is not about loss. It’s about gain. The more we steer away from the myth that owning more and/or bigger is best or that it equates to “success”, the more liberation we have from being enslaved to $. We do know where true happiness lies. It is where there is greater sense connection, health and time for who and what we love.  What a world it would be if more of us saw that gain and realized just how empowered we are to create change through our consumer and voter action. Using less fossil fuels, dangerous chemicals and disposables positively impacts so many socio-environmental issues.
  3. The way forward: You’ve seen it haven’t you? The uprising, the unblinking truth . . . the power of youth who know the way. How excited I am for power shifting further toward them, their technologies and lifestyles fuelled by values of equality and sustainability. In no way does that mean we stand idle and wait for them to be of the age to vote. For me it is to be in service of them, the next generation. It is to help others see the way, to know their place in nature, to know their power, to find their voice, and to shield them from despondency, and fear.  

And here’s the natural history and marine mystery bit relating to the photo of the octopus’ eye (note that she was in her den and that I used a zoom lens).

Octopus vision:

You see that the pupil’s shape is very different from ours. Their retina is very different too.

Octopuses and other cephalopods have only one kind of photoreceptor cell while we have rod cells and three types of cone cells allowing us to see in colour. So how can cephalopods discern colour when they have only one kind of light receptor in their eyes? And they must be able to discern differences in colour. Consider how they signal with colour and how they camouflage.

Research from 2016* puts forward that their uniquely shaped pupils act like prisms, scattering light into different wavelengths (chromatic aberration), rather than focussing the light into a beam onto the retina.  The hypothesis, tested with computer modelling, is that cephalopods can then focus the different wavelengths onto their retina separately by changing the distance between the lens and the retina, thereby separating the stimuli and discerning colour. Note that the sharpness of their vision is believed to be different for different wavelengths / colours.


There, I feel much better now. Bring on 2020.

Here’s to all the colour, marvellous mysteries, clear vision, and solid action ahead.

Happy New Year! 


*See research at www.pnas.org/content/113/29/8206.full

#2020vision
#TheWayForward
#OctopusEyes

Wild Whales Don’t Play Rugby

Wild whales don’t play fetch with rugby balls and . . .
Belugas do not live in Antarctic waters. 

Likely many of you have seen the video of the Beluga Whale “playing fetch” with a rugby ball.

The following is a screen grab from one of the many, many news agencies that enabled this video. I added the text “What on Earth is going on here” and posted it on social media on November 8th to try to stop the very erroneous information being spread.

 

My initial text accompanying the post was: “This one makes my head and my heart hurt. Likely you’ve seen it, the video of a “wild” Beluga playing catch with a rugby ball? Two points not being addressed by those reporting this: (1) This is being reported as being in Antarctica but Belugas don’t live in Antarctica. (2) This is not natural / spontaneous behaviour. This is a whale habituated to humans and boats which is anything but heart-warming.”

Then I went digging. The pieces came together very quickly as they would have had news agencies been able to fact-check appropriately. I also received information from organizations and individuals in Norway confirming details.

I am now sharing the information here as it better allows me to provide sources and update when further information becomes available.


What I learned:

The video is from near Hammerfest, Norway.

The whale is “Hvaldimir” the Beluga found off northern Norway in April of 2019 with a harness marked “Equipment of St. Petersburg” (as confirmed by the Hvaldimir Foundation). This whale has been referenced as “the Russian spy whale”. Likely Hvaldimir’s training would have included being rewarded with food when retrieving objects.

There are efforts to have Hvaldimir adjust to being in the wild. Initially this included the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries issuing official approval for the Norwegian Orca Survey to feed him since he was malnourished. I found a Norwegian news item that referenced that he has been hit by a boat at least once. 

The boat in the video is a “Gemini” (made in Cape Town, South Africa), is the tender for the vessel the “Danah Explorer”.  The vessel is currently still in Norwegian waters. 

Danah Divers, are a research body linked to the Save Our Seas Foundation. There is email correspondence to the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries apologizing for recent misguided behaviour while in northern Norway. These actions perpetuate habituation of the whale and reduce his chances to feed for himself and, as aforementioned, are contrary to Norwegian efforts to rehabilitate the whale.

The identity of the person initially throwing the ball is known to me but I am choosing not to share the identity. The logo on the jacket is from Danah Divers / the Danah Explorer.

 

Above: Screen grab from the Hvaldimir Foundation’s website – solid resource for the history on this whale and the efforts to rehabilitate him to the wild.


How did this get erroneously get connected to South Africa and Antarctica?

I cannot find the original posting of the video. I did originally see if with very little text but that version now seems to have been deleted. Where it really seems to have taken off is when re-uploaded (without credit / source) on Facebook by two non-associated people:

November 7th, initially posted with the text “Playing fetch with an Irrawaddy Dolphin as you do. How sweet is this?” Yep, the Beluga was referenced as being an Irrawaddy Dolphin by the person who re-uploaded the video from who knows where. She then edited the text to: “Playing fetch with a Beluga Whale as you do. How sweet is this?!” A further edit added the text: “The video is of a South African crew enjoying the company of a Beluga whale, while sailing near the North Pole. I did not take this video, nor do I know who took the video, but wanted to share an extraordinary moment caught on camera.” Since November 11th, the post has been updated to acknowledge the whale is Hvaldimir.

November 6th, someone used the video to associate it with South Africa winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup on November 2nd. He framed the video as being: “Beluga Whale celebrating the Springboks victory somewhere close to the South Pole! Spot the Cape Town build Gemini Craft and the South African accents.” The accents and jargon of the people on the boat are indeed South African, the brand of the boat is South African and the ball is indeed a 2019 official Rugby World Cup ball. But, this was NOT filmed near the South Pole. 

Above: The range of Beluga Whales – only in Arctic seas, NOT near Antarctica. Source: Delphinapterus leucas. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017


Why is this important?

I understand of course that the video would have appeal to many and that not all would immediately realize that this cannot be wild behaviour.

As stated so well by some on my social media post:

Thanks for that info. People, like myself, cannot help but want to imagine some sort of kinship and bond with animals and we go all mushy when we see this sort of thing, but nevertheless, this story did tickle my brain as being somehow off or wrong. Thanks for scratching that tickle.”

and

I am a land person. I don’t know much about marine creatures, but learn a lot from following scientists and researchers on social media. I know wild land mammals play with things (the foxes in my yard jump on the neighbor’s trampoline and play with his dog’s toys, and we’ve caught the bear playing on the swing set.) so while playing fetch seems unlikely, for someone who knows little about these animals (where they live, what they do etc) I didn’t know to be outraged or even concerned . . .

Why I have made the effort to “solve” this however is because truth, science and facts are at risk. This is an example of that reality and of the atrophying of fact-checking by media agencies. A very quick search for the range of Beluga Whales would have led to the “clue” that this was false information.

Therefore, there is the dire need for critical thinking. We live in a world of overwhelm and “fake news” being using as a defence rather than a truth. There are dizzying news cycles where so much is just a tweet and/or share away. Compounding this is that technology allows us to photoshop reality to further misguide, misinform and manipulate.

If we do not realize this to be current reality, we are unwilling participants in the spread of misinformation. Where we need to be a force insisting on fact-checking and quality reporting, instead we inadvertently fuel media being under-resourced, under-researched and prone to “click-bait. We become complicit in feeding the misinformation monster and how that shapes attitudes and actions.

I also believe it is important to understand that interactions with humans as shown in this video cannot be spontaneous nor natural and to realize how such content promotes the want of proximity that does not serve wild animals.

This is a further attempt to stand for facts in a time that it is critical to do so.


Further information: 

Colleen Gorman of “The Orca Project”, Facebook post November 8, 2019:
“Remember that video of the beluga going all over the Internet chasing a football yesterday?ďżź Well my friend Colin or Quad_Finn on Twitter, a marine animal researcher who I reached out to right away, and I, were right the whole time. This is a whale from Russia that was trained by the military and then got loose. The girl . . .  got 700K+ shares and millions of views copied (stole) the video with no credit given – for attention. She should think twice before stealing video and spreading it around. It’s not cute and it’s not funny . . .  they should know better than playing around with a beluga and trying to make it seem like they’re out to play with humans. They never travel alone . . Hvaldimir the Beluga is like Luna (L98), the orphaned juvenile Southern Resident orca who also sought out humans for social interaction instead of his conspecifics. As with Luna, such familiarity and dependence on humans will all but inevitably end in tragedy.”

TimesLive, November 7, 2019,  “Bok gees has even reached a beluga whale in the Arctic Circle“:
The voices in the clip are clearly South African . . .The man throwing the ball for the beluga is wearing a tracksuit with the logo of the Danah Explorer, a marine research vessel which is currently in Norwegian waters. TimesLIVE tracked down the vessel to the harbour at Tromsø, Norway — but not the people who created the video. A number of South African divers and researchers work with the Danah Divers, a research body linked to the Save Our Seas Foundation. The SoS-linked Danah Explorer and Danah Divers share a logo.
The boat from which the ball is thrown is a small landing craft with the logo of Cape Town boatbuilding company Gemini Marine visible. Gemini marketing manager Gerhard Neethling has said he would investigate the boat’s possible links to his company.”

Quad-Finn, November 9, 2019 in a Twitter post: “The Danah Explorer is a yacht owned by Abdulmohsen Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh. He’s the founder of the Save Our Seas Foundation. The logo on the back of jacket of the man throwing the rugby ball to Hvaldimir is that of Danah Divers”

IFLScience!; November 11, 2019; “That Viral Video Of A Beluga Whale Playing Fetch Is Probably Not What It Seems

Good News Network; November 13, 2019; “Hope on Horizon for Escaped ‘Russian Spy Whale‘ After Video of Its Rugby Skills Goes Viral”
“Many conservationists have shunned the more recent viral video as a whimsical depiction of a grim situation—but its online fame has helped to create hope for Hvaldimir on the horizon . . .For the last three months, Advocates for Hvaldimir has been keeping track of the cetacean’s activity in order to make sure that he is faring well on his own. Regina Crosby, who is a co-founding member of the group, says they are now working with two other environmental groups to try to relocate Hvaldimir to a different oceanic region so he can potentially reintegrate with a pod of belugas for a better chance at survival . . .Crosby and Advocates for Hvaldimir have since begun collecting donations from the beluga’s internet fans in order to finance his relocation. Since the Norwegian government recently granted permission to the wildlife advocates to relocate the famous cetacean, they are now hoping to continue working with legislators to transport Hvaldimir this winter.”

NRK Finmark, September 12, 2019, “Hvaldimir is ill and has been injured: – Several have thrown planks and other things after him” (translated article on the negative impacts from human interactions with Hvaldmir).