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

Posts from the ‘REFLECTIONS’ category

And They Spread Their Giant Wing-Like Fins . . .

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And they spread their giant wing-like fins . . . and returned from the brink.

The whales remind us of our great capacity for positive change . . . when our value systems change and knowledge, connection and humility replace fear and misunderstanding.

The simple solution? Care More. Consume Less.

There are still so many ways to indirectly kill a whale and damage the life-sustaining seas upon which we all depend.

Image is of “Jigger” the mature female Humpback Whale who breached for 18 minutes. More images below.

You simply can’t be the same after seeing something like this, nor would I want to be.

What triggered this behaviour may have been an encounter with another Humpback (“Slash” BCX0177″) but we cannot know for sure.

For the work of our Marine Education and Research Society, please see here and yes, you can support our work by sponsoring a Humpback Whale!

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From the depths . . . .

"The Marine Detective" art show at 546 Yates in Victoria. Includes a 15 min rotating slide show of images. Come in, sit down, and disappear into the depths for a little while?

“The Marine Detective” art show at 546 Yates in Victoria. Includes a 15 min rotating slide show of images. Come in, sit down, and disappear into the depths for a little while?

It is the morning after the opening of my first art show and I am awash with a sense of gratitude and community.

As I strived to express last night in my presentation, had anyone told me way-back-when that I would ever have an art show, it would have been the equivalent of being told that I would undertake interplanetary travel.

An art show?! It was very high threshold for me because, rather than just striving to capture the mystery, beauty and fragility of the Ocean to inspire and educate, the images are being put forward as ART.

Therefore, last night was very much for me another “How did I get here?” experience.

But I do know the answer. It is because, however the magic of life works, I have been allowed to fully, deeply understand the importance of the Ocean as the life-sustaining force on the planet.  And, as a teacher, enhancing the potential for our children to have healthy, happy futures will always be what gives my life direction.

"The Marine Detective" images at Art Atelier 546 in Victoria (on 546 Yates Street). Click to enlarge.

“The Marine Detective” images at Art Atelier 546 in Victoria (on 546 Yates Street). Click to enlarge.

How did I get here?  It has to do with geography, opportunity, difficult and daring decisions made, skills, experience and  . . . you.

Please hear me. It has to do with YOU.

Wherever this is going – wherever it has gone – it is because of a force of people who share the values and objectives of “The Marine Detective” and want it to move forward.

The sense of gratitude I am overcome with this morning, and that is so difficult to express, is that I feel I am being held up by an Ocean of people . . . . those who were at the opening last night; the whispers and shouts of support and encouragement on social media; the sharing to expand the reach of the content there; the applause expressed in so many ways; the enablement of diving, photography and whale research; the sharing of calendars and prints into the world so that they might further connect others; the assistance re. potential books, webisodes, whatever  . . . it’s you.

I know that The Marine Detective is a community working for greater understanding and positive action for socio-environmental good.

From the depths, thank you.

Because of you I speak louder; I dare more; I keep at it and, I stay afloat . . . gently propelled to who-knows-where.

Link to photos – here. 

Photo by Andrew Topham, made possible with Melanie Wood.

Photo by Andrew Topham, made possible with Melanie Wood.




The Best Diet Ever!

Got your attention didn’t I?

Breathe in the beauty and the health benefits. Lose heaviness. Gain happiness. Kayaking with Jacqui Engel. ©Jackie Hildering

Breathe in the beauty and the health benefits. Lose heaviness. Gain happiness. [Kayaking with Jacqui Engel. ©Jackie Hildering.]

It’s December 31st, a time when many of us are reflecting on how we want to feel in the new year.

Do you want to . . . .

  • Lose heaviness?
  • Gain optimism?
  • Be more empowered?
  • Feel happier?
  • Change the world for the better?

Me too and in my year-end reflections, I have reminded myself that I know the science of how this can be achieved and have had the privilege of living the experience.

More Nature = More Happy. Friend Natasha Dickinson after a dive. ©Jackie Hildering

More Nature = More Happy. [Friend Natasha Dickinson after a dive. ©Jackie Hildering.]

Let me share the secret that could lead to such profound positive change – for you, for me and for generations to come.

Do NOT count the calories in your food intake.

Rather, LOSE heaviness and GAIN health and happiness by . . . drinking in more Nature. 

What to measure?

  • How little garbage you produce;
  • How little “stuff” your purchase;
  • How low your fuel costs are (home and vehicle); and
  • Most importantly, how much time you spend outdoors.

Spend more time on the water, under the water, atop a mountain or beside a tree.

Even the smell of the  forest creates health benefits. Forest walk with friend Jacqui Engel. ©Jackie Hildering.

Even the smell of the forest creates health benefits. [Forest walk with friend Jacqui Engel. ©Jackie Hildering.]

It’s that easy and yes, this is science-based.

Research has shown that the Japanese practice of “forest bathing” (Shinrin-yoku) measurably increases well-being and decreases our eating ourselves up inside. Even the smell of the forest reduces blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormone production; and increases the production of natural killer cell (NK cells) which combat infections and tumour cell activity (Lee et al).

It’s not really a surprise that being outside and caring for Nature is, well, our natural state of well-being. 

It’s where our happiness lies and thereby, the name of this heaviness losing regime is – The Happiness Diet.

Because what’s good for the planet and all the beings we share it with is also good for you. Of course it is.

Grandma Cedar and I. Lots of happy and health going on here.

Grandma Cedar and I. Lots of happy and healthy going on here.

Truly thrive. Feel more alive.

Use less. Care more.

And when you shine with lightness and people ask, “What’s your secret?”, please, please, please – tell them!

For this is a secret that could truly change the world.

Wishing you health, happiness, and WILD adventure in 2015 and beyond.

J. Lee, Q. Li, L. Tyrväinen et al., “Nature therapy and preventive medicine,” in Public Health-Social and Behavioral Health, J. Maddock, Ed., chapter 16, pp. 325–350, Intech, Rijeka, Croatia, 2012.

Rainbow and Pacific White-Sided Dolphins. ©Jackie Hildering.

Rainbow and Pacific White-Sided Dolphins. ©Jackie Hildering.

Thank Goodness for Second Chances . . . .

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving and I am overwhelmed with depth of gratitude and purpose.

It is an extraordinary privilege to be able to live the life I do and I want so much for it to count.

Thank you dear readers for helping to amplify the beauty, mystery and fragility into the world so that there may be more understanding that there is no divide between land and sea and how our daily actions regarding chemical and energy use connect us – no matter how far away from this place you are.

The photo below is from two days ago – “Frosty” the Humpback Whale in Johnstone Strait, NE Vancouver Island.

To think we could have lost these glorious, majestic, mysterious, winged, singing, acrobatic ambassadors of our life-sustaining seas . . . .

Thank goodness for second chances.

Frosty the Humpback Whale (BCX1187) in Johnstone Strait, October 11, 2014. Just outside Telegraph Cove. Blinkhorn Light in the background. ©Jackie Hildering.

Frosty the Humpback Whale (BCX1187) in Johnstone Strait, October 11, 2014. Just outside Telegraph Cove. Blinkhorn Light in the background. ©Jackie Hildering.

We are Wholly Dependent and Connected to the Ocean

Reflections for Oceans Day 2014.

We are wholly dependent and connected to the Ocean.

Life on land cannot survive without the Ocean.

It is life in the Ocean that will testify to magnitude of environmental problems first.

Change is needed; and we humans have an astounding capacity to make a positive difference.

Oceans Day 2014

Likely as a reader of “The Marine Detective”, you already share the following perspective:

The majority of messaging we get is controlled by those with power in the current paradigm not wanting us to change our value systems, and consumer and voter behaviour.

Therefore, they perpetuate:

  • Fear;
  • Ignorance, uncertainty and inaction by limiting access to independent science;
  • The notion that it is jobs OR the environment;
  • The fallacy that being good for the environment is about loss rather than joy; and
  • The mythology that consuming more will certainly make us happier and more “successful”.

What a different world it would be if:

  • More of us were to consume less and care more;
  • Value time and health over possessions;
  • Think in terms of an economy of chemicals and energy use instead of just money;
  • Know that there is no divide between land and sea and that Ocean sustains human life;
  • Be empowered;
  • And . . . . be happier.

Spread the word?

Happy Oceans Day.

My 800th Dive. From Shiner to Shining?

Yesterday, I completed my 800th dive.

Today, I find myself reflecting on the remarkable journey from my first dives to now.

I dare share my thoughts with you here because  . . . diver or not, I believe there are elements of this life journey with which many can identify and because the feelings I express about “Mother Ocean” is what I think unites us here on The Marine Detective.  Oh – and also, it provides insight into why I tend to snarl when a minority of people, state “You must have a really good camera” after seeing my underwater images, suggesting that it is merely photo-equipment dependent to go deep and deliver evidence of the astounding and fragile life hidden in these cold waters.

I never could have anticipated how the cold NE Pacific would become the greatest force in my life and, as I think often is the case with the most important things in life, the journey has not been easy.

This is how it started.

Shiner . . . Image in my first dive log. Me just after my 37th birthday with "mask squeeze".

Shiner . . . Image in my first dive log. Me just after my 37th birthday with “mask squeeze”.

That’s me about a week after my 37th birthday. On my birthday itself, while on my 20th dive, I got “mask squeeze”. Every capillary in my eyes burst because I did not equalize the pressure in my dive mask as I descended. This was due to complications while I was learning to dive with a drysuit.

I delight in there now being an island on our coast informally named after me  . . . Shiner Rock. Far more important, however, are the lessons I learned from this dive, and the other 799.

I should acknowledge that 800 dives is not a big deal for some, especially if you are a warm-water diver and if you have been diving since your youth. My diving life has been from age 36 to age 50 and almost all these dives (the equivalent of 25 days underwater) have been here in about 6 to 10°C water, off the coast of NE Vancouver Island.

The decision to take a dive course seemed frivolous at the time but again, as it seems to go, some of our seemingly smallest decisions appear to give life the greatest meaning.

I began my first course in 1999, the year I returned to British Columbia after teaching in the Netherlands for 14 years. I aborted what many would consider an important career trajectory, knowing only that I had to get back to learning from Nature.  I had been working in big city Rotterdam at that time and had become so tired of hearing myself talk about Nature as if it were somewhere else. One surprise whale watching trip on NE Vancouver Island led to my moving here.

My dive course was not typical in many, many ways with my first ever dive being in a glacier fed river in a community that had ocean surrounding it. I will never understand why we did this. But, while in my father’s thin, old wetsuit, shivering uncontrollably and falling while trying to stand on algae-covered river rocks, I saw one salmon. I was in deep, right from the start.

Now, so many dives later, while the lessons don’t EVER stop, the artwork below captures what diving in these waters has brought to my life.

Shinier . . . Me?

Shinier . . . Me? Artwork by Jennifer Bonnell; presented to me at age 50 as an interpretation of who I am.

And apparently . . .  that is also how some people see me. That piece was given as a gift on my 50th birthday last April. . . as a portrait of me. Shining? Passionate? Mermaid-ian? Inspirational? Ocean advocate?

Please know how much I struggled to type that.

I am so moved, so grateful, and so much further incentivized when honoured by people using such references in relation to me. I know fully the personal journey it has been to go from “Shiner” to maybe appearing to be “Shining”. And I know too what diving has brought to my life . . . depth of understanding and and depth of purpose – wanting to shine a light of awareness on what lives in these waters and, thereby, help motivate greater conservation.

The Ocean is the source. The battle force. She is my inspiration. She is the beginning and she is the end. She is where I hide and where I am fully exposed. She has taught me my most valuable lessons and  . . . . I know it’s not over yet. Not by a long shot.

The plan is to do at least another 800 dives.

Thank you so to all of you who are part of the journey.

For a related post, with a poem written after my 600th dive 4 years ago, see Diving After the Storm  – My 600th Dive“.

With particular depth of gratitude to dive buddies Jacqui Engel and Natasha Dickinson and further members of the Top Island Econauts. 

How to Save a Life?

Today, myself and 2 other members of the Top Island Econauts Dive Club, may have saved a life – a human life.

We were in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing, and were able to save a woman who had become very disoriented while mushroom picking. Had she continued in the direction she thought she needed to go, she would have moved further and further away from where her partner was. When we found her, there was only about another 1.5 hours of daylight left and it is unlikely that any other boats would have been in the area, let alone that they would have heard or seen her.

I am compelled to write about this because I learned a thing or two about enhancing one’s chances for rescue and survival today and it may be of value to share that here. But also, candidly, writing about this helps me reflect on the many “what ifs” around this experience. (Note that I will not share the name of the individual nor the location as I feel this would be a violation of her privacy.)

Of course no one plans to get lost in the woods nor to have an accident but what was shocking to me was how easily we could have missed her.

This individual was quite outdoor savvy and had a system for checking in with her partner; they had radios (they failed); and she had a dog with her (who decided to go home).

She was lost and managed to make her way out of the dense and isolated forest to the edge of the ocean, bettering her chances of someone seeing her . . . but only if a boat went by.

We did go by on our way to the dive site but heard and saw nothing. The engine was on, we were about 1.3 km away, and she was dressed in dark blue and green.

Photo taken today, long before the rescue. Snow on the mountain tops. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Photo taken today, long before the rescue. Snow on the mountain tops. ©2013 Jackie Hildering

The dive was not even supposed to happen today! It was planned for yesterday but the weather was predicted to be poor so it was rescheduled for this afternoon.

But then, we only had two divers available meaning there was no one to drive the boat. Had Club member and fellow diver Gord Jenkins not selflessly offered to drive that boat so that Andy Hanke and I could dive, we would never have been on the water today.

But THEN .  .  . we had trouble with the Dive Club boat’s engines whereby we decided it would not be safe enough to take out that boat. We were just going to dive from shore.

But then, I suggested that we could take out my little 17′ vessel named “Fluke” (this is poetic – you’ll see). If we had we had more than 3 people, there is no way we would have had the option to do this. My boat is too small.

And then, there was the decision of which dive to do. Randomly (?) . . . .we chose for the site that ended up being closest to where the lost woman would emerge from the forest.

AND THEN, while Andy and I were diving, Gord heard something far away – some strange bird, a seal, a bear cub? It was a one syllable “blaring like” sound. She would not even have been able to see the boat from where she was, and yet she called.

When we surfaced (the tender boat cannot leave divers), Gord slowly idled the boat toward where he thought he had heard the sound. He was a bit apologetic, not sure if he had really heard something from so far away. We stopped the engine, then Andy and I heard it too – a one syllable sound. A bird?! I made the comment that it sounded like such a “plaintive” call. I got out my binoculars, I could see nothing. We proceeded and then shut off the engine again to make sure we were still heading in the right direction. We heard the one syllable call again. Still, even with binoculars I saw nothing.

Not until we were about 30 m away did we see her – the source of the sound, the woman whose story you have now already heard. Gord saved her life.

I don’t know how he could have heard her, initially from so far away. This dear woman has very powerful lungs and was calling to save her life but still, the acoustics of the area proved to be very favourable allowing Gord to hear her from such a distance.

What if that had not been the case? What if Gord had dismissed the sound he thought he heard?  What if we had dived yesterday (we saw no other boats the whole time we were out today)? What if we had more than 3 people and had not been able to take my boat out? Fluke? I don’t know. This is when my science brain gets all dizzy. I just don’t know.

Oh yeah, and then when we had her in my boat and were heading out to take her back to her partner . . . about 50 Pacific White-Sided Dolphins happened to storm the boat, leaping in front and alongside it. Despite the stress of what we had just experienced, it made me laugh out in glee. Really, that happened. I can’t make this stuff up. As if my brain wasn’t dizzy enough already.

There is so much I can’t explain here, about synchronicity, chance, “what ifs”, and the feelings for which I cannot even find words.

But what I can clearly express is what I learned today, which is that the easiest way to save a life is – to save your own.

I strongly abide by the guidelines for safety and survival on the water. But, in learning from this experience, the importance of the following is so very clear:

  • When in the woods wear (or having something with you that has) very bright, non-camouflage colours;
  • Always carry a whistle;
  • Carry a light, mirror and/or small flares, and matches;
  • Always have a waterproof layer of clothing with you;
  • Take a compass or have access to GPS;
  • If needing to cry out – use more than one syllable; and
  • Like the woman from today who is now warm and dry, no matter how distant or how small the chance of rescue . . . never give up.

Life is Hard? Wear a Tutu!

hanging tutu

Does this tutu make my bottom look big?! At God’s Pocket Dive Resort on my 50th birthday.

[Warning, this is not a scientific posting but one of those occasional personal musings aimed at self-expression and, hopefully, making you smile.]

Go ahead – mock me!

I now often wear a tutu when I go diving.

It’s a flamboyant, neon green tutu.

Hum, maybe “flamboyant” as an adjective for “tutu” is unnecessary – but I digress.

I first wore my neon green tutu over my dry suit while diving on my 50th birthday.

It delights me that my birthday happens to coincide with Earth Day but oops – again I digress.

Wearing the tutu was to celebrate all that life has brought me, especially how cold water diving in this beautiful, beautiful place has shaped my life.

It clearly also makes a statement about my believing you can never be too green – or too flamboyant!

Of course, I knew I would also be rewarded with looks of disbelief and hilarity from my fellow divers especially when I asked,  “Does this tutu make my bottom look big?”

Sincerely, it also has proven to have value for safety as it makes me much easier to see in a dark underwater world of black neoprene clad divers.

Underwater poser! Photo by Diane Reid.

Underwater poser! Photo by Diane Reid.

But more than that, I wear a tutu because, for all of us, life is sometimes hard.

What the wisdom gained from these 50 years has taught me is that through it all – the sinking to the depths, the surfacing for air, the need for buddies, the loss of buddies, the weight of it all, the being adrift – it is more important than anything else to listen to your inner 8-year-old.

I can hear her now. She’s loud – wanting to know when we are next going diving, loving the wonder and sense of discovery that submerging brings.

She reminds me always of how my actions impact life around me and she voraciously loves to learn.

She’s bossy and wants, as soon as possible, to share what she has learned about living things with others, hoping they’ll care as much as she does.

She knows the importance of frivolity and lightness and to being ever true to what you feel.

She loves wearing tutus and hopes to make people laugh by modelling the joy of being green.

Tutu 1

Life is hard? Wear a tutu! Great thanks to Diane Reid for the photo! Dive buddy Natasha Dickinson attempting to hide in the background.


WILD New Year

For you – that we may live lives of greater depth in 2013 and beyond.

Happy New Year! 

Siblings T028A (born 1994) and T028B (born 1997) - mammal-eating killer whales (known as "Bigg's killer whales / "transients").

Siblings T028A (born 1994) and T028B (born 1997) – mammal-eating killer whales (known as “Bigg’s killer whales / “transients”). Photo: Hildering