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

Posts tagged ‘pacific white-sided dolphins’

At a loss for words . . .

If a photo is worth a 1,000 words, will these 14 photos be worth 14,000?

Will they do more than “capture” a moment in the life of our marine neighbours?

Will they communicate the emotion felt when I pushed the shutter button: the overwhelming awe; the relief of humility, feeling smaller and more insignificant when witnessing the wild; and the gratitude and motivation at having second chances with these ambassadors of our life-sustaining seas?

I add them to the 100s of other photos shared in the hopes that, somehow, they relay what I cannot find the words to adequately express.

Into the world they go – to you.

These 14 photos were taken in less than 24 hours in one small area of the cold current-fed waters around NE Vancouver Island while I was aboard with Maple Leaf Adventures.

First three photos: Humpback Whale “Inukshuk” (BCZ0339) exploding out of the misty water. He was acrobatic for over 15 minutes. Threatened population.

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Female mature Bald Eagle near nest in lichen-draped Cedars.

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“Sonora” (A42) chasing salmon with her 4 offspring. “Northern Resident” Killer Whales are a Threatened population.

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Pacific White-Sided Dolphins in mirror-calm seas this morning, socializing in a group of around 300 individuals.

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What’s At Stake – Images Speaking Louder Than Words

Three minutes of images speaking louder than words . . .

This short slide show of my images testifies to the astonishing marine biodiversity of Northern Vancouver Island and what is put at risk with projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project which would bring super-tanker traffic of toxic bitumen and condensate to B.C.’s fragile coast, and to the waters on which we depend for oxygen, food, buffering of climate change gases, aesthetics and so much more.

I have submitted this slide show for inclusion on “Hope, the Whale”, a 25′ whale sculpture being brought to the Vancouver Enbridge public hearings (January 14 to 18, 2013) “to symbolize the expansive and growing community of people with a vision of an oil-free coast in BC. The sculpture is designed to be a welcoming, collaborative, visual, interactive and peaceful approach to supporting a healthy environment. The whale will amplify our a collective messages of hope and a vision for a healthy ocean, water, land, communities, green economy, cultures and people.” See this link to contribute your message.

For more information, see my testimony to the Joint Review Panel included in my blog item “Super Natural or Super Tanker?” at this link.

Views from the Mast

How high can you get in seeing dolphins and humpbacks?

Captain Tavish Campbell knows.

The 1.5 minute clip below reveals his unique perspective from atop the 100′ mast of the beautiful schooner Maple Leaf.

From on high, he shares with us the view of hundreds of Pacific white-sided dolphins and a bubble-netting humpback whale.

I have the joy of sometimes serving as naturalist for Maple Leaf Adventures with Tavish. He allowed me to put together this clip for the David Suzuki Foundation’s Ocean Stories Campaign, both of us hoping that the breathtaking beauty might inspire people to undertake more positive action to protect the great biodiversity of the North Pacific.

What’s your Ocean Story?  You can help inspire connection and positive change by sharing your story with DSF up to midnight on October 31st. 

Popcorn for Thanksgiving

I spent Canadian Thanksgiving this week as naturalist aboard the 92-foot schooner Maple Leaf in my own marine backyard, the Broughton / Blackfish Archipelago (Northern Vancouver Island, BC, CANADA).



The exceptionally talented ship’s chef served a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Certainly no popcorn there!

But, Nature dished out “pop-corning” Pacific White-Sided Dolphins.

“Pop-corning” is the jargon given to the behaviour when this highly acrobatic species explodes into the air; popping up again and again.

There were some 500 of them, playing in the wind and waves with Steller Sea Lions leaping amongst them. It is difficult for me to express just how exhilarating this was; just how awe-inspiring. With mouth agape, I tried to take photos to capture what we witnessed.



We had already seen so much. In less than 48 hours in a 16 kilometre stretch in this area, we also saw:

  • Repeat sightings of eight lunge feeding humpbacks. This included seeing three of them lunging for the same mass of small schooling fish; one of them (BCY0728, aka “Conger”) tail slapping at Steller sea lions and; sighting an individual that has never been recorded in the area before (BCY0310, aka “Dragonfly”).
  • Large numbers of Steller Sea Lions with some choosing to inquisitively circle and surface right beside the boat. This was one of the best opportunities I have ever had to photograph Stellers.
  • And . . . some 32 fish-eating “Resident Orca” – the A12 and A36; A34, A30 and I15 matrilines. They were travelling slowly, vocalizing intently. Some were foraging while calves played and others had Pacific White-Sided Dolphins leaping around them.

So much to be thankful for. And very worth sharing with you so that together we can work to ensure that this beauty and biodiversity is here for all future generations to give thanks for.



I have put together the 3-minute slideshow below, hoping it provides a sense of how amazing it was to have pop-corning dolphins (and so much more) for Thanksgiving.






Too Smart To Be “Nice” – Pacific White-Sided Dolphins Interact With Dall’s Porpoise Calf

Before you read further, a reminder:  There is no “good” or “bad” in Nature. There is only perfection. Animals do what they do for a reason. We humans may not understand their behaviour but to impose judgement is ridiculous. There is always a net gain for some of the animals involved.

Yes, this is me making very clear that to either typify dolphins as “good” (the Flipper phenomena) or “bad” is sheer anthropomorphism and does nothing to enhance the understanding of animal behaviour.

Dolphins are dolphins and they do what dolphins need to do.

Dall's porpoise calf hit from below by Pacific white-sided dolphin.

Dall’s Porpoise calf hit from below by Pacific White-Sided Dolphin. ©Jackie Hildering.

Okay, now that I have made that very clear, I dare share the exceptional encounter I stumbled upon today. I found two adult male Pacific White-Sided dolphins negatively interacting with a Dall’s Porpoise calf.

I know there were only two dolphins as they had distinct dorsal fins allowing me to track them as individuals. I know they were adult males since the fins of adult males tend to be chunkier and are often more scarred. I perceive that it was a negative interaction since the two dolphins were corralling the Dall’s Porpoise calf; hitting it with their tails at the surface; pushing down on the calf’s head and hitting it from below.  It was an encounter that I witnessed for 10 minutes and was very persistent and intense.

I also saw what I think were only two adult Dall’s Porpoises repeatedly surfacing some 30 to 40 metres away from the interaction between the calf and the two Pacific White-Sided Dolphins.

In years past, I have seen this species of dolphin kill a Harbour Porpoise and a Pacific Harbour Seal pup. It is quite a regular occurrence for these dolphins to interact with fish-eating (“Resident”) Killer Whales in such a way that the Killer Whales dive longer, go silent and group up. Their interactions with Humpback Whales most often lead to the humpbacks “trumpeting”, rolling on the surface and slapping with their long pectoral fins. Such interactions are categorized in science as “harassment”. 

Dolphins are smart. Very smart.

I put forward that interactions like this allow them to learn, to feed their hungry brains.  If this does not sound plausible to you then you don’t have a younger sibling! Those of us who do have younger siblings know how “provoking” also allows young humans to learn. It allows them to find out “What happens when I do this?” “How about this?” “And when I do this?”

Dolphins are extremely social animals too. I believe such interactions allow the dolphins to exercise social bonds and strategize. The males of some well-studied dolphin species (e.g. Spotted dolphins and Bottlenose Dolphins) have been found to have “coalitions” / “alliances”; social units that allow them to group defend, group feed and group mate.  The Pacific White-Sided Dolphins off the coast of British Columbia are only beginning to be studied as individuals so science has yet to confirm what sort of social structures they might have.  My hypothesis is that the two Pacific White-Sided Dolphins from today’s interaction have an alliance.

I cannot give you a conclusion to the interaction I witnessed today. When I last saw the porpoise calf, it was alive. However, as fate would have it, I had boat engine difficulty and therefore “lost” the animals as I dealt with my boat woes.

I have annotated the photos at the following link, leaving them in chronological order so that you can see how the interaction developed. I have also provided notes that will help you discern the two dolphins as individuals. Photography was challenging due to wind and the speed of the action.

Remember, no judging the wild. 

Click here for the photos.

Click here for a study documenting “porpicide” of Harbour Porpoise by Bottlenose Dolphins.
Click here for article about Southern Resident Killer Whales (inshore fish-eaters) harassing Harbour Porpoise.
Click here for the population studies by Erin Ashe (Oceans Initiative) published since my writing the blog = Ecology of Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) in the coastal waters of British Columbia, Canada (2015)