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

Posts tagged ‘reflections’

Five Fish

Five fish. One Dive.

Here are just five fabulous fish faces from my dive on July 12. These are just the fish who tolerated my taking photos. I am sharing with you to add to the sense of biodiversity hidden in these waters.

Also, I really value what I feel is mirrored back from these fish . . . the “What the hell are YOU and what are you doing here?” It’s good to feel like a visitor in others’ habitat rather than than a human at the epicentre of the universe. It’s below the waves, with the fish, that I best know my place and where I best feel humility. I also feel apology, not just for the disturbance of taking photos but as an ambassador for my species.

Sometimes I think as I look at the life below the surface “I’m trying. Please know, I’m trying”.

Thank you for caring and for trying too.

[Please note that I did not realize when compiling these photos that I have a blog on every species represented here. I suggest that the most insight would be gained from reading this blog first and then accessing the further links I provide here showing video, etc.]

Fish #1
Male Kelp Greenling with a Striped Sunflower Star to his right.


This species seems to so often be chasing one another and they have extraordinary courtship where the males change colour. Males will guard the fertilized eggs.

Video of the courtship is in my blog “Kelp Greenling Colour and Courtship” at this link.

Photo above is another perspective on the same fish. Note that the bright orange life you see here are animals, not plants. They are Orange Hydroids. The soft coral beside the Kelp Greenling’s head is Red Soft Coral.

Fish #2
Quillback Rockfish

Quillbacks, like so many of BC’s 34 rockfish species, have been over-exploited.

Rockfish are slow to mature, and are very localized in where they live. Therefore, they are particularly vulnerable to overfishing.

As divers, we’ve seen how Rockfish Conservation Areas can make a real difference for the number, diversity and size of rockfish.

There is no egg-guarding in this species because the young develop inside the females and are born into the water i.e. they are viviparous.

Please see my previous blog “Rockfish Barotrauma” at this link on the importance of Rockfish Conservation Areas and also on how to reverse what happens to rockfish when they are brought up from depth i.e. how to easily reverse barotrauma.

Quillback Rockfish = Sebastes maliger to 61 cm.

Fish Face #3

Lingcod males also guard the fertilized eggs. They are extraordinary large masses that look like Styrofoam. We survey for the egg masses each year to get a sense of potential recovery since this species was overexploited. It’s believed the same males guard eggs in the same spot year upon year. This again helps understanding of how many fish have homes whereby fishing intensely in one area can lead easily to overexploitation. My blog “Fastidious, Fanged Fathers” at this link shows the egg masses with information on Ocean Wise’s Lingcod Egg Mass Survey. 

Lingcod = Ophiodon elongatus, females larger, to 1.5 m.

Fish Face #4
Buffalo Sculpin

Yes, this is a fish, not a rock with eyes.

There is so little understanding about how species like this can change their colour as they do.

It won’t surprise you that the most research is done on “commercially important” species with regards to stock management. Males also guard the fertilized eggs in this species.  See my blog “Buffalos Mating Underwater” at this link for photos showing the diversity of colour / camouflage and for photos of the eggs.

Buffalo Sculpin = Enophrys bison to 37 cm long.

Fish #5
Red Irish Lord


I must have disturbed this Red Irish Lord with my bubbles for him/ her to be easily visible like this. They are usually fully camouflaged.

Note the shell the Red Irish Lord is on. This is a Giant Rock Scallop whose shell has been drilled into by Boring Sponge. Astounding isn’t it to think that Giant Rock Scallops (Crassadoma gigantea to 25 cm across) start off as plankton; are free-swimming to ~2.5 cm; and then attach to the bottom with their right side and can grow to 25 cm. They may live as long as 50 years but there have been problems with human over-harvesting.

Red Irish Lord parents take turns caring for their fertilized eggs (Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus; up to 51 cm).

Please see my blog “In the Eye of the Lord – the Red Irish Lord That Is” at this link. 

Lingcod = Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus, to 51 cm long. 

And the final photo and thoughts for you dear reader:

Same Red Irish Lord as in the photo above.


Under the canopy, beams of light shimmering through as they would in a forest of trees, bringing energy to the algae which feed the depths. This is all at only 5m depth. This is life you could imagine when you close your eyes and think of the dark sea off our coast. This is the world where Humpbacks feed, where families of Orca follow the same lineages of Chinook Salmon generation after generation, where species exist without our knowledge let alone our respect. This is their world. This is the world to which all life on earth is connected.

Five fish. One dive. A world connected.


[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

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.

Related blogs:

My 1,000th Dive – Fishes, Friends and . . . So Much More

Yesterday (February 25, 2017), I completed dives number 1,000 and 1001.

This is not a big deal if you are a warm water diver where it is common to do 3 or more dives a day.

But, for me at least, I feel it is important to reflect upon this milestone. How did I get here? The equivalent of ~31 days spent underwater over the last 17 years, almost all in the cold, dark NE Pacific off northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia?

And, where am I going?

Younger me on January 9th, 2000 in a wet suit before I had even done a dive from a boat. Now am on to my 2nd battered dry suit and am most often on the other side of a camera.

Younger me on January 9th, 2000 in a wet suit before I had even done a dive from a boat. Now, I’m much greyer; on to my 2nd battered dry suit; and am most often on the other side of a camera.

I was 36 when I started diving. (I’ll save you doing the math – yes, that means I am 53 now). It was a year of some very big life decisions including leaving solid ground when it came to employment and what many would have considered “a career”. I let go. I followed my internal compass knowing only that I needed to learn from Nature again.

Learning to dive did not feel like one of the big decisions. Looking back, it seemed almost like a flirtation; a “sure, why not?”. Maybe that’s the way it works with the big things in life. There were some pretty big clues that it should be on my path though. For example, back when I worked in the Netherlands, I had hung all kinds of marine animals from the ceiling of my shower. Clearly I wanted to feel like I was under the Ocean. Also, my most crystalline, happy childhood memories are of spending seemingly endless hours exploring the beach when we lived in Chemainus (southern Vancouver Island).

Adrift with so many rockfish during yesterday's dives. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Adrift with so many rockfish during yesterday’s dives. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

But know that while saying “yes” to taking a dive course was easy, diving has not come easily to me. I’ll spare you the details of how encumbered the instruction was; that I even inflicted injuries upon myself; and how the learning never stops. (If you would like to see what mask squeeze looks like, click here.) I remember feeling that achieving my Dive Masters was bigger than anything I had achieved in university.

But when I saw that first sea star underwater, it was like a lightning bolt went through me. I knew. It was as if I heard a click, as if a puzzle piece fell into place. This was going to be important. But I could never have known how important.

Lone Mottled Star. Yes, the sea stars are still in trouble. An example of how the Ocean may be testifying to environment issues. See here for more. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Lone Mottled Star. Yes, the sea stars are still in trouble – an example of how the Ocean may be testifying to environment issues but because this reality is hidden, too few of us notice and take heed. More information at this link. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

It felt like a lot of puzzle pieces clicked into place that year. Since then, some have fallen out of place leaving an odd shaped hole. This is certainly how life works. Some pieces never were a good fit or were only part of the big picture for a brief while. Okay, enough already of that puzzle metaphor and about what has come and gone, but was once essential in getting to where I am now.

Now . . . 1,000 dives completed.

Now . . .  the extraordinary privilege of knowing one small part of the planet from individual fish to individual whales. “Knowing”? Correction  . .  I am learning from the life in these cold, dark waters.

Now . . .  “The Marine Detective”.  It’s a handle that I hope captures the mystery and the correct humility. I am a student of the Ocean and, in recognizing that privilege and importance, I want it to count.

The Ocean. Mother Ocean. The ultimate teacher. It’s where life began and upon which life depends. It’s often where the impacts of our disconnect and misguided value systems appear first. It’s our opportunity to have the humility to realize how little we know. It’s our opportunity to connect and to heal and to know how little we are.

Leaving solid ground. Being adrift. Better knowing when and how to fight the current. Learning so many lessons about the life around me and, about myself.

What lies ahead? Another 1,000 dives. More lessons. More puzzle pieces. More trying to make it count.

I am so grateful for it all – to have the health that makes this possible; to being able to live where I do; to my dive buddies; and to you who care enough to read these words, making the effort so worthwhile.

From the depths – thank you.

Here is a past reflection on diving. I wrote this poem after my 600th dive.  It still all applies.

Constricted by my dry suit,
Thirty pounds bound to my waist,
Hunchbacked by my cylinder,
A mask suctioned to my face,

I leave the world we’ve cultivated,
To attempt to meet our every whim,
To where Nature’s voice can still be heard,
Far above civilization’s din.

No governments, no borders,
Nor economies present.
When down here, I’m reminded,
Of life’s depth and true intent.

I’m an awkward and brief visitor,
In this world of colour and perfection.
I fill with humility, wonder,
Passion and quiet introspection.

For Mother Ocean is home to life,
Older than mammals can comprehend.
I’m grateful that I may learn from her,
Leaving solid ground when I descend.

Diving brought me greater purpose,
Love, vision and camaraderie.
I think that what some find in a church,
I find . . . deep . . . within the sea.

Below, additional photos from yesterday’s dives shared with fishes, friends, and so much more.

One of yesterday's dives was a Lingcod Egg Mass survey. That's buddy Natasha Dickinson recording depth, size, etc. The males guard the egg masses to ensure their kind has a better chance of survival. More information here. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

The purpose of one of yesterday’s dives was to do a Lingcod Egg Mass Survey. That’s buddy Natasha Dickinson recording depth, size, etc. The males guard the egg masses to ensure their kind has a better chance of survival. More information on “Lingcod – Fastidious, Fanged Fathers” at this link. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Dive buddy Natasha examining an unguarded egg mass for the Ling Cod Egg Mass survey. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Dive buddy Natasha examining an unguarded egg mass for the Ling Cod Egg Mass Survey. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Oops - got distracted from the survey by a mature male Wolf Eel. How could I not?! More on this remarkable species here. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Oops – got distracted from the survey by a mature male Wolf-Eel. How could I not?! More on this remarkable species at this link. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Swimming with the fishes . . . so many fishes and testament to Rock Fish Conservation Areas being so important. Our dive club has been monitoring this site for over 20 years. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Swimming with the fishes . . . so many fishes and testament to Rockfish Conservation Areas being so important. Our dive club has been monitoring this site near Port Hardy for over 20 years. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Another "distraction" - mature male Wolf Eel. Intriguing that this one had many juvenile rockfish swimming around his head. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Another “distraction” – mature male Wolf-Eel. Intriguing that this one had many juvenile rockfish swimming around his head. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Oregon Tritons (marine snail species) feeding on an unguarded Lingcod Egg Mass. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Oregon Tritons (marine snail species) feeding on an unguarded Lingcod Egg Mass. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Dive buddies . . . could not do it without them. Here, Natasha Dickinson and Alexandra Spicer. Dear dive buddy Jacqui Engel was unable to join due to the flu but her name absolutely needs to appear on this post where I am reflecting on 1,000 dives and how I got here. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Dive buddies . . . could not do it without them. Here – Natasha Dickinson (left) and Alexandra Spicer (right). Dear dive buddy Jacqui Engel was unable to join yesterday due to the flu but her name absolutely needs to appear anywhere where I am reflecting on the importance of diving in my life and how I got here. [P.S. it was 5.5°C!] ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Of Angels and Argonauts?

T’is the season for reflection. It is the time of year where, the nebulous, undefinable but essential life forces of hope, love and spirituality may burn brightest.

So for you, I share the following story.

I emphasize that this is an atypical blog item for The Marine Detective and I have had to wrestle my left brain into submission to write it. I am very fearful too of feeding the monster of human need to get up close and personal to whales and claim a “piece” of them.

With that preamble and context – I give you this story for Christmas:

In the fall of 2011, while aboard with Orcella Expeditions and talking about my whale research with the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS), I explained how and why we nickname Humpback Whales.

In short, we nickname the whales for a feature on their flukes since the scientific alphanumeric names (e.g. BCZ0297)  are much more difficult to remember. [See my past blog item “What’s in a Name” for a more detailed explanation including photos of nicknamed Humpbacks.]

Where we can, we like to have local school children nickname the whales for reasons I am sure you understand.

BCY0729. Note the marking in the shape of an “A” on the left fluke. Photo: Hildering.

But that day, just after talking about the Humpbacks, I learned of the death of man who loved the sea – a man of depth and creativity who should still walk among us. I heard about Jason from his father Cliff, whose eyes of course told more about the pain, loss and love of his son than words could.  I had only recently met Cliff and never had the privilege of knowing Jason. 

Immediately, I thought of the Humpback Whale BCY0729 who has a marking on his left fluke that looks very much like the letter “A”. 

As an exception to having children name the whales, I decided we could nickname this whale “Argonaut” in honour of Jason. [if unclear about the association between “Jason” and “Argonauts”, please click here].

It was a simple thing to do. We had a good nickname for the whale and Cliff and his family had some comfort in the sentiment and symbolization of a whale being nicknamed for Jason. 

That was September 3rd, 2011. Below, email correspondence to Jason’s father on September 22nd.

“Cliff, I got goosebumps today and had tears in my eyes.
 And – you’re going to get the same.
I saw Argonaut today, for the first time since September 30th, 2010. He was very near Telegraph Cove feeding in the area with another juvenile whale that we have named “Guardian” because there is an angel-like marking on this whale’s tail (rimmed in a yellowish shade). 
You’ll see from the photos that it was a very wet and misty day . . . beautiful. I was on a school trip [for Stubbs Island Whale Watching] with a group of local First Nations school children . . . I shared the story of Argonaut with them and of course, it moved them.”

Argonaut on September 22nd, 2011. Photo: Hildering.

Guardian on September 22nd, 2011. Photo: Hildering.

Guardian on September 9th, 2011. The image shows the yellow angel-like shape around the centre of the fluke. Photo: Leah Thorpe, MERS. Leah also nicknamed Guardian.

I saw Argonaut and Guardian every other day I went out up to October 30th, 2011. They were not always right beside one another but they were within the same general area. 

Does this have any significance beyond two Humpback Whales with distinctly marked tails feeding together?  The beauty is, I’ll never know, no matter how much data I collect.

There is “something” about whales that I use almost daily to try to engage and motivate and frankly, plea with people to get their heads out of their bottoms and realize that their daily frivolous actions (and inactions) collectively cause such needless environmental damage.

Coincidence such as this story of “Angels and Argonauts” is the kind of thing that throws my structured-science-oriented left brain into discussion with my philosophical-reflective right brain about the undefinable and intangible.  But something both sides of my brain agree upon . . .  these giant sentient beings inspire marvel and wonder and hope and comfort and, so often . . . they inspire us gangly bipeds to understand connectedness and the truly important things in life.  

May the greatness we sense from whales inspire us to bigger things that benefit society and the environment. 

Merry Christmas readers.

I leave you with this sound clip of Jason singing “With or Without You” – a small indication of the depth of the man who loved the sea. Click here to listen.

Update December 2014: Since writing this blog in 2011, Argonaut has become one of the most predictably sighted whales in our area. Guardian too is seen very predictably but is rarely with Argonaut. When Cliff came back in 2013 hoping to see the whale named in honour of his son, we spotted Argonaut within minutes of being on the water.

Update July 2016: Argonaut is now part of our Marine Education and Research Society’s Humpback Sponsorship Program as a means of funding research and education to reduce threats to whales like Argonaut. Please see here.

Argonaut lunge feeding on September 28, 2011. Photo: Hildering.

Argonaut at sunset on October 7th, 2011. Photo: Hildering.

Argonaut tail-slapping August 2012. Photo: Hildering.

Argonaut tail-slapping August 2012. Photo: Hildering.

Argonaut breaching October 2013. Photo: Hildering.

Argonaut breaching October 2013. Photo: Hildering

Argonaut October 2014. Photo: Hildering.

Argonaut October 2014. Photo: Hildering.

Argonaut on September 27, 2015. Photo: Hildering.

Argonaut September 27, 2015. Photo: Hildering.