Orcatalk

A student's journey through the world of bioacoustics


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SIMRES gets an eye under the sea

Last weekend, Mike and Matt from SubEye Technologies came to visit us on Saturna Island. Particularly notable for their endeavor to use modern technology to give landlubbers an authentic, diving experience without having to get in the water, some readers may remember them from their “live-dive” a few weeks ago during the Intertidal Safari. They have the technology for two-way communication with divers, coupled with a live stream of what the divers are seeing. They’re work makes it possible for viewers to see and hear the sounds of the ocean, and chat with the divers about what they’re seeing, all without having to enter our chilly, Northeast Pacific seas.

They’re also in the business of doing long-term, underwater camera deployments that can stream live over the internet, such as the seal-cam at Victoria’s Fisherman’s Warf. (Note that, if all you see is green, it may just be a productive time in our seas, making the visibility worse than it would be in less productive areas.)  http://www.subeye.ca/seal-camera/ They’re looking to do the same thing for us, here on Saturna Island.

While we’re not streaming the video just yet, Mike and Matt did deploy the camera last weekend, and it’s working well! Here’s a shot of Mike suiting up for the task.

Suit up!

Suit up!

And one of his sea-otter impression.

So convincing!

So convincing!

Can’t you just imagine him with an urchin on his chest, ready to eat? No?

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How about now?

But I digress.

Mike took my GoPro on a journey from the surface to the camera platform. Take the colouration with a grain of salt – the image from the GoPro got a little washed out near the surface. When you  first see the kelp forest, imagine it in these colours:

Jelly in the kelp forest near the deployment site

Jelly in the kelp forest near the deployment site

GOPR0052_2

 

Mike also took a really great video of a seastar affected by seastar wasting syndrome. But that’ll be a topic for another post.

 

Land photos by Lily Campbell. Photo edit and subsea photo by Kristen Kanes. Video by Mike Irvine.


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Harbour seal birth!

The whales have been away for a few days, but that doesn’t mean that we get to sleep in. Lily and I get up at 5:45 am every day to start watching for whales, just in case they surprise us (and sometimes they do).

But morning watches without whales aren’t always boring. There are often lots of other sea creatures to watch while we wait for the whales to come by. We frequently see harbour porpoises, harbour seals and river otters. There’s even a seagull that has taken to trying to land on seals’ heads when they come to the surface – a source of endless entertainment for the both of us.

But the other day, we saw something truly spectacular. The fattest seal I have ever seen awkwardly haul herself out onto the rocks for all to see. When she was on her stomach, her back fins hardly touched the ground. Of course jokes were made and laughs were had. But soon after hauling out, she rolled onto her side, and it became immediately obvious why she was so large. This seal was very pregnant, and her stomach was twitching as contractions came over her in waves. This seal was about to give birth right in front of us.

One very pregnant seal

One very pregnant seal

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Mother-to-be

With two DSLRs at hand and nothing more important to do, we decided to document the process and share it with you. Below is a series of photos from the event, followed by Lily’s video footage.

Warning: Some of the following photos and footage are graphic. But, given that this is a birth, you probably already knew that.

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Starting to push

Here comes the baby!

Here comes the baby…

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And a seal is born!

Mother and baby meet for the first time

Mother and baby meet for the first time

Shortly after the birth, the baby decided to explore, and got stuck in a crack in the rocks!

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Newborn seal stuck in a crevice

Eventually the tide washed the baby out and the two swam around the point and out of sight.

Mum and babe in the water

Mum and babe in the water

Lily’s video footage:

We were worried that the newborn wouldn’t make it because it was struggling so much to stay upright in the water and swim. But later that day, mum came back with her baby on her back. All was well, and a new life had begun!

Baby seal riding mum's back

Newborn seal riding mum’s back

Photos by Kristen Kanes, video by Lily Campbell

 

 


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Superpod at East Point!

As some of you may know, last Saturday was Parks Day – the 100th anniversary of Parks Canada. Here on Saturna Island, many people were visiting from all around the Salish Sea to see the underwater world through the SubEye live dive, look at and learn about the marine invertebrates that divers brought to the surface for the Intertidal Safari,  and learn about orcas at the Parks Canada orca update.

And what a day of celebration it was! While we were celebrating 100 years of BC and Canada Parks, the orcas were celebrating a family reunion. L-Pod came racing through Tumbo Channel, porpoising out of the water to gain speed, and out to the Strait of Georgia. They breached, tail-lobbed, dorsal-slapped and cartwheeled their way around the East Point park and into Boundary Pass, to the delight of about 50 or 60 surprised onlookers.

Composite of breach sequence photos from my assistant, Lily Campbell

Composite of breach sequence photos from my assistant, Lily Campbell

Cartwheel

Cartwheel

Side-dive

Shortly after L-pod’s departure down the pass, J and K pods came down the Strait. They too were super active. They breached so many times in such quick succession that I completely lost count of how many breaches I had seen!

Tail Lob

K22-Sekiu tail-lobbing

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J37-Hy’Shqa and J49-T’ilem I’nges. Hy’Shqa means “thank you” or “blessing” in the Coast Salish/Samish language, and T’ilem I’nges means “singing grandchild.”

As they rounded the point, they came right into the kelp forest that lines the shoreline. They were so close to shore that I could see them swimming beneath the surface of the waves.

Orca surfacing at East Point. Photo by Kristen Kanes.

Orca about to surface

Orcas underwater

Mother and offspring under water

The whole time that the whales were here, there were no boats to be seen. The whales could have heard each other for several kilometers, without human interference, just like days of old. It must have been a great day for them too.

This was, by far, the best whale watching that I have ever done, and I am so grateful that the whales came by at a time when so many other people were there to appreciate their beauty. I hope that all of the people who saw the whales that day will hold onto that memory, because it really doesn’t get any better than that. I hope that they all went home excited, and with renewed intent to protect our ocean and the animals that inhabit it.

Photos by Kristen Kanes unless otherwise stated.