Tofino whale research: Strawberry Island Scuttlebutt – August 2002
by Rod Palm, Tofino
Well the big Gray Whale migration past Tofino has petering out and
many animals, who will be staying in Clayoquot Sound for the summer,
into their traditional feeding grounds such as Cow and Ahous (Open)
Bays. At this writing there are 15 whales throughout the sound. The
Tourist (homo gorby) migration to Tofino seems stable and is expected
to peak in July/August. It was thought that they might have been put
endangered species list but all indications
that the population is holding.
May was an exciting month. On some days, the mood of the open ocean
was of a celebration for life. Humpback Whales were throwing themselves
into the air to thunderously crash back in the sea throwing up great
cataracts of water. As far as you could see Sooty Shearwaters were
either in the air or sitting contentedly on the water, you could almost
hear them belch. Everywhere Kiss-me-arses (to old fisher folk) or Common
Murres (to birders) were tilting up their white butts as they started
their underwater flights. Of course, overseeing the whole performance
were the verbal abuses of the ever-critical Sea Gulls. Everyone was
pigging out on red clouds of three centimetre long shrimp like critters
in the euphausiid family called Thysanoessa spinifera. An interesting
observation about this activity was that it happened during daylight
hours. Euphausiids normally spend their days in the deep and move up
to the surface waters only under the protection of darkness. Were the
whales driving them up to the surface?
A significant event on the 10th of June was a visitation by more
than 14 transient Killer Whales representing perhaps five gangs. This
interesting in that transients, the mammal eating Kawkawin have an
average gang size of three animals as opposed to the resident fish
eaters who may be seen in super pods of 100+ animals. The largest gathering
of transients, ever seen anywhere, was documented by us in 1994 when
close to 30 whales congregated off our shores. I feel decidedly humbled
when in the presence of such gatherings of power.
June 26 was the day of our annual trip down to the Steller Sea Lions
at Long Beach Rocks with Professor Andrew Trites. The purpose of this
trip is to land on the rocks, under Parks permit, and collect scat
for later analysis at UBC to determine diet. A slow cruise around the
rocks showed up no tags or brands, one young bull with a rope around
his neck and a presence of close to 400 animals. This done we slid
the boat up to the rocks with Andrew slowly waving his arms to scare
the lions into the water. Having safely off loaded the crew, I moved
the boat away and dropped the anchor just off the rocks. The disturbed
lions are in a noisy tight raft of close to 60 animals all looking
at the brightly garbed humans stooped over and foraging about the slippery
rocks with their rubber gloves and zip-lock baggies. It struck me that
perhaps the audience of Lions, who's only foraging purpose is
for food, may be thinking, "What a strange diet these humans
have." Not being a scientist, I'm allowed such musings.
Even though these rocks are not a true rookery (breeding and birthing
site), the one ton bulls still lay claim to their spot on the rocks
and will viciously defend it against other males yet they will flee
in panic from a 65 kg human. Are we all that terrifying?
Special thanks this quarter go to the Long Beach Lodge in Tofino,
artists Mark Hobson, Berry Edge at Image West, and Tofino photographer
Thanks this month go out to Creative Salmon's generous support
to our entanglement program, we now have six big 'scotchmen' (inflatable
floats). These floats are attached to the net or line that the whale
is tangled with the purpose of tiring him as he drags them underwater
on his dives. The response to our posting for volunteers was very successful
and we have started biweekly workshops to familiarise ourselves with
the equipment and procedure.
What we are now looking for is some protective
headgear for the responders so, if you have some old sports helmets
such as those used for hockey or football, please pass them along.
Oh yes, we also need a snowboard bag for carrying the tool extension
poles. If you would like to donate any of this equipment, call Rod
in Tofino at 725-2211.
Tofino whale research professional Rod Palm writes this Strawberry Isle Scuttlebutt in August 2002 - Gray whale migration and humpback whale.