tofino whale research: strawberry isle research society august 2002

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, are settling 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 on the endangered species list but all indications show 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 is 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 Adrian Dorst.

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.

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Tofino whale research professional Rod Palm writes this Strawberry Isle Scuttlebutt in August 2002 - Gray whale migration and humpback whale.

tofino time august 2002

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