tofino whale research - strawberry isle research society

Tofino whale research: 2002 Report for Strawberry Isle Research Society

by Rod Palm, Tofino


as it was with
Strawberry Isle

Killer Whales

Killer Whale visitations ran in decline from 53 days in 1998 to 30 days in 2000. Since then they have slowly climbed to 41 days this year. Though this is still below the annual average (44), we are hoping that the trend will continue. On 13 of these days the whales were hunting the open ocean and did not enter our inside waters. It's worth noting that the most common part of the year for the whales to enter the inlets is from fall to spring. Contrary to the norm, the whales were, for the second year running, heading down the coast more often than up. Ten transient gangs with a total of 29 animals were identified. We saw no new calves or previously unrecorded animals.

On June 22, off Barkley Sound, we saw the last of old Numas. He was only travelling about a quarter of a knot and staying on the surface. At about 49 years of age, he was the oldest male we have seen in the study area.

There were 4-day visits from the fish eating Northern and southern residents normally seen in Georgia and Johnstone Straits.

The highlight of the year was on June 10 when 18 transient from about 6 separate gangs converged off Rafael Pt. and frolicked their way down the coast to Lennard Light where they were last seen heading out into the open ocean. On most occasions only 1–5 animals are seen.

Sea Lions

Sea Lion counts are now being done at Plover Reefs. The purpose of this monitoring is to find out what the seasonal use is of these reefs. Also, considering that the Californians have only recently started showing up in Clayoquot Sound, the counts may be an indicator of their population fluctuation.

With the first year under our belt, we can see that these reefs are not a year round haulout. Occupation greatly diminishes during the summer months when the animals have left for their breeding/birthing grounds. The Stellers go north while the Californians go south. I think it likely that Plover's non-breeding animals spend their summers at Long Beach Rocks' year round haulout. When numbers drop at Plover, they go up at Long Beach.


In '02 we recorded 24 mortalities: 1 likely Killer Whale infant, 6 Porpoise, 4 sea lions, 6 Harbour seals, 5 birds and 2 Green Sea Turtles. Surprisingly we have had no Gray Whale morts in the study area for 2 years. Of these mortalities, necropsies were preformed on the turtles, 2 of the Harbour Porpoises and the crow.

Both turtles were emaciated and infected. Our ocean clime is right on the edge of their minimum temperature survival tolerance. The sluggishness associated with this along with the unfamiliar grazing species and territory made for inadequate feeding that led to internal problems and death.

Both the porpoises were suffering from Pneumonia and one had a blood infection related to an as yet unidentified air born bacteria. The crow was very straight forward. Someone shot it with a pellet gun

Pelagic Transects

  • 2002 was a big year for South Polar Skuas. In the past we have been excited about seeing one of these birds in the whole season. There were seven sightings, of which three were recorded in August. At mile 15.2, two birds were relatively close to shore.

  • A curiosity on the October run was the recording of a Harlequin Duck flying past at mile 10.4. This was our first offshore recording of this species. Their normal migration is from mountain streams in summer to open ocean coastline in the winter.

  • The June run was an example of how drastically the presence of commercial fishing vessels can affect the bird counts. At both mile 23.5 and 11.4, on the 'return leg', there were 53 Black-footed Albatross, a Skua and an assortment of close to 40 tube snouts such as Fulmars and Shearwaters feeding on debris from 2 fishing boats. On the 'outbound leg', only 4 albatross and no Skuas were recorded.

Overall bird numbers not exceptional in any way compared to past years, as a mater of fact 2002 was close to a carbon copy of 2001.

Eel Grass Bed Plotting

We actually started this project in 2001 as part of our Grice Bay works. We wanted to know if plotting all the Eel Grass beds of Clayoquot Sound would be a doable project.

We are interested in this work not only because of the dynamic roll sea grass plays in marine ecosystems but also because of Clayoquot's prolific habitat. I think it likely that we have a greater percentage of Eel Grass hectorage than any other sound on the coast. Not entirely trusting air photo pixel density evaluation, we have opted to ground truth the assessment. We have completed the beds of Grice Bay and most beds in the immediate area of Tofino Harbour. These works show us that the project could be completed with minimal equipment and at reasonable cost.


In 2002, budget restraints again reflected in our affordable activities. None the less we were still able to keep volunteers busy for over 663 hours. The most hours for 2002 goes to Adrian Dorst who put in 40 hours as our principal spotter on the pelagic transects. Thanks for expertise and teachings Adrian. Mention should also be given to Gil Palm who logged 38 hours at whatever duties he was asked. The no prize for calling in the most marine species for our databases is a tie between whale watch driver/guides Peter Schulze and Jason Fever. Of the 469 reports, they both called in over 30.

Thanks guys.


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