Season 3, Leg 3 complete

Check out the data report here, complete with the most memorable images from the leg.

  • Third circuit of visual/acoustic surveys complete.
  • Local research community rescues stranded transient killer whale.
  • Dramatic shifts in fjord system’s geography of schooling prey.
  • Humpback whales have already moved into inner fjord channels.
  • All “regular” seabird species are now in the area.
  • Escalating fin whale numbers.

This and other reports can be also be found here.

Stranded killer whale!

On July 22, the Bangarang team was involved the community’s response to a stranded killer whale in the study area. After a successful rescue, our partners at Cetacealab wrote up the story for their blog. In the days that followed, the story spread to news outlets around the world. Here are a few versions of the story:

ABC news
Vancouver Sun
Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC)
The Globe and Mail
Fox13
CNN
The UK Mirror
Huffington Post BC
Huffington Post Canada

The exact details of these incidents and the decisions of responders are of value for better response to future strandings, so I also wrote a thorough account of the events of July 22nd. This account is also available in the Season 3 Leg 3 report.

The Bangarang  crew had just started transect work southbound in north Squally in the area of Union Pass. Emily saw the group of killer whales at approx. 07:30 traveling north along the Pitt Island shore from the area of Twartz Bay. Our first estimate was 11 animals, a leading subgroup of 5 followed by a subgroup of 6. We saw each group surface twice before a dive. They were moving quickly, so we set a course to intercept the leading group while I deployed the towed hydrophone array.

When the leading group surfaced again they were much further ahead than anticipated; they may have sped up during their dive. They were now along the eastern shore of Hinton Island, the large island at the entrance to Union Pass. We never saw the trailing group surface again – they may have traveled to the west of Hinton or they may have turned east toward Blossom Point on Farrant Island (a group of 6+ killer whales was seen in that area later in the day).

Even at maximum RPM (a whopping 6.5 knots, but we were against an ebbing tide) we could not catch up to the leading group. They surfaced only twice before another dive, at which point they were approx. 500m south of Edward Islets. We had checked out these islets the week before and had counted approximately 30 harbour seals hauled out and among the kelp between the two islets.

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When the 5 whales of the leading group surfaced again, they were between the two islets. At a distance we saw some splash and spray, but could not tell whether these were successful chases. By the time we reached the islets the whales were circling the larger northern islet. Realizing that we would have to navigate shallows in order to get IDs, I regretted deploying the array. On the western side of the islet we stalled to bring in the array (we had heard no vocalizations up to this point) then moved around to the eastern side, where we found the whales pacing the shoreline and noticed that one was stationary very near dry rocks.

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The whale, which we later named Black Bean, was nearly fully submerged except for its dorsal finn and the trace of its anterior back. It was tucked between the islet and a boulder that was drying as the tide fell. We were surprised to see her so close to the rocks, but she did not appear to be in distress or trouble.

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We assumed it was a hunting tactic, an ambush for fleeing harbour seals. The other four whales were circling the islet. On two occasions we saw a pair of whales rush from the gap between the two islets around to the area where Black Bean was poised. The pair would rush past Black Bean then take a sharp turn right towards Black Bean’s mouth. This aligned with our guess that Black Bean was among the rocks intentionally. Other than these two rushes, we did not see the other animals pay any special attention to Black Bean as they paced the shoreline.

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We drifted back and forth for the next half hour, collecting IDs as we could. Occasionally Black Bean would adjust its weight, but its breathing seemed relaxed. We could hear no vocalizations out of the water. We grew concerned when the right eye patch became exposed by the falling tide. Soon after this we began to see others in the group linger around Black Bean as they circled the islet. We began considering the possibility that this was a stranding, but did not act until we saw Black Bean raise its tail out of the water.

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I attempted to contact Whale Point, Hartley Bay and the Gitga’at Guardians over VHF but may have been out of range. As I was coordinating a relay to Whale Point with Prince Rupert Coast Guard, we saw Black Bean pump its tail intermittently and began to hear it vocalize.

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The Coast Guard confirmed that both Whale Point and the Sofia  had received the message and that the Sofia was en route. Marven Robinson of the GWs heard my conversation with the Coast Guard and let us know he was on the way. We decided not to act further until the others arrived, so we anchored on the northwest slope of the islet. We deployed a hydrophone over the side but heard no vocalizations. A light drizzle persisted during this wait, keeping Black Bean wet. The other four whales were now paying much more attention to their stranded companion. They lingered close by until the other boats arrived.

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We pulled the hydrophone back up when Marven and company arrived in the Gitga’at Guardian  and rafted up to us. Minutes later the Soa  arrived. By this time Black Bean was almost completely out of the water.

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The group assessed the situation, Hermann consulted with Paul Catrell and a course of action was decided upon: we would assess injury and keep the whale wet and cold until the higher high tide at 18:00, at which point the whale should be able to swim away without struggle.

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Hermann and Janie can provide a much better account of the remainder of the day. In summary, a small group landed on the islet with blankets, bed sheets and buckets. Injury to the animal seemed minor – abrasions on pectorals and flukes, and the left pectoral was pinned against the rocks at an unnatural and possibly injurious angle. Hermann, Janie, George, Marven, Nicole, Bunker, and Eric were a part of the response team. The sheet were laid over Black Bean and kept wet via buckets and a hand-powered water pump and hose system. This work was kept up all day (about 6 hours) until the tide rose again to the whale’s waterline. Crew aboard the Bangarang and Sofia made black bean burritos for the responders, hence the whale’s nickname.

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As the rising tide reached Black Bean’s flanks, a group of Hartley Bay school children arrived on scene with Cam Hill to witness the stranding’s resolution. Eric returned to the Bangarang to deploy a hydrophone. Black Bean freed itself at about 16:30. The compiled recording’s first four minutes are excerpts of the whale’s vocalizations just before it was freed. The whale freed itself at 04:03 in the recording and continued to vocalize in the area for several more minutes. At 06:00 you can hear our cheers after Black Bean was re-sighted well away from the rocks.

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We on the Bangarang felt so lucky to witness the teamwork among Cetacealab, the Gitga’at Guardians, the Hartley Bay community, and the DFO Cetacean Research Program. We were honored to be involved.

Damp Pants Syndrome

Damp Pants Syndrome from RV Bangarang on Vimeo.

A Public Service Announcement to increase awareness and treatment of a constant torment to the Great Bear Rainforest. Just when you think you are safe from the grizzlies and the transient killer whales, you look down to find that you have damp pants. 2015 Bangaranger Will Bostwick walks us throughs the Do’s, the Dont’s, and the Uh-Oh’s of DPS.

You can view this and other silly videos here.

Season 3, Leg 2 complete

Check out the data report here, complete with the most memorable images from the leg.

Highlights!

  •  Second oceanographic circuit complete.
  •  30 photo-IDs gathered on the summer solstice!
  •  Extensive red tide blooms sweep through fjord system.
  •  Water clarity triples in central channels.
  •  Schools of herring found in outer channels, sand lance along most shallow shorelines.
  •  Many more euphausiids occurring in inner channel tows.
  •  The area’s bubble-net feeding group of humpbacks is now at large in the outer channels.
  •  Bigg’s killer whales far inland
  •  Large groups of n whales feeding in north Squally.
  •  Humpbacks move further inland, into northern channels of Gil Basin
  •  Canada Day and Fourth of July celebrations!

This and other field reports can also be found here.

Season 3, Leg 1 Complete

Check out the data report here, complete with the most memorable images from the leg.

Highlights!

  • Record time up the Inside Passage
  • Father-son venture to the head of the fjord system
  • First oceanographic circuit complete
  • Advisor on board!
  • Unforgettable encounter with curious humpback
  • Fin whales already in the area!
  • Humpbacks move early into central channels of Gil Basin
  • Remarkably dense and shallow euphausiid concentrations
  • Sightings of Bigg’s and Northern Resident killer whales
  • Dall’s Porpoise recordings and underwater footage

Other field reports available here.

Season 3, Day 1: Unforgettable

Season 3 is off to an auspicious start: we even started early. Day 1 began with an unforgettable encounter right out of the gates, in the first hour of transect work. This is a good sign. A bit nerve-wracking, too.

Season 3, Day1 from RV Bangarang on Vimeo.

A very curious humpback whale stops us in our tracks on our first day of research in Season 3 (2015). We keep a respectful distance from the animals during our research, but when they take an interest in you, you don’t have much choice. All you can do is turn off the engine and drift until the whale loses interest (an hour later).

This and other memorable research moments can be found here.

Lewis and Clark Fund!

amphilosoc-logo

While on our way up the coast for Season 3, we were given the fantastic news that our 120-day field campaign will be supported in part by the American Philosophical Society’s Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research! This is a fantastic step towards meeting funding needs: for the first time in the project’s history, volunteers will not need to pay for their own food!

This support goes toward a specific dimension of the Bangarang research plan, the comparison of foraging strategies in humpbacks and fin whales.

See our supporter’s page for more information.

Katie Qualls: Zoops Master

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photo by Luke Padgett

Fantastic news! Katie Qualls, a Bangaranger for all 3 seasons of this project, is dedicating her Master’s degree to the analysis of our zooplankton samples. She is working with Dr. Kim Bernard at Oregon State University, an extremely competitive program.

I couldn’t be more thrilled about this: the zooplankton component of this project has always been much bigger, with much more potential, than I would ever be able to do justice. Even more importantly, Katie will do it far better than I ever could. Zooplankton analysis is meticulous, skillful work, and Katie is the only one for the job.

This also marks the first extension of the Bangarang project into other theses, and I hope it will not be the last. There’s so much that needs to be done for the fjord system.