By Jody Weir
Marine Program Coordinator
In early spring we left Nanaimo, aboard our research vessel, Achiever. Our goal is to survey the coastal waters of British Columbia for marine mammals (whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sealions) and seabirds in order to document the marine life in these waters and identify their most critical habitat. We want people to know what, exactly, is out here, and what is at stake if oil and gas development and tanker traffic are allowed to increase on this very fragile coast.
The team aboard Achiever includes Raincoast researchers and a handful of dedicated volunteers from Vancouver, Victoria, Sidney and Hawaii. For two months of spring (April and May), we are living on the boat, eating on the boat, and taking turns scanning the waters from an observation platform. Using binoculars, laser range finders and GPS units, we record the locations and behaviours of the marine mammals that we see. Later, this information is incorporated into a larger database for analysis.
We have already recorded four humpback whales, two that were lunge feeding in Fitz Hugh Sound – pectoral flippers splashing and churning the waters around them. In Johnstone Straight we encountered a travelling minke whale, a very elusive baleen whale uncommonly sighted on the BC coast. We have recorded an elephant seal swimming in deep waters, Steller sea lions hauled out on rocks and Dall’s porpoise swimming slowly along shore. A pod of hundreds of Pacific white-sided dolphins surrounded our boat and looked up at us from the water, their skin mottled by the yellowish tinge of diatoms. Our seabird observer, wrapped in warm wet weather gear had recorded over 20 different species of seabirds in just three days of study.
While eying the shores through Belize Inlet, one keen observer noticed red markings on the rock walls of the fiord. Upon closer inspection we realized that we were staring at pictographs, depicting boats with people in cedar woven hats and fishing gear and a dolphin off to one side. It was an intensely emotional experience to see this image and connect to the people and the marine life of ancient times. I wonder what the person who painted that image would think of the area today? What were they used to seeing in these waters?
I hope that the BC coast continues to be habitat for dolphins, whales, and other marine mammals, that development does not sacrifice their feeding and breeding grounds, and that future generations can view and analyze our electronic databases and digital photographs and compare them to what they see. I hope that the public realizes what is at stake and chooses to protect the marine life of our coast.