We’re nearing the end of our spring research season and what a year it’s been! The bear project in Heiltsuk territory is just one node of the larger collaboration between the Central Coast Bear Working Group, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the Raincoast-Hakai Lab.
But bear research isn’t all we’ve been doing. We’ve participated in a herring celebration, a Children’s Cultural Celebration, a film night about the Great Bear Sea, a fundraising gala for a new Bighouse, an Ocean’s Day celebration with the Bella Bella Community School, and shared meals and cups of tea with friends near and dear. We’ve been fortunate enough to bring youth with us in the field – kids whose enthusiasm was absolutely contagious. We’ve picked seaweed, and caught halibut. We’ve spent time with bears, wolves, killer whales, and humpbacks. To top it all off, we’ve collected a mountain of samples that will inform the science and stewardship of bears in this area.
None of this would be possible without our incredible crew. Although we’ve written about the great science and ecology of this place, here’s a little bit about some of the fantastic people that make this all possible, namely: Howard, Collin, Alena, Marlie, Ayla, Don, and Lulu.
Howard has been with the Heiltsuk node of the Raincoast bear research since its inception in 2009. The skills he holds as a world-class fisher and hunter are perfectly suited to our work. He loves sharing his knowledge, expertise, and insight with all members of the crew, and shares our work throughout the year with all those he encounters. Throughout the year he’s also always thinking about the project, about new places for sites, new approaches, and improvements that can be made.
Collin has worked with bears for years. He worked with us in 2009 and 2010, has worked with Coastwatch on bear research projects for many seasons, and we’re very excited to have him back this year! His skills on the water are perhaps only matched by his skills on the harmonica. He’s an incredibly hard worker, and a great scientist.
Marlie and Alena are the dynamic duo who, in addition to working in the field, work tirelessly before and after each field day to ensure all field supplies are ready to go, all data are entered, all samples are dried and processed. There’s not a barb wire hanged or a sample taken down that hasn’t gone through their hands and their care at some point. Alena is the newest member of the project team, but she learned the job almost immediately (thanks in part to fantastic mentoring by Marlie). She’s an eager student of Dr. Chris Darimont’s and a talented photographer. Marlie has just passed her 1st anniversary with Raincoast and the ACS lab. Although she only started on the project last year, she is already a strong mentor, taking a leadership role throughout the season.
This is Ayla’s second year with the project. She has an infectious love of the place, and she loves sharing with us. The bulk of the Heiltsuk words the crew now knows are thanks to her. Her eagerness to provide feedback has been incredibly helpful in helping the project grow.
Don is our wonderful volunteer pilot (see “Days with Don” for a previous blog post). Like Howard he has been with the project since its inception, and the extent of his contributions are hard to put into words. Thanks to his kind generosity we have seen first-hand the value of helicopters in sampling (which, believe it or not, are surprisingly fuel efficient – more so than boats)! This insight has led to helicopters being added to the roster of neighbouring field projects. In addition to his lovely helicopter Gizmo, Don contributes a great sense of humour, company, and ideas.
Lulu, Don’s partner, provides a great deal of logistical support on the ground. In addition to her great company, she monitors the helicopter’s flights through the day (an important safety requirement), she helps with data entry, field work, treats us to delicious cuisine, and stands lookout at the field station for passing marine mammals!
Me, I’m lucky enough to spend time with these great folks, and to have been on this project for 6 years now, both as a Raincoast biologist and for the past 3 years as a PhD student and with John Reynolds and Chris Darimont. After spending each spring here for years I had the great fortune to move to the Raincoast field station in Heiltsuk territory full-time as of 2014.
For the bears,
(Photos by Kyle except where noted)