Hotel California

It was a glorious October day with sunshine and light southeast winds. The barometer slid down to almost 1015 hPA but the forecast looks good with more light winds and sunshine.

Only two whale watching tour boats were observed visiting the Ecological Reserve today. Several ‘pleasure’ craft came through and only one speeder was observed, two young men in a rental boat.

There are more and more California Sea Lions and they are damaging the burial cairns and the area above the boat shed where the rare plants used to live. Where ever they haul-out for more than a few days becomes quickly burnt looking and devoid of vegetation. Today they knocked down a big boulder from above the boat house onto the walkway. The Canada Geese have returned as well and are stubborn about staying so it feels like an invasion. The Stellers Sea Lion numbers are staying steady and individually they seem much wiser and wilder than the California party lions. The Northern Elephant Seals sleep amongst the Californians and are much less reactive than either of the two sea lion species.

Chores were all about fighting entropy today. The sunshine was a bonus for power generation and making fresh water. There were no visitors.

Gathering of the Gulls

Today started fairly clear, then clouded over. In the afternoon it was sunny for a few hours and eventually the sky darkened and at dusk the rain started. The barometer rose to almost 1019 hPA mid-day and then fell. The forecast is for clearing and light east winds with sunshine on the horizon.

Twelve commercial whale-watching vessels were observed working in the Ecological Reserve. They were in the area watching a Humpback feeding very close to the western reserve boundary, transient orcas to the southwest and southern resident killer whales to the northeast.

Today was census day due to thick fog yesterday.

Animal Census

Steller Sea Lion 338

California Sea Lion 908

Harbour Seal             178

Northern Elephant Seal 5

Sea Otter 1

Southern Resident Killer Whale (26 observed within one mile of ER during count week, (Race Passage, east, west and south of RR)

Biggs Killer Whale (Transients) (9 during count week Race Passage & southwest)

Humpback Whale (3 observed within one mile of ER during count week)

Minke Whale (1 observed within one mile of ER during count week just east of North Rock)

Canada Goose 20 attempting to be full time

Harlequin Duck 5

Surf Scoters 30 (flying through to east)

Double-crested Cormorant 12

Brandt’s Cormorants 27

Pelagic Cormorant 5

Black Oystercatcher 5

Black Turnstone 7

Surfbirds 13

Kildeer 2

Total gull count 2469

Estimated numbers

Glaucous-winged Gull 350

California Gull 50

Thayer’s Gulls 1500

Herring Gull 1

Ring-billed Gull 1

Western Gull 1

Heerman’s Gull 15

Mew Gull 20

~531 unidentified gulls

Common Raven 2

Savannah Sparrow 10

Fox Sparrow 2

Song Sparrow 2

Junco 3

Pacific Wren 1


Other chores were routine. There were no visitors.


In the Fog.

The sky was mostly clear in the morning but fog moved in and dominated the rest of the day. The wind switched from east northeast around to west in advance of the fog and then blew fairly steadily west at 20 – 25 knots. The barometer held its own today at and around 1014 hPA. There is a strong wind warning in effect expecting west 20 – 30 this evening and again late afternoon, evening on Friday. There is a chance of showers on Friday and then it is supposed to clear again.

In spite of the thick fog in the afternoon, eight whale watching vessels were observed working in the Ecological Reserve today. Two “pleasure” craft were also observed, and one almost ended up on Middle Rock. The ebb tide was sweeping swept out to sea as they tracked across from North Rocks and they were pushed into the kelp bed just before Middle Rock before they adjusted course and powered out. They were lucky to not have been stalled by kelp in the wheel.

Ecological observations were limited by visibility today. I could hear the whale watchers talking about a Humpback Whale in the vicinity but did not observe it. The animal census will have to wait until there is visibility. The Canada Geese are arriving after dark now and taking up other stealth tactics to stay on Great Race.

Fog remained thick at the end of the day. Chores were largely Sisyphean in nature as keeping the California Sea Lions away from the houses and buildings becomes a more and more Herculean task given the resources. There were no visitors.


Marine Mammals Small and Large

Early fog crept over from the American side, obliterating visibility for a few hours this morning but then it was cleared by west winds of 10 – 20 knots. The wind was constant, as was the sunshine for the rest of the day. The barometer started rising last night and peaked at 1014 hPa before starting to drop again this afternoon. Tomorrow’s forecast includes strong wind warnings for afternoon westerlies of 15 – 25 knots, it is supposed to be mainly sunny while Friday has a 60% chance of showers.

There was a near-miss boating incident this morning just after the fog cleared. During the full ebb current, of close to six knots, a small rough looking commercial fishing vessel with lots of bumpers out and a ‘scotchman’ astern went flying through Middle Channel. Just as it arrived at the roughest section where the standing waves were standing high, it turned abruptly at right angles to the current. It rolled and seemed to take a long time to right itself. Then as I watched from the roof of the energy building, it lurched around,  finally straightening out like a drunken sailor making its way westward. Six whale watching vessels were noted, working in the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve today, all very professional, heeding sustainability methods and best practices except for one orange zodiac that was in a hurry to leave when the Navy arrived on scene just west of the reserve.

A Humpback Whale was feeding just to the west of the reserve all afternoon and the students were able to observe it through the spotting scope and time the dives. Some of them managed to sketch the blow shape in their field journals and a few even caught glimpses of the flukes. They also had a chance to observe the sea otter and that was a highlight amidst the roar and din of the ubiquitous sea lions and their stinky ways. Two young male Northern Elephant Seals took advantage of the chaos when the students were coming ashore to sneak up the ramp and they put on a good demonstration of elephant seal wrestling and jousting in between their sudden naps.

The field trip was the third marine science class to visit in a week and it was really a treat to work with such wonderful young people from all over the world.

Chores were routine in addition to end of the month routines.

Seawater Temperature and Salinity September 2015

Station Race Rocks Lightstation
Month: September Year: 2015
Observer: Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific
Date Time Sea Jar Hydro-   meter   No. Observed Density YSI Salinity YSI Temp °C
Temp. Temp.
°C °C
1 16:45 31.7 10.4
2 17:35 33.1 10.2
3 17:31 32.7 10.7
4 18:46 32.2 11.2
5 19:33 32.6 11.0
6 13:06 32.6 10.9
7 19:15 32.3 11.2
8 14:45 32.6 11.6
9 15:30 32.5 11.9
10 14:52 32.6 12.0
11 14:36 32.6 11.7
12 14:52 32.6 11.7
13 15:15 32.5 11.5
14 15:38 32.6 11.4
15 16:02 11.4 12 10,802 240 32.5 11.2
16 16:26 32.4 11.1
17 16:52 32.3 11.4
18 17:00 32.2 11.4
19 16:47 31.9 12.0
20 17:36 31.9 11.6
21 18:07 31.9 11.8
22 19:06 32.0 11.7
23 13:44 32.1 11.9
24 13:17 32.3 11.6
25 13:16 32.4 11.4
26 13:37 32.5 11.2
27 14:07 32.5 11.2
28 14:14 32.5 11.2
29 15:15 33.3 10.3
30 15:51 33.0 10.5
means 32.4 11.3

Sumo-sized Sea Lions

It was a copycat kind of day, weather wise, the same as yesterday and the day before. Calm, very light winds and clears skies. The barometer continued the drop started on Sunday and is now below 1012 hPa again. The forecast is calling for a switch to light winds west 10 -1 5 and a mix of sun and cloud until Friday when showers are expected..

Whale watching traffic in the Ecological Reserve was fairly light with only eight observed visits. All the operators did really well today. They slowed on entry, went with the current, drove in a responsible way that respected the protected area and saved speeding up until they were clear of the reserve. This is the sort of cooperative behavior that is the norm for sustainable operations in reserve. Observations were made of “sports” fishers hauling in lingcod and rockfish in the Race Rocks Rockfish Conservation area.

Although there may have been more elsewhere, there was no lack of whale action around Race Rocks today. Three Biggs Killer Whales were spotted travelling from east to west through Race Passage in the morning and a Humpback Whale went the other way, in the afternoon, spending some time feeding close to North Rocks. There large multi-species feeding flocks in the same area. Perhaps there are balls of forage fish there.

I saw a large kelp raft, first of the season, sweeping out to sea with the ebbing tide today. This annual kelp becomes more and more prevalent in the tidelines as autumn progresses and the winter storms will remove most of it before spring. It is a great carbon sink that fixes large amounts of carbon, which will eventually become entombed on the bottom. Not all of it goes out to sea and sinks though. Kelp that lands on shore is a key part of near shore food webs relying on this large volume of rotting biomass to fuel new generations of shore spawners and out going young salmon.

Chores were routine again and the sunshine is allowing for recovery of freshwater lost earlier in the month. The level is almost back up to where it was on September 5th. There were no visitors.


Vibrissae to Vibrissae They Faced Each Other.

Sunrise saw the big moon ‘dropping’ in the west this morning and clear sunny skies reigned supreme all day. The falling barometer continued its descent today but the forecast looks good with today’s light easterly winds continuing tomorrow.

Fifteen whale watching vessel visits to the protected area, were observed today. Speed on arrival and departure continues to be an issue with a few operators however the large majority of operators are driving at a slow, respectful and careful speed. A couple of the larger vessels with shallow draught are acting more and more as though they are little speed boats weaving in and out of the rocky islets, in areas which are, by agreement with the industry, off-limits. The agreement was established by consensus, to ensure sustainable whale watching operations within the protected area. Just in case institutional (or other) memory has been lost: travel is supposed to be confined to Middle Channel, going with the current. All of the companies using the Ecological Reserve for profit should be thinking about the example they are setting for pleasure craft and the sustainability image of their company (not to mention their marine insurers who would probably not be too happy about the risks being taken by the few).

Minke, Humpback and Biggs Killer Whales brought the whale watchers to the area today and the seals, sea lions and sea otter brought them into the Ecological Reserve. At low tide the sea otter can be seen in the kelp bed on the southeast corner of the reserve but I am not sure where he goes at high tide. He has moved back there after merciless whale watching traffic as close as was physically possible. While it did not appear to ‘bother” him having large powered vessels lurching over him, decks crowded with people gawking and taking photos, I can certainly understand the move.  The Bigg’s Killer Whales travelled west past Race Rocks today again using the shallow Eemdyk Passage behind Bentinck Island, which is directly across Race Passage from Race Rocks. Quite a few Harbour Seals haul out in there. There was a Humpback Whale feeding next to Church Rock in the morning and a Minke Whale travelling to the east was observed just east of North Rocks. There were Southern Resident Killer Whales in the area according to the VHF radio but I did not have a chance to spot them.

I did have the opportunity to observe some Stellers Sea Lions and take a few photos of two younger ones playing together and an older “couple” that seemed quite wise. I know that may sound anthropomorphic but what I observed was the animal on the left licking the neck of the big old bull and then the two muzzling each other gently lip to lip. It was the gaze of the big old male that seemed to tell a story about a long life. I can’t really explain it so here is a quote from Carl Safina who is very articulate about animal’s inner lives.

“We have no trouble saying that an animal who’s vigorously eating is hungry, and one resting after exertion is tired; yet we can hardly force ourselves to acknowledge that when they’re playing they’re having fun, or that when they’re acting affectionate they’re feeling the bond,” Safina said. “Why? Because denying them all experience reinforces our favorite story: that we are so very special.”

From Beyond Words: What Animals Feel and Think by Carl Safina, 2015

On the sustainability front, today was a great day for solar power and I made lots of fresh water with solar power using the desalinator. Chores were routine and there were no visitors.


Traffic Congestion at Race Rocks?

Clear skies and light winds made for a beautiful day. The wind switched around in direction going from east northeast to southeast to west and back to easterlies. Solar radiation was high at 400 Langleys and barometric pressure rose for most of the day going over 1021 hPa mid-day before dropping in the late afternoon and evening. The forecast is for more of the same; sunshine and light easterly winds until Wednesday.

There were a lot of whale watching vessels in the area today and 16 visits by commercial operators were noted in the protected area. Except for a hectic time when killer whales were passing by, most operators were careful and slow. Again a couple of the largest vessels were travelling through shallow areas , close to haul-outs and lacking room for maneuverability: areas where they should not be travelling both for conservation and for safety. Two other whale-watching vessels were speeding in reserve, apparently anxious to get back out with the killer whales or back to base. The big noisy vessel that usually speeds in and out of the protected area was very well behaved today, nice change not speeding. Five ‘pleasure’ craft were observed in the protected area. Except for a fast entry by one boat, they were all travelling slowly and respectfully, including a Pedder Bay rental boat that did a nice drift through Middle Channel while the whale watching zoo was happening in the protected area.

I continue to spot the same branded California Sea Lions, left side brands 5477, 8101, 8228, 6153, 650U and rump brands U391, U105, U601, U321, U255, U148, U118, U174, U894, U239, U223 and more. There are others as well, all photo-documented, as are the Stellers Sea Lion brands. The Northern Elephant Seals left Great Race either early this morning or last night so just the sea lions were here today in the pinniped department. There was one Humpback Whale to the south of the protected area today and a Minke Whale about two miles west. Three Transient (Biggs) Killer Whales (one male, one female and one young) passed close to Rosedale Reef, just to the south of Race Rocks, heading west.

Routine chores were much more satisfactory today with a feeling of progress being made. There were no visitors.


Sisyphian Struggles with Sea Lions

It was another beautiful day at Race Rocks with light north-westerlies turning to west and the barometer climbing considerably higher than it has in a week. The forecast is for more of the same with light winds – easterly in the morning then switching to west.

A few commercial operators were working in the Ecological Reserve today including one boat that calls itself a party boat. It came in fast and then went back and forth through Middle Channel seven or eight times before leaving. They also sat right in the middle of the current running against it but staying stationary for long periods of time. Strange but true.

The usual Saturday morning dive charter was here with divers in the water right in front of the sea lion haul-out on north Great Race, also as usual. Total, there were five tourism vessels working in the protected area, including three whale watching vessels. Only a few pleasure craft went through today. Most of them slowed and followed the rules. The exception was a rental boat that went through the reserve at high speed, stopped, changed direction and then roared off at full throttle right through an area with lots of animals in the water.

The ecological trends described in the Log during the last week continue as do the difficulties of identifying gulls, especially large numbers of multiple species, with different ages and stages of plumage all stirred up with hybridization and lots of exceptions to the rules. Yes folks, gull is officially a four-letter word and the jury is still out on some identifications.

The sea lions continue to haul out and it seems that there are more Stellers Sea Lions hauling in the last few days, especially on Middle Rocks. Perhaps they are relaxed enough to haul out, after a day or two without explosions across the way. The extra sea lions on Middle Rocks may be why four young Northern Elephant Seals showed up at Great Race today; #5850 and three companions, all about the same size or smaller, two males and a female (the smallest).

Chores consisted of fighting entropy, not unlike Sisyphus, with similar results. There were no visitors.



Killdeer Calling in Daylight

The sun set behind Makah and Clallam territory on the American side of the Strait tonight meaning that autumn is the new reality. What a glorious end to a day that just kept improving. Serious clouds followed earlier heavy fog and the threat of rain was kept at bay by light and variable winds, most of the day. The wind finally turned to west 15 – 20 and the sky cleared. The barometer stayed above 1015 all day and the tendency now is rising, which bodes well for tomorrow. The forecast is calling for some clouds and a 30% chance of showers tomorrow followed by a mix of sun and cloud.

There wasn’t much vessel traffic in reserve today, just a couple of well behaved pleasure boats passing through and three whale watching vessels.

The young male Northern Elephant Seal #5850 returned to haul out up on the grass at Great Race Island today. He was tagged in Ana Nuevo Island as a weaner in 2012 and has now lost all but one of his tags. Today he had a male companion about the same size and they spent a little time sparring before falling into deep sleeps. The little female he was with last time spent most of the afternoon asleep underwater, on the bottom, just off the jetty.

Every night at Race Rocks just after dark I hear Killdeer calling and today I had a chance to see them in daylight, which is a rarity; beautiful birds with very large eyes.

I would love to know where they usually go during the day and why they fly out to Great Race for the night.

The number and diversity of gulls here right now is a little staggering and there are a few that I am having trouble identifying. There is one with yellow eyes like a Herring Gull but smaller in stature with a smaller less fierce looking head. Do Thayers and Herring Gulls hybridize now?

Other than re-stringing the jetty fence, chores were routine today and there were no visitors.