Drizzle, Fog and Steaming Sea Lions

It was a wet, drizzly, foggy day at Race Rocks but very calm. For most of the morning, the wind varied little from  east northeast at less than 5 knots. It only picked up to 10 – 15 knots as it swung around to north northeast in the evening. The forecast for Thursday is similar and while winds are expected to rise to 25- 35 knots southeast on Friday. Periods of rain, cloud and showers are on the horizon in spite of the barometer rising (overall trend) since late Monday.

It was a quiet day on the vessel observation front and only three whale watching vessels were noted in reserve. One ‘sports’ fishing vessel came through at very low speed, well positioned away from the animals.

There was some cetacean activity noted during the day as visibility increased to over 5 nautical miles. This included two Humpback Whales feeding near Rosedale Reef just outside reserve to the south, a Minke Whale just east of North Rock and Dall’s Porpoise to the southwest.

On Great Race, the Sea Lions were steaming today as air temperature hovered around 12 degrees C. and the cooling rain was evaporated off. Part of their haul-out at this time of year is a physiological need to warm their skin during the moulting process, thus the tidy rows of animals pressed against each other and the piling on top of each other to share their body heat. Some California Sea Lions have taken to rock climbing these last few days. They are well established above the boathouse now and at the base of the cliff under camera 5, so the logical (to them) extension was to move further up and there were three of them up by the helicopter pad today. I suspect that they will really like the heli-pad, if they make it that far.

There were six Northern Elephant Seals hanging out in the water around the jetty today.

Adult Glaucous-winged Gulls and this years young, continue to frequent their nesting territories much to my surprise. I have seen them chase off Thayers Gulls. The “visiting” gulls roost in peripheral areas away from the nest sites. A family of four Canada Geese continue to make the island their home.

Chores were as usual and there were no visitors.

Noticeably Darker Day

Today was more of a fall day with cooler temperatures and a threat of rain in the air. Light levels were way down too. The barometer rose to 1014 hPA from a low of 1010 yesterday and it has just started to fall again. Rain and east winds of up to 25 knots are predicted to bring tomorrow’s forecasted rain, with a cool, wet outlook for the week ahead.

Thirteen visits to the protected area, by whale watching vessels, were observed today. Only one pleasure craft was noted.

There was a lot of cetacean action in and around Race Rocks for most of the day. It started with two big, bull, Biggs Killer Whales (Transients), travelling in from the west on the Rosedale side. They were later spotted in Race Passage and not long after an adult female Killer Whale was seen well inside the reserve by Turbine Rock. There were two Humpback Whales, one feeding just east of Race Rocks that moved west through Race Passage. It had a definite white splotch on the right fluke. The other one was feeding just west and had dark flukes, the same one, I think, that has been around for a while. There was also a Minke Whale feeding just to the south of Race Rocks.

Accumulated solar radiation levels today were less than half of what they have been for the last few days, 150 versus 300 to 350 Langleys and the days are getting noticeably shorter, faster now. Migrant species are moving through the reserve daily with hundreds of Surf Scoters moving through from west to east every day. All three species of cormorants are using the rocks here as roosts now and feeding in the multi-species flocks that surround the reserve with much commotion. This change into autumn not only impacts the biodiversity of the reserve but also has an impact on practical things like power generation.

Solar power has been producing over 90% of the power needed to run everything on the island and that amount will change over the next few months. Right now the shortfall is made up with a diesel generator but the plan is to move to cleaner burning propane in the near future. A great deal of progress has been made in reducing the amount of fuel stored and used here, from the days of the Coast Guard when there were six giant diesel tanks dominated the rock and the generators ran 24/7. A big shout goes out to Pearson College, for both reducing the ecological footprint in terms of CO2 and for reducing the risk of a spill.

Chores were routine today and there were no visitors.

Sun-Monday Log: Double Billing Blog

Two more, lovely, sunny days squeezed in with the barometer down at ~ 1010 hPA and dropping. Light southeast wind today and yesterday will switch to variable and east on Thursday and the forecast looks like a change towards showers and southeasters towards the end of the week.

Ten visits by whale-watching vessels were observed in the Ecological Reserve each of the two days being reported. A handful of pleasure craft came through as well and everyone except the same guys who are always in a hurry and one boatful of lucky fishermen, were well behaved. The fishermen were lucky as they must have lost power and were swept over the little reef by Turbine Rock. One was ready with a paddle and the youngest one got the kicker going which got them out of there (eventually). That was exciting, especially for them. Eight kayaks came through the reserve yesterday. The paddlers at the front came through without disturbing any of the animals hauled out. The weakest paddler came by on her own, last. The tide pushed her a bit too close the Middle Rock and the sea lions stampeded. Sometimes it doesn’t take much.

Humpback Whales are feeding close if not in the reserve just about every day now. The individual spotted by the Marine Science students is feeding downstream just to the west of Middle Channel, during ebbing currents. I am curious if it goes down and just orients itself into the flow and filters away. There is a lot of food in the area and large multi-species feeding flocks driven by diving birds such as Common Murres and all three species of cormorants. The gulls, and there are a lot of them, roost on Race Rocks and then rush out to the feeding frenzies which I am assume are either small schooling fish like herring, sand lance or anchovies and/or large zooplankton like krill. These crustaceans are also known as Euphasiids and they look a bit like tiny shrimp with really big eyes. Those are the same sort of treats that Humpback whales like to feed on with their baleen and they use their really big fore flippers that are white on the underside, to herd krill and forage fish.

I have come to realize that the Glaucous-winged Gulls are still sitting around on the territories. Something I didn’t notice or understand last year until the spring shift and then I thought that they had just come back from somewhere. The juveniles that were raised here are mostly out foraging but also sometimes ‘hang-out’ where they were raised and also do a fait bit of begging from their parents. This week a lot of them have been practicing picking objects in their bills, flying with them and dropping them. Not sure if they are working on their aim but have noticed rocks, chunks of wood and bark and clumps of vegetation on the walkways. Yesterday morning I found a rock on the roof of the energy building and when I looked around saw the damage done to one of the solar panels.

Other birds seem a lot more refined. It is so nice to see the Harlequin Ducks back again, they are a favourite of mine. More and more Surf Scoters are flying through from west to east and it seems that fall is in the air.


Chores were routine both days and there were no visitors.



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.