Helicopter Generator Swap


  • Visibility: 15 miles
  • Wind: 5-10 knots North
  • Sky: mostly overcast, some rain in the evening.
  • Water: calm


  • There were eight elephant seals on Great Race today.
  • That is the most I have seen out here during this current shift.
  • Three of the younger males enjoyed a spirited bout or two.
  • The rest of them snoozed off in pairs or alone.
  • The birds and sea lions were definitely disrupted by the helicopter.


  • Kyle and four men from the Coast Guard removed the old Generator B.
  • A Coast Guard helicopter then dropped off a new generator, and took away the old one.
  • They then placed the new generator in its spot.
  • I helped out with various auxiliary tasks, but mostly just took photographs.
  • Tidied up loose tools after everyone had departed.


  • Second Nature.
  • A few eco-tours.


  • Kyle, the four Coast Guard men, and Ian and Stephen.
  • They all departed in the early afternoon.


  • Coast Guard helicopter overflight.


Count Day

The sky was partially overcast early but cleared a bit in late morning. Then it clouded over and finally started to rain as it socked in just before dark. The wind started out east-northeast then turned to west late morning before backing all the way around to southwest. The barometric pressure is rising as I write this log and the forecast calls for clearing in the morning and sunshine. Winds will turn to westerly 10 – 15 knots Friday afternoon.

Commercial whale watching vessels made fifteen observed visits to the Ecological Reserve today. One vessel regularly comes in fast and not slowing until well inside the go slow boundary and then consistently speeds up early. The same vessel can be seen hop-scotching ahead of endangered southern resident killer whales as the pass by and in the reserve, sitting almost on top of the sea otter. It is a large, noisy vessel that reliably pushes the limits of respectful whale watching and will end up by hitting an animal or worse. Most of the operators realize that this sort of behaviour is not sustainable.

Biggs Killer Whales were already being followed by the whale-watching fleet before they came into the Ecological Reserve from the east and milled in and around South Seal Rocks and the breaking rock just off the energy building. There were many sea lions in the water, some craning their necks to see better and others just trying to maintain as much time as possible in the air, by repeatedly leaping airborne. I am not sure if the killer whales made a kill or not but sense that they did. There was some fancy criss-cross swimming by the first three whales, then a little one accompanied by a bigger one arrived on scene. This was followed by a few minutes with all the whales underwater and gull action above, which made me think food leftovers. After that they left, heading south and then southeast, dogged by the fleet. Two vessels came into the reserve while the whales were already inside. It is possible that they were not aware on entering but they did not leave once they were aware of the whales’ presence.

Ecologically, the transition from summer into fall continues. Salmon migration is still strong and birds, pinnipeds and cetaceans abundant. The size of the multi-species feeding flocks on the water, is increasing daily with some aggregations (outside the protected area) appearing to have thousands of gulls.

Thursday is animal census day so here are the numbers for charismatic mega-fauna.

Steller Sea Lion 303

California Sea Lion 578

Harbour Seal 187

Northern Elephant Seal 11

Sea Otter 1

Southern Resident Killer Whale (2 in ER during count week, additional 18 in Race Passage during count week)

Biggs Killer Whale (Transients) 6 today (3 more during count week)

Humpback Whale (3 during count week)

Canada Goose 0 full time (flock of ~25 chased off almost daily)

Harlequin Duck 0

Double-crested Cormorant 25

Brandt’s Cormorants 22

Pelagic Cormorant 6

Unidentified cormorants 17

Black Oystercatcher 5

Black Turnstone 11

Kildeer 3

Glaucous-winged Gull total 453 (325 – adults; 128 – juveniles)

California Gull 847

Thayer’s Gull 180

Mew Gull 24

Herring Gull 0

Ring-billed Gull 2

Western Gull 2

Heerman’s Gull 36

Adult Gull spp (Unidentified) 242

Juvenile Gull spp (Unidentified) 223

Savannah Sparrow 9

Fox Sparrow 1

Unidentified Sparrow 1

Junco 3

Horned Lark (2 in count week)

Pacific Wren 1

Routine chores continue. There were six visitors today. Two very self contained Environment Canada technical service officers came out to do annual maintenance on their weather station up on the tower. If you were looking on camera # 1 you may have had a close-up view of them at work, calibrating, replacing and maintaining their instruments in full climbing gear. Thanks go out to them as well for the help they gave us before leaving the island. Two national geographic photographers came out to get a sense of the diversity of wildlife and of course take photos. Two young people who may potentially become eco-guardians also visited. Thanks go out to Don for helping move fuel, a heavy job. Well done. Courtney drove Second Nature to get them all out here and back safely and she was accompanied by Jasper, volunteer extraordinaire.



Crankypants Has a Number.

By mid-morning, the light southwesterly winds left over from yesterday’s blow had wandered over to south and they stayed southerly until early evening when they turned back to west. The barometer continued the slow ascent begun early yesterday, throughout the day. Although there was a mix of sun and clouds today, light levels were high and reached over 1000 W/m2 at the peak. Forecasters are calling for strong westerly winds again, with a chance of showers Thursday.

Four Whale Watching vessels were noted in the Ecological Reserve today, visiting on return from the west, heading towards Victoria. No sports fishing vessels were noted in the ER.

The Canadian Coast Guard Helicopter (Fisheries and Oceans) dropped by today to service the light, which went dark the night before last. Dave (pilot) and Derek (technician) were a welcome sight in their lovely little Messerschmidt, which was carefully put down at the base of the light tower stairs.


Dave and Derek preparing for take off.

Dave and Derek preparing for take off.

Messerschmidt tower heli flag


Ten Whimbrels stopped for a rest and a feed today. These amazing migrators are on their way to the arctic tundra from South America and it was a treat to see them here.

Whimbrels stopped for a rest and a feed in the inter-tidal today.

Whimbrels stopped for a rest and a feed in the inter-tidal today.

Whimbrel M

I kept an eye on the Bald Eagles today and yes, they are fishing.

It was a right "hand" catch, transferred to both feet and then tucked up under to the tail to hide it from sight.

It was a right “hand” catch, transferred to both feet and then tucked up under  the tail to hide it from sight.

Baea fish hooked Baea catch

Ten of the elephant seals managed to go through the measuring device today while I was sitting, waiting for them with the camera. I also spotted tags on the young female Northern Elephant Seal with serious skin issues. I may have mentioned her in a previous blog, I called her psoriasis sister last fall and Courtney named her crankypants in spring 2014. She is very vocal and easily disturbed by the other seals. She is usually off by herself but today she was caught in a traffic jam for daily ablutions, which really seemed to upset her. I have observed her many times last fall and this spring but never noticed the tags before. She moves as if in pain, complains loudly and leaves a trail of blood. She has many open wounds that look like holes and cracks. The right tag is number A114 and although it is difficult to read the left side, it is perhaps A476. She has all four tags still.


Crankypants has a tag number now A114.

Crankypants has right  tag number  A114.


A branded Steller’s Sealion # 411R was noted today. She looks big for a female but that is what the record says, branded as a pup in July, 2005 at Rogue Reef, which is in the very southern end of Oregon. I will check with Pat Gearin on this identification.


There were no visitors other than the Coast Guard crew and maintenance chores were all routine.

Esquimalt First Nation Traditional land (and water) use areas.

In August, 2014, the Trans Mountain Pipeline consultant Tera submitted a “Supplemental Traditional Marine Resource Transportation Technical Report. 

In it, a chart is presented with areas of traditional use by the Esquimalt First Nations is presented. This is the first time this kind of map has appeared, and it is rather interesting since the Esquimalt FN remained uninvolved throughout the Race Rocks MPA Advisory Board meetings .


“EXECUTIVE SUMMARY An Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment was completed by TERA, a CH2M HILL Company,and was submitted as part of the Application to the National Energy Board (NEB) in December 2013 for the proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project (referred to as TMEP or the Project). The NEB will conduct a detailed review and hold a Public Hearing to determine if it is in the public interest to recommend a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for construction and operation of the Project. Pending regulatory approval, Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC (Trans Mountain) plans to begin construction in 2016 and go into service in 2017.Trans Mountain will continue to engage Aboriginal communities through all phases of the Project. Traditional Marine Resource Use (TMRU) information received from participating communities will be reviewed in order to confirm literature results and mitigation measures. Additional issues of concern, TMRU sites or features identified through ongoing engagement with Aboriginal communities will be considered for incorporation into Project planning under the guidance of existing marine transport regulations and mitigation recommendations. The results of these ongoing engagement efforts will be provided to the NEBin future supplemental filings. Further information is provided in Technical Report (TR) 8B-5 in Volume 8B,  Traditional Marine Resource Use Technical Report of the Application. ”

This report contained a map of the traditional use areas of Esquimalt First Nations which shows use of the  Race Rocks Area as well as the adjacent coastline. It is shown in this link:

esquimalttraditionallanduse area

Click for large version


Overcast/Cloudy. Moderate West wind all day.

Erik brought out two techs from Environment Canada to service the weather station at the top of the tower. They realized a wiring error in their system after we had one of the main inverters burnout several weeks ago. They also fixed the old-school barograph I’ve had sitting broken in the kitchen since I found it in a closet on my last shift. This model of barograph (literally a barometer with a drum+graph used to track the tendency of atmospheric pressure) was standard issue for weather stations from Environment Canada for many years. The unit out here is from 1961, with an upgraded clock from 1977. I recently found a spare clock and drum for it, now the only things missing are graph paper for the drum and a new ink tip.

Ric the electrician also came out to start troubleshooting the generator issue. After some scrounging I found several manuals for components of the energy system. So far he has found a broken voltage controller that might be the culprit. We are now waiting on the part to see if this is the only problem.

A group of Pearson College visitors (Dave Skilling + 3) also came out for a brief tour and visit of the Reserve.

6 super loud blasts through out the day from DND that left the techs a little startled since the buildings shake when a big one goes off.


Elephant seal snoozing

Elephant seal snoozing, #6375 in the background

Another female elephant seal, significantly larger than the tagged #6375, has visited twice this week. It is not tagged. The tagged female has also stayed around. Yesterday, she was resting in the shallow water and blocking the boat ramp as I was returning from the mainland in the Whaler. I left the boat tied up so not to disturb the seal and returned in an hour. The seal had moved to a very crowded area that many of the sea lions use as their water entrance/exit and was snapping and chasing the sea lions. I assume this was playful behaviour although the elephant seal was quite aggressive.

This first image shows the seal waiting at the surface.



Then the seal approaches the sea lions on its back, provoking them.



And with a splash, the chase ensues!



A new project on-the-go is a daily count of the number of fishing boats. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans are wanting to monitor the impact of sport fishing in the area. We survey an area from Beechey Head to Albert Head. On some days, there more than 100 sport fishermen in the area.


Race Rocks: Legislative Gaps in Protecting Inshore Marine Protected Areas : Ken Dunham

Ken Dunham, a graduate of Pearson College UWC,  now enrolled in a Law program at the University of Ottawa has submitted the following as a class assignment in Natural Resources Law, CML 1105H for Professor Stewart Elgie.

See the complete paper in this PDF: Race Rocks Legal Analysis-1


Canada is a country of incredible natural beauty and ecological diversity, a significant portion of which has been protected under a system of national and provincial parks and other reserves. One might think that it would be a straightforward matter to similarly protect another unique ecological zone. Especially if it was small, located in a relatively remote location, and there was no suggestion that it should be used for anything else.

This paper explores why this is not so simple in the context of inshore marine areas. Canada’s constitutional / legal framework creates several gaps and overlaps with respect to the environment. The broader issue is not with any particular piece of legislation, but rather the sometimes-narrow context in which each was devised. This is further complicated by how the various statutory pieces fit together (or not) under the division of powers outlined in Canada’s constitution.

These issues can frustrate even the most straightforward project that attempts to carve out a little bit of nature for the benefit of future generations, as exemplified by Race Rocks.



From a legal and constitutional perspective, the most comprehensive protection for Race Rocks would involve the Province of British Columbia transferring the islets and neighboring seabed to the federal government, followed by designation of Race Rocks as a Marine Conservation area under the CNMCAA.93 This would place stewardship of Race Rocks under one government and one minister.

The alternate approaches all involve significant legislative, constitutional, and ministerial gaps that leave major eco-systems at Race Rocks without complete protection.

An outright fishing ban within the boundaries of the Race Rocks reserve would greatly simplify enforcement and prosecution.

Regardless of the approach taken, continued involvement of the local First Nations is essential, given their Douglas Treaty fishing rights and various Aboriginal claims currently being negotiated. The First Nations perspective is that they should be one of three governments sharing decision-making authority as equals, and not merely labelled as just another stakeholder to be “consulted” (i.e. possibly ignored).

See the complete paper in this PDF: Race Rocks Legal Analysis-1


Visitors to the Reserve


Yesterday the Coast Guard helicopter crew stopped in on their way back from the Carmanah lighthouse station to complete some maintenance work that they were unable to do the day before.

During the night, Squall had climbed up to the base of the lighthouse to get away from Misery.  When the chopper landed it was only about 20 ft away but she didn’t seem too bothered.

Squall is elongating well and visibly moulting around her face.


This morning Chris came out in Second Nature with two architects who are working with the college, a member of the College’s Board of Trustees with his wife and 3 kids.

Also  Maxim ( IT) worked on installing the new camera 5.   We should have Cam 5 running sometime next week.

Coast Guard Visit



Around noon today  a Coast Guard helicopter landed on the West side of the light tower. The pilot and two technicians stayed for about an hour to do a maintenance check on the fog signal and signal light.






Squall has been around the flagpole, she got more attention today than usual but didn’t seem bothered by the commotion.  Misery was on the island in the morning  and went into the water in the afternoon.

Sunny and warm this afternoon.

Sea lion juvenile

As Ecological Reserve Warden,  I was concerned with the report of continued blasting by the DND given the recent noting of a nursing northern sea lion at Race Rocks. The following is an account of the concern, starting with an e-mail and pictures from the Ecoguardian, Ryan Murphy

Subject “New Development”
Sept 27,2011

“I’m not sure if the LGL guys noticed this or not… but we have a nursing Steller sea lion pup on Great Race.  You’ll see in the photos that the mother is definitely lactating and the pup is nursing on the rock above the jetty (West side).  Since Eumetopias jubatus is listed under SARA as Special Concern, I believe this is very significant.  DND’s activity at Bentinck Island has not included intervals between blasts to reduce sea lion stampedes, and this pup is definitely at risk of trampling if DND continues their activities as they have for the past 2 days.-
Subject: continued blasting
Date:   September 28, 2011 8:30:18 AM PDT

“No need to worry about DND blasting, the landing of LGL personnel and subsequent standing around at the jetty caused a mass stampede with about 50 animals taking to the water including the pup.”

Subject Update
Date:   September 28, 2011 9:26:18 AM PDT
“Just so you know, the larger blasts are still coming back to back.  I don’t know if LGL communicated the need for increased intervals, but regardless there is no change.  The sea lions continued to be disturbed and take to the water with the rapid succession blasts.”

Subject: update
Date:   September 28, 2011 4:57:03 PM PDT
“The pup has been back since at least 14:30.  I have not seen its mother and it is sporting a fresh 2″ cut on its shoulder.  Otherwise looks to be ok, it has been sitting upright trying to stay awake and nodding off as babies will.”
Subject:    Re: New development
Date:   September 29, 2011 7:04:02 AM PDT

“The pup is still here this morning, the mother is not with it.”

Subject: DND report
Date:   September 29, 2011 9:21:24 AM PDT

“As per the log at 9:21 this morning:
Two absolutely massive explosions that shook the house occurred only 10 seconds apart.  The glass panes in the windows rattled against their metallic frames.  At least 70 sea lions stampeded into the water, completely clearing out entire haul out areas.  About 20 sea lions stampeded through the area where the Steller pup was resting.”

As a result of this account of events, I sent an e-mail to BC Parks and DND administration stating the following:

From: Garry Fletcher
Sent: Thursday, September 29, 2011 10:20 AM
Subject: Fwd: New development

I was very concerned to receive the following  reports and images  from Ryan Murphy our Guardian at  Race Rocks. I think it warrants a followup considering the concerns we have for marine mammals being disturbed by human activities, especially those which are SARA listed.
Surely they have enough data by now to show that the window for doing this blasting program might perhaps be reconsidered.  We would appreciate hearing of any followup .

FOLLOWUP:  So far ( November, 2011) there has been none. The juvenile and mother were not seen again, research by LGL  (LGL who are referred to are the DND contracted research group who is at the island again this year to make observations on the effects of detonations at Bentinck Island.) The disturbance to animals by DND blasting continued unabated over the next few days.  Their previous reports up to 2010 are included here. The report for this year will be added here when it is available.