Military Activities Near Race Rocks


  • blast-18Bentinck island is used by the Department of National Defense as both a demolition range and a testing range for explosives. On the South end of Rocky Point there is a disposal pit where other demolition occurs, and in Whirl Bay, behind Christopher Point, there is an underwater test site. The size of the explosions is supposed to be monitored and controlled , however, we invariable get widely varying impacts. Our ecoguardians have made observations of the impact on sea

    From the “burn pit” on Rocky Point

    lions, seals and seabirds over the last few years. Invariably the blasting results in the sea lions being scared from the islands . Sometimes they do come back to haul out on the rocks but they often move on to another location. Unfortunately the location of Race Rocks next to these areas makes it very difficult to mitigate the impact of these explosions.

  • See the “Before and After” from the sitezap camera 1- Nov 7,2002
  • Link to Fisheries and Oceans Canada file on Guidelines for the Use of Explosives In or Near Canadian Fisheries Waters
  • The Race Rocks logs have documented the activities of the military and the effects observed on the animals of Race Rocks
  • Summary report: Responses of Steller Sea Lions (Eumetopias jubatus) to In-Air Blast Noise from Military Explosions DEMARCHI, MW AND MD BENTLEY. 2004.
  • Effects of natural and human-caused disturbances on marine birds and pinnipeds at Race Rocks, British Columbia. LGL Report EA1569. Prepared for Department of National Defence, Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt and Public Works and Government Services Canada. 103 p.
  • This video was made on October 7, 2002 in order to document the effect of the dndblasts-1Department of National Defence demolition exercises on Bentinck Island on the behaviour of birds and marine mammals at Race Rocks MPA. In previous years we have observed considerable disruption by military exercises involving blasting on nearby Bentinck Island in the fall just after the sea lions have returned to the island. We have requested that blasts be spread out over a longer period of time during an exercise. Traditionally blasts have come in a series of three. The first one would alert the sea lions, the second would send a few in the water and the third would clear the islands. This year on this one occasion, only two blasts were held at five minutes apart. The results are shown in the video.
  • On November 7, 2002, the DND were still doing their demolition blasting exercises at Bentinck Island. (not Oct 7 as stated in this draft version of the video) The students lionblasts-1from Lester Pearson College who were out for a project week were able to catch the images of the impact of these blasts on the first day from the science centre window and on the second day from the top of the light tower. In the tower, they interviewed Mike Demarchi of LGL who is currently doing a $50,000 contract for the Department of National Defence to monitor the impact of these blasts and to compare them with other disturbances at Race Rocks.

1. Explosions should only be conducted at times of the year when there are no nesting birds or harbour and elephant seals having young .
( this occurs May to mid-August for harbour seals and mid-january to February for elphant seals )

2. During the months of August, September and October when the sea lions are returning to the islands, they are particularly sensitive to disturbances.

3. December, March and April are probably the times of least impact but only if explosion size is carefully controlled.

4. The sizes of explosions should be carefully monitored so as to limit the impact of disturbance.

5. Blasts should be spaced out to at least 10 minutes between detonation, and especially never three blasts in succession. This lessens the impacts on the animals.


Thursday, November 22, 2001–MARINE LIFE: A typical November day weather wise however the Military detonation exercises on Bentinck Island were particularly disturbing for the Harbour Seals and Sea Lions. Once the blasting was done for the day the animals were still quite nervous and in fact when a Cuda Marine Whale Watching boat went by one rock (15:15-15:30) with approximately 120 sea lions hauled out over half of them stampeded into the water!”

Thursday, January 17, 2002
MARINE LIFE:At 8:30 there were 150-170 Sealions, 2 large bull and 1 smaller Elephant Seals on Middle rock. With the first blast at 11:10 the gulls and cormorants took flight, most of the sealions were alerted and some went into the water. When the second blast went off 2 minutes after the first, the sealions scrambled over each other in a rush to get to the water. The elephant seals although alerted (raised their heads and looked around ) did not move off their spots. With each blast the eagles, gulls and cormorants all took flight but within 1 or 2 minutes settled back down. During the hour between blast series 10 to 15 sealions hauled out again but appeared to be somewhat ‘edgy’ and were much quicker to move into the water when the blasting occurred again. There were 14-7 mature Bald Eagles in the M.P.A. today.

Friday, January 18, 2002
MARINE LIFE: At 8:30 there were only 75-80 sealions hauled out on middle rock, not all the animals have returned since the blasting yesterday. The first blast at 9:58 alerted all the sealions and 20-25 went into the water, the second blast 2-3 minutes later sent all but 6 animals scrambling into the sea. The last blast at approx. 10:25 sent 12 of the 20 sealions that had hauled out after the 10:01 blast, back into the water. There will be blasting exercises again next week on the 24th and 25th. There were 11 (7 mature ) Bald Eagles today.
posted by Carol or Mike S at 6:03 PM

Thursday, January 24, 2002
MARINE LIFE: Today we monitored the scheduled detonations at the D.N.D. site on Bentinck Island. There were three sets of blasts, each consisting of two detonations separated by about 2 minutes. The first blast at 10:54 sent the gulls, cormorants into the air and alerted the sealions hauled out on the middle rock. About 20 animals moved towards the water then the second blast went off and caused a stampede of all the hauled out sealions. The birds as usual settled back down in a minute or two. Very gradually a few at a time, 10-15 sealions returned to the haul out areas. The Elephant Seals raised their heads and looked around but did not move away. The Second set of blasts at 11:53 and 11:55 cleared Middle Rock of sealions and also sent 40-45 Harbour Seals hauled out on the western slopes of the Southeast Rocks scrambling into the water. The Last 2 blasts( 12:48 and 12:50 ) sent the 5 sealions that hauled out again about 20 minutes after the 11:55, back into the water. Do not know the size of the detonations but they shook the cameras and most of the pictures on the walls. There are more blasts scheduled for tomorrow. There were 7 Bald Eagles – 4 mature.

In the fall of 2002 the blasting activities took place again at Bentinck Island. This year we have had a large population of the endangered Northern Sea Lions, and are again at risk of having them move out due to the effects of the blasting. The DND has let a contract for an environmental study to LGL, an environmental consulting firm ( See link below). Unfortunately the results of that study will not affect the pattern of blasting scheduled for the fall term. We have been recording the effects with several videos and images below.

UPDATE: January, 2007: Recent blasting activities at Bentinck Island have flushed some of the birds and have scared some of the northern sea lions into the water. In general however we have observed that when they only do two blasts at more than a 1 minute interval, there is much less disturbance than three successive blasts.
EffectsDEMARCHI, MW AND MD BENTLEY. 2004. Effects of natural and human-caused disturbances on marine birds and pinnipeds at Race Rocks, British Columbia. LGL Report EA1569. Prepared for Department of National Defence, Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt and Public Works and Government Services Canada. 103 p.

You may see the complete report here. Note in particular, the discussion of the results concerning the effects of blasting on the behaviour of sea lions.



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