Weather

Windy day from East between 25 and 30 knots,Sea choppy .Overcast and foggy sporadically . Some snow around 9:00AM but finally sunny the rest of the day. Sea water : 5.5 degrees and Air at 2.1 degrees celsius(at 8:00 AM)

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Ecological

The night between the 6th and 7th February has been a very busy one for the elephants seals . We found tracks and it looked like the male helped the young one to come back from the rocky place where  he has been for at least 2 days. He went during the day from the tower to the water shed and at the corner of the paths and closed to the water sampling house :a lot for him if we considered that he has been almost always sedentary before his Mum ‘s departure…Chunk was back too but stayed in its own quarters .DSC_0824DSC_0700DSC_0735

Vessels 

No boats

Orcas, Penis, Helicopter

Ecological

  • Elephant seals: Chunk has appeared to be trying to mate since before the pups were born but today it was the first time I have observed successful copulation with the mother of first pup.  In the photos he seemed keen to go again but she didn’t seem very interested.
  • Orcas: what appeared to be a family of 4 orcas passed through race passage in the morning heading East.  A “Whale Research” vessel can be seen in the photo following them.
  • Fishing: several sports fishing boats with buoys were around the reserve today,  a sure sign that the halibut fishery has reopened for the season.

Other:

  • took measurements for camera mounting housing and hardware
  • Coast Guard Helicopter pilot Captain David Ferguson paid a visit to Race Rocks with 2 crew to do routine maintenance on the light and fog signal.  They came in one of the Coast Guard’s new, shiny Bell 429 machines, which apparently cost about 8.3 Million dollars apiece.

battery maintenance

Ecological:

  • wind south 10-15 becoming south west 15-20
  • Chuckles came back onto the main island overnight, Chunk keeps him away from the females and pups.

Vessels: 4 eco tour. One appeared to be getting too close to sealions on the South rocks and harbour seals on West rock.  We went off island for a couple hours and returned in the afternoon.

Maintenance:

  • topped up deionized water in battery bank, cleaned batteries and started applying anti-oxidation compound.
  • ongoing training of new guardian on island systems and procedures.

Second large female e-seal

Ecological:

  • Wind SE 25-30 knots becoming light in the evening.
  • 16 Green Winged Teals were in the mud flats NE of main house.
  • An unusual bald eagle with a damaged beak was on and around the island throughout the day, quite close to the main house at first.
  • Before dusk a second large, pregnant looking female elephant seal was near the jetty and had hauled out up beside boat house just after dark.

Vessels

  • 3 ecotour

Maintenance

  • Cleared ramp
  • Sharpened chainsaw, cut and chopped firewood.

Hard Headway

Brandt's Cormorants making a break for more sheltered area

Brandt’s Cormorants making a break for more sheltered area

Ecological Happenings

  • Gusting gale-force winds from the North East and high seas with 2m swells rolling through.
  • Birds hunkered down on the rocks while the sea lions mainly spent the day in the ocean away from the breakers on the rocks.
  • The male Elephant seals spent the day on the main island with two female seals on Middle rocks.

Marine Vessels

  • None

Maintenance

  • Logs cleared from jetty.
Thayer's gulls sitting it out

Thayer’s gulls sitting it out

 

Census Count

Sea Lion 169
Harbour Seal 18
Elephant Seal 4
Cormorant 187
Gull 323
Oyster Catcher 24
Bald Eagle (Adult/Immature) 1/6
Harlequin Duck 4
Dunlin 8
Bufflehead 1
Black Turnstone 12
Spotted during the week
Humpbacks 3
Orca 6
Marbled Godwit 1
Black Legged Kittiwake 1
Surf Scoter 3
Pidgeon Guillemots 15
Surfbirds 25
Oyster Catcher 63
Bald Eagle (Adult/Immature) 2/8
Harlequin Duck 18
Raven 3
Black Turnstone 48
Brandt's Cormorant trying to make headway in the galefore winds

Brandt’s Cormorant trying to make headway in the gale fore winds

Flocks on the Rocks – Census Day

 

Flocks on the rocks

Flocks on the rocks: Thayer’s gulls and some double crested , Brandts and Pelagic Cormorants. Note orientation into the direction of the wind.

Ecological Happenings

  • Storm force winds in the morning with large swell from the North East leading to high seas and larges breakers on the rocks. Periods of (horizontal) rain with winds dropping later in the day.
  • Four elephant seals on the island now. The new arrival is much smaller than the female and thought to be a juvenile/subadult. There also seems to be a bond between the smaller Elephant seal and female. Could this be Squall, born here in 2012? Checks are being made to see if identifying features match.
  • Birds grouped together in flocks on the rocks while most of the sea lions stayed off the land.

Marine Vessels

  • Coastguard helicopter overhead.

Maintenance

  • Electrical outlet in main residence fixed.
  • Battery health test carried out with individual readings taken on each of the 96 cells.
  • Pressure washer pump stripped back down and soaked in cleaner. To be reassembled.

Census Count

Sea Lion 194
Harbour Seal 9
Elephant Seal 4
Cormorant 207
Gull 404
Oyster Catcher 42
Black Turnstone 18
Spotted during the week
Bald Eagle (Adult/Immature) 2/8
Sparrow 4
Dunlin 2
Pigeon Guillemots 8
Raven 4
Harlequin Duck 16
Canadian Geese 18

 

Seawater sample missed due to safety concenrs

Seawater sample missed due to safety concerns.

The latest arrival

The latest arrival.

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Maternal bond? Elephant Seals are not known for this

Maternal bond? Elephant Seals are not known for this.

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Scratching. Not surprising with all those Kelp flies on old wounds

Scratchy. Not surprising with all those Kelp flies on healing wounds.

Lasting Fog

Weather

Mostly foggy today. Winds below 6kts, though picked up to 12kts by 20:00, in varying directions, with a couple of hours of calm in the early afternoon. Barometer reading was mostly consistent at 102.0. A strong wind warning is in effect for tonight and tomorrow.

Boat activity

  • 6 tour boats
  • 1 pleasure vessel

Maintenance

  • Electric fence repairs on the south side of the island. The fence was also extended as sea lions, are creeping further up onto fresh clean grass.
  • Old water pump was removed in the student house, and the new pump will be installed tomorrow.

No visitors today.

Floyd and Chunk Throwing Their Weight Around.

It was a limpid June day with very little wind and a sultry, summer feel. The solar radiation highpoint of the day was over 1000 Watts per meter2 and this is higher than it has been all week. Around noon the wind changed direction moving about 180o from what it has been for months. It didn’t really do much other than change direction, which was in itself rather remarkable due to the longevity of the westerlies. Maybe now that the interior is heating up so much that it actually catching on fire, it is time for the outflow winds. By late after noon the wind was backing towards south. A cloud formed and dissipated, although bigger cloud formations are building along the Olympic and Cascade Mountains. Although the barometer has been dropping for > 24 hours, it is still high, at 1016 hPA. and the forecast is for clear skies, sunshine and strong westerly winds. By the time the sun set, the wind had returned to westerly 10 to 15 knots.

It was busy on the water here; with 25 whale-watching boat visits, observed within the Ecological Reserve. Some vessels made multiple trips back to Victoria and out again, the last one leaving Race Rocks at 21:20.  At times during the day, there were 5 to 10 vessels in reserve at the same time.

Most of the operators were awesome (as usual) but a few were obviously not aware of the Pacific Whale Watching Association’ Race Rocks Special Operating Area Guidelines and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Marine Mammal Regulations. The latter can carry a powerful punch. Speed is an issue, so is distance and route is another. At one point today I was concerned about the risk of collision and passenger safety but they are all used to dancing around each other and my worries may have been unwarranted. It would certainly have been difficult for any marine mammal in the water with all of those vessels plus the current to contend with.

The PWWA guidelines say that while vessels are in the Race Rocks go-slow zone, they will transit the area with the current and will remain as close to mid-channel as is possible between major rock outcroppings known as Great Race (with the lighthouse), North Race Rock, West Race Rocks and Helicopter Rock. Some operators think it okay to squeeze in between Great Race and South Islands and there is just not enough room in there even for the smaller zodiacs, especially if they are scaring animals into the water at the same time. This is a professional development opportunity for the industry. I fyou are an owner or manager, please set clear operation standards for the Race Rocks Special Operating Area. Rise above the low bar of guidelines and regulations. Educate the public by doing the right thing and demonstrate support your operators to get on side, for the business of summer is about to descend upon us.

A coast guard rigid hull inflatable hailed me when I was out on the jetty today. They were on patrol from the CCGS M. Charles M.B., which was anchored nearby. They offered support on the enforcement side for the Race Rocks Rockfish Conservation Area and said that part of why they were here was to deter marine mammal harassment. The vessel is named after a famous life-saving, west coast chief, the late Martin Charles Hereditary Chief of the Dididaht and long-time Bamfield Coast Guard hero. He was a great man and it is very good to see a Coast Guard vessel named after him.

There were only four Northern Elephant Seals on Great Race today and Middle Rock only had two. On Great Race it was Floyd, Chunk, an untagged female nicknamed Grace and the tagged female 5866. Chunk threw his weight around during the Floyd and Chunk show today and after a big, half body neck press by Chunk, Floyd fled, his usual fate. Later Floyd did the same thing to Grace, only he had her by the neck with his teeth and she is only a fraction his size. She managed to wriggle away in the water.

There was serious whale action in the area but not right in the Ecological Reserve today.

I ran the fire pump today and pumped seawater into the cistern. The transformation of saltwater into freshwater by desalination, running off solar power, is really sweet. It makes me very aware of and thankful for fresh water consumption.

Most chores were routine and there were no visitors today.

 

Double-Billing (Thursday-Friday)

Thursday was a howler. The wind started early and blew ferociously all day. Although it developed into a classic westerly, it actually started out from the west-northwest, which is closer to the direction running down the outside coast of Vancouver Island (NW). Most of the day, it was westerly from 30 – 40 knots and late in the afternoon there gusts over 40 knots. The fog that formed early on the Port Angeles side of the Strait was blown away early and the sky stayed clear until just after sunset when clouds became visible in the west. The barometer has been rising since Wednesday and the forecast is for continued gale warnings and mix of sun and cloud.

 

It really calmed down on Friday. The westerlies with a touch of southwest, continued but at moderate speeds of 15 -25 knots. Although there were clouds to the west early in the morning, they evaporated quickly and it was full on sunshine all day. The barometer is dropping from a high of 1020 hPa and the forecast is for strong winds and mostly clear skies.

There were no whale-watching boats, or sport fishers on Thursday, as the weather and sea conditions were just too wild. Friday was a totally different story with 16 whale-watching vessels observed, visiting the Ecological Reserve. Some vessels made multiple visits.

There was a lot of whale activity within and around the Ecological Reserve. Both a Minke Whale and a large Humpback were feeding just to the southeast and south respectively and three different pods of Killer Whales moved through the area in the afternoon and evening, including small group of Bigg’s Killer Whales (Transients), two pods of southern residents ( J-pod and L-pod according to the whale-watching boats). One of the SRKW pods came right into the Reserve within fifty meters of South Rock, heading east. There were two large adult males, one small calf and about 15 individuals all together. Another ~ 20 individuals were travelling in the same direction about one mile to south, at the same time. It appeared as though the two groups met up and mingled to the east of Race Rocks. Time for the sockeye to be running.

gwgu on nest juniper

Other ecological happenings are progressing as has been reported on for the past few weeks. I started a Glaucous-winged Gull nest survey Thursday and finished surveying about one third of the island. On Friday the female Northern Elephant Seal # 5866’s tags were noted. Chunk and Floyd have been peacefully moulting, sleeping and travelling up and down the ramp for several swims a day (more like lolly-gagging in the water).

Thursdays are animal census day. It is worth noting that the winter resident bird species such as Black Turnstone, Harlequin Duck and many species of gulls that nest elsewhere are gone now and so are the transitory migrant shorebirds and other migrants that stop off briefly or for a while. The sealions are at their lowest number which is expected since they too should be on or heading towards their breeding grounds. Census results follow.

Northern Elephant Seals 10 (including 5 on Great Race)

Harbour Seals 218

California Sealions 5

Northern or Stellers Sealions 2

River Otter 1

Sea Otter 1

Canada Geese 24 (= 10 goslings + 14 adults) (many appear to have swum away)

Pelagic Cormorants 3

Double Crested Cormorants 5

Bald Eagles 2 (1 adult, 1 sub-adult)

Black Oystercatchers 10 (5 nesting pairs all incubating)

Kildeer 2

Pigeon Guillemots 110

Caspian Terns 2

Glaucous-winged Gulls total 424 (402 adults in nesting areas; 22 sub-adults in roosting/resting area). Most gulls are incubating now, although some are still getting started.

There were no visitors on Thursday and two visitors Friday, who did a retreat in the science house. They came and went in Second Nature with Chris.

Chores and maintenance were routine today and I am glad to report that I am able to wash windows again.

 

Chunk ‘nd the Trunk

It was a glorious day at Race Rocks with westerly winds continuing from yesterday but with more moderate speeds of 15 – 25 knots and even lighter winds of 10 – 15 early in the morning. The sky was clear above although there was a ‘marine haze’, which reduced visibility early to less than ten nautical miles. As the winds picked up so did air quality leading one to wonder if the ‘marine air’ actually has an onshore and anthropogenic source.  Solar radiation intensity was high today peaking at over 900 W/m2. It is 19:00 hours as I write this, with more sunshine to come and the accumulated solar radiation for the day is already close to 700 Langleys. The forecast includes a westerly gale warning for tomorrow afternoon and evening with clear skies and a high UV index of seven.

Only one whale watching boat (from Sooke) was observed in the Ecological Reserve today.

There were more large and startling (at least to me)  explosions today, which did not result in even a visible flinch by the Northern Elephant Seals. The Harbour Seals got into the water and were looking around at the surface and the Pigeon Guillemots flew but quickly returned and recovered. Two vessels with containment booms, one travelling at a fairly urgent-looking speed towing some of the booms were observed in the vicinity of Race Passage today. It may have just been an exercise, as they didn’t stay long.

Ecologically, things are continuing to grow at a tremendous rate as spring accelerates for the shift into summer, in less than two weeks. The goslings have graduated from short paddles to longer endurance swims crossing Middle Channel. Their grazing pressure on the island continues but doesn’t seem to exceed the productivity of the grasses that they graze on.

In the water, the productivity of Bull Kelp or Nereocystis lutkeana continues unabated and large, well formed kelp beds fringe all of the islets and reefs, producing tremendous amounts of food for a broad array of direct grazers and both peripheral and out-lying detritovores that eat the sloughing bits and pieces that drift down from the canopy and out of the kelp beds.

We are supposed to stay on the walkways when moving around the island. Not always possible when there are traffic jams like this one in this morning's commute.

We are supposed to stay on the walkways when moving around the island. Not always possible when there are traffic jams like this one in this morning’s commute.

The Northern Elephant Seals spend time in the water draped in the kelp and playing with it with their mouths. What is not clear is whether this is intentional or just there (in the way). The big males are taking several swims a day right now thanks to the marine railway, which makes access so much easier for them. Chunk’s moult is just visibly starting today, on his nose and just below his mouth and on what would be a chin if he had one. Floyd’s moult is progressing visibly as wound sites and patches where he can scratch are coming off. There were some interactions between the two big guys today but hostilities were averted through strategic maneuvering by Floyd, basically avoidance behavior. Above, he is making a slow get-away which of course requires a tremendous amount of energy and much resting.

 

Chunk stretched out, having a nap. His large proboscis is prominent and the scars that run along his back are just visible.

Chunk stretched out, having a nap. His large proboscis is prominent and the scars that run along his back are just visible.

More gulls are sitting on eggs each day and their nests are beautifully made by pulling up grass by the roots and carefully packing it into just the right shape by pushing down with their sternums, tails in the air. Level is of course important. All of the nests observed today had three eggs.

 

There were no visitors today and chores were routine.