Census day


  • Visibility: 15 Miles
  • Wind:  0-10 W
  • Sky: cloudy throughout the day and a but of a drizzle this morning
  • Water: calm, but the current was running pretty good


  • The new generator was set up today so we had a few people to come in and set that up which is great


  • even more sea lions this time, of both stellars and californias
  • also 2 more elephant seal showed up this morning, both female


  • tried to set up the electric fence again by the generator room but the sea lions tear back it down in minutes
  • Saw the sea lions today that was darted a couple weeks ago and he is still healing (pictures in gallery)
  • And the sea lion that currently has a band around its neck is still around
  • There was a stellar that I thought might have something around his neck but it was just a gash, possibly from other sea lion?


  • Stellar Sea Lions – 62
  • California Sea Lions – 456
  • Elephant Seals – 5 (all female)
  • Harbour Seals – 128
  • Gulls (unspecified) – 524
  • Cormorants – 367
  • Black turnstones – 32
  • Sparrows – 43
  • Oyster Catchers – 6
  • Sea Otter ( I can’t sea it very well but I’m sure it was around ) – 1

Census Day


  • Visibility: 15 Miles
  • Wind:  10-20 NE
  • Sky: clear all day
  • Water: calm


  • Had some visitors come by from Eagle Wing Tours


  • The 3 female elephant seals are still here
  • Spotted some California Gulls today too


  • There was another sea lion with a band stuck around his neck, will alert DFO so they can come out here and help out the sea lion, the last pictures are of this sea lion
  • It was pointed out to me that I have not been including the sea otter in my census, I admit I have a hard time spotting him from here so I often forget about him


  • stellar sea lions – 42
  • california sea lions – 286
  • gulls – 324
  • oyster catchers – 8
  • black turnstones – 18
  • sparrows – 32
  • harbour seals – 87
  • sea otter – 1

Census Day


  • Visibility: 15 Miles throughout the day
  • Wind:  0-10 NW throughout the day
  • Sky: clear all day
  • Water: calm


  • Mostly just whale watchers and other boats cruising by on this beautiful sunny day


  • plenty of sea lions around but not as many as I thought there would be


  • DnD was blasting again today
  • I finally have a full fresh water tank so hopefully it rains soon so I can start pressure washing and cleaning the pathways and buildings off
  • Significantly less sea lions I expected I suspect many of them went for swim while I was doing the census because it was a rather hot day today but here are the numbers are I have right now


  • Stellar Sea Lions – 68
  • California Sea Lions – 97
  • Harbour Seals – 72
  • Gulls – 153
  • Cormorants – 73
  • Black Turnstones – 21
  • Sparrows – 24ish, hard to see and fast to fly off

Census Day


  • Visibility: Started off at 10 miles but closed in to the point the fog horn was going off for a good part of the morning and then a sunny break this afternoon and back to pretty cloudy now
  • Wind:  10-15 W this morning picked up to above 30, same direction
  • Sky: pretty cloudy with a little break in the afternoon
  • Water: pretty flat but the current is very visible and moving


  • A few ecotours today


  • plenty of sea lions, not really seeing elephant seals, also there was about 26 of these birds I will post a picture of but I wasn’t what bird it was, will look into it.


  • Stellar Sea Lions: 176
  • California Sea Lions: 153
  • Elephant Seals: 0
  • Harbour Seals: 24
  • Unspecified Gulls: 212
  • Pigeon Guillemots: 0
  • Cormorants: 18
  • Canada Geese: 8
  • Oystercatchers: 8
  • Harlequinn Ducks: 0
  • Crows: 0
  • Unspecified bird: 26


  • Have not spotted the river otters again
  • Sea lions refused to budge when I went to get the water sample, I gave up and found a way around the one that would not move
  • They somehow dragged a ladder down the jetty so I had a tough time retrieving that because the ladder was attached to a rope that got wrapped around a rock, I managed to bring it up behind the boat shed, also the boat shed door looks to be in pretty rough shape the sea lions are always piled up against it

How Low Can It Go?

Thick fog met me at dawn, not the sleepy kind that coffee cuts through, but dripping wet, zero visibility, fog created through the convergence of cold ocean water and warm air. The fog retreated and advanced repeatedly before it was beaten back by high wattage sunshine. The westerly wind blew throughout, at 5 – 15 knots only rising near sunset to closer to 20. The barometer started a gradual drop in pressure late morning yet the forecast is for sunshine and continuing westerlies.

There were a few whale watching boats in the area mid-morning with two observed in the Ecological Reserve. Sports fishing boats were seen in the general area but outside the Reserve.

The elephant seals found the trek to seawater quite an effort today and some of them gave up for a few hours on the way to have a swim. Getting back up the hill was even more of an effort.

The tide is a long way out.

The tide is a long way out.

Observational efforts were focused in the inter-tidal and on the mega-fauna census today. Another really good tide (0.5m) allowed me to do a large algal survey and find more marine invertebrate species. I will share some of the invertebrates here and come back to the seaweeds tomorrow. In each photo, if you look closely you will notice smaller and smaller animals in a wall to wall competition for space or is it sharing of space.

The human history and natural history are intertwined.

Both the natural and human history at Race Rocks are profound.

California Mussel beds are ‘old growth’ and substantial on Great Race. The large area provides important habitat creating significant diversity.


Extensive mussel beds on the south side of Great Race.

Extensive mussel beds on the south side of Great Race.

A brooding sea anemone (Epiactus prolifera) with numerous offspring attached low on the column near the pedal disc.

Epiactus prolifera

The mottled sea anemone (Urticina crassicornis) is quite common in the low inter-tidal on the south side of Great Race.

Urticina crassicornis

This species of tubeworm, named after Vancouver (Eudistylia vancouverensis) is usually more abundant sub-tidally. Here in the high current area between Great Race and South Islands, it is common in the low inter-tidal.

Eudistylia vancouverensis There is a lot of gigantism on the Pacific coast but here at Race Rocks even the giant species seem even more abundant and bigger than I have seen them elsewhere.


The gumboot chiton (Cryptochiton stelleri) is an important grazer in the inter-tidal. They are very abundant here.


The Black Leather Chiton (Katharina tunicata) is another grazer and like the gumboot chiton grows both very large and is super abundant here.


Cucumaria Dodecaceria

Orange sea cucumbers (Cucumaria miniata) are really abundant both in tide pools and under the edges of boulders and there a lot of boulders on the south side.


Three species of sea urchin were observed today, adding the green urchin (Stronglyocentrotus drobachiensis) to the list. The green and purple both like to “dress-up” aka cover themselves, with shells, seaweeds and even bits of wood. Here they were using empty limpet shells in an area frequented by oystercatchers.

drobachiensis rostangia

Green and purple sea urchins with a small orange nudibranch to their left (Rostanga pulchra) that usually lives on the red sponge Ophlitasponge.


Today was large animal census day and the results are as follows:

Humpback Whale (young (small) animal) 1

Northern Elephant Seals 34 (including 15 on Great Race)

Harbour Seals 179

California Sea lions 17 (includes brand U792)

Northern Sea lions 20 (mostly old males)

Sea Otter 1

Canada Geese 36 (includes 18 goslings)

Harlequin Ducks 8

Pelagic Cormorants 0

Double Crested Cormorants 6

Bald Eagle 2 adults, 3 sub-adults

Black Oystercatchers 10

Greater Yellowlegs 1

Black Turnstones 0 (none seen in spite of searching)

Western Sandpipers 2

Least Sandpiper 2

Pigeon Guillemots 148

Glaucous-winged Gulls total 607 (458 adults in nesting areas; 60 adults in roosting/resting area; 79 sub-adults in roosting/resting area)

Western Gull (hybrid?) 1

Herring Gull 2 (Juv.)

Common Raven 1

Northwestern Crows 2

Barn Swallows 2

Savannah Sparrow 6

There were no visitors today. Chores were routine.


Shift Change

The wind was blowing northeast this morning 20 – 25 knots, it dropped mid-afternoon for about an hour and then swung to the west. The west came on strong in the late afternoon and blew over 25 before settling down to 15 -20 knots. The barometer, which has been falling all day, started climbing at 19:00 and the forecast for tomorrow is looking better with light winds forecast.
There were only two whale watching vessels spotted in the Ecological Reserve today. There were no other vessels other than Second Nature dropping off Nick Townley the new eco-guardian and Pearson College student Riikka who is here to finish her project week.
The results of the census are as follows:
Steller Sealion 447

California Sealion 433

Northern Elephant Seal 16

Harbour Seal 17

Canada Goose 24

Greater White-fronted Goose 1

Double-crested Cormorant 324

Pelagic Cormorant 29

Brown Pelican 2

Black Turnstone 12

Sanderling 3

Dunlin 4

Black Oystercatcher 24

Killdeer 4

Glaucous-winged Gull 700

Thayer’s Gull 2400

California Gull 3

Western Gull 45

Heerman’s Gull 76

Fox Sparrow 1

Savannah Sparrow 11

Most of the work today was packing, cleaning,  and training Nick in preparation for departure tomorrow.

Elephant seals occupy

The barometer climbed right out of its 996 hole today and there was glorious sunshine mixed with dark and nasty, west to southwest squalls. Some of the gloomier squalls also brought thunder and lightening. Band after band of bright and dark passed from the southwest. There was also a substantial groundswell. All of the weather drama made for a spectacular sunset.

Oct24 sky

Six brave whale watching boats were observed in the Ecological Reserve today and the folks in open boats must have had an interesting time during the big, mid-afternoon windstorm with a sudden and sodden downpour. I was out in the middle of it too, standing by, on the end of the jetty, waiting for a landing, but was too rough. It was gusting ~ 25 knots when I left the lighthouse to meet the boat and there were about 300 sealions hauled out in front of the science house.

There were also five adult Brown Pelicans on South Rock in the middle of this tempest’s blast. They can huddle down into a very low aerodynamic, face into the wind, posture and they didn’t get blown away.

The sealions retreated to the water during the deluge and have only now hauled out again en masse, three hours later. Many of the Stellers are in full molt now and some of them are looking quite scruffy. ‘Flake’ is the only Northern Elephant Sea of the ten blocking the jetty this morning that looks like he is still moulting. He may have a skin condition, as it is quite pink and raw looking.

The biggest of this crew is starting to “sprout” the big proboscis for which the adult males are famous. It looked to me like it was quite uncomfortable and kept awaking and thrashing around and garbling. They must feel really heavy on land after being at sea so much of their life.

Flake, (top left) and other Northern Elephant Seals have taken over the entrance to the boat shed and jetty.

Flake, (top left) and other Northern Elephant Seals have taken over the entrance to the boat shed and jetty.


The seal on the left kept awaking from sleep disturbed and the one on the right would grip him each time it happened. I wonder if it hurts having your nose grow that fast?

The seal on the left kept awaking from sleep disturbed and the one on the right would grip him each time it happened. I wonder if it hurts having your nose grow that fast?

Today was census day and the results are listed below. I missed the Harbour Seals due to the ferocity of oncoming squalls but will try to catch them tomorrow.

Steller Sealion 318

California Sealion 381

Northern Elephant Seal 10

Canada Goose 22

Greater White-fronted Goose 1

Harlequin Duck 5

Double-crested Cormorant 118

Pelagic Cormorant 19

Brown Pelican 5

Black Turnstone 9

Surfbird 5

Sanderling 3

Western Sandpiper 2

Dunlin 2

Black Oystercatcher 12

Killdeer 2

Glaucous-winged Gull 150

Thayer’s Gull 1200

California Gull 2

Western Gull 7

Heerman’s Gull 4

Gull sp. 50

Common Murre 3

Fox Sparrow 2

Dark-eyed Junco 1

Savannah Sparrow 15




Wild and Wet.

It was a wild and wet day at Race Rocks with waves breaking over the jetty and the feeling of the first storm of the season. Even though it rained fairly hard in the morning, there were only sprinkles in the afternoon, as the wind switched from northeast to southeast and then back to north. The barometer kept on its downward slide, started yesterday afternoon until mid-afternoon when it started to climb again. The climb may be short-lived though as the forecast is for more of the same.

There were no vessels noted in the Ecological Reserve today, but at least one came fairly close.

Race Rocks Ecological Reserve is on the edge of a busy shipping lane.

Race Rocks Ecological Reserve is on the edge of a busy shipping lane.

Great Race and the other islets that are not awash in the heavy seas, are almost completely covered with birds and mammals right now. It really is a natural haven.

Mixed species flocks of gull dominated by Thayer's rest and preen on the east end of Great Race.

Mixed species flocks of gull dominated by Thayer’s rest and preen on the east end of Great Race.

With close to 900 seals and sea lions, thousands of gulls, and hundreds of other seabirds, it is surprising that there are still some unoccupied bits of terra firma around the house.

Double-crested Cormorants have significantly increased in number over the last two months.

Double-crested Cormorants have significantly increased in number over the last two months.

The tagged Northern Elephant Seal 5850_6967 which I am going to call Gat (the noise he makes and Tag backwards) and his little buddy Flake spent the whole day asleep, pressed up against each other and the back of the boat house.

The animal on the right, Gat will be three years old in January. How old do you think Flake (on the left) is?

The animal on the right, Gat will be three years old in January. How old do you think Flake is?

Something that most, but not all of the Elephant Seals have here, is extremely white mucous coming out of their noses. They are such amazing divers and spend so much of their life diving, that the default position for their nostrils is closed. Many truly marine birds and even marine iguanas have ways of conserving water and secreting salt through nasal glands and I am curious if Northern Elephant Seals can secrete salt that way? Will report back on my findings about the mystery of the white snot.

White mucus can be seen on the noses of many of the hauled out Elephant Seals.

White mucus can be seen on the noses of many of the hauled out Elephant Seals.

I had no visitors today and could not go anywhere due to sea conditions but thanks to conference calling, I was able to attend a wonderful meeting at Government House in Victoria. The meeting was about a new initiative to empower youth stewardship in British Columbia, a legacy project of the Lieutenant Governor. Very exciting news will be shared in November. Yes, you will have to wait.

For outdoor adventure I swept walkways and cleared the marine railway of woody debris and seaweed, adding to the woodpile and enhancing the compost pile with some lovely bull kelp. Otherwise I did the regular maintenance to keep things going.

Out of the Fog

I returned to Race Rocks today after attending the Trans-Atlantic workshop on Ocean Literacy and the European Marine Science Educator’s conference last week, in Gothenburg, Sweden. I am refreshed and inspired to finish off my shift at Race Rocks.
It was warm and sunny when Courtney and I left Pearson College in Pedder Bay this morning but as we drove southeast towards Race Rocks, we were soon enveloped in the cool, damp fog. As the sunny peaks of the Olympic Mountains slid out of view, obscured by fog, the dark shape of North Islet emerged and behind it came Great Race and the light-tower, out of the fog. It is great to be back and was just as great for Jeff, who was filling in, to leave.
It was foggy on and off all day with a few periods of sunshine with visibility of over a nautical mile. Throughout the day, the foghorn blew and I could hear ships signaling as they navigated the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the fog. There was no wind for most of the day but it has been consistently blowing about ten knots out of the west for the past several hours and the fog is thickening.
The fog did not deter the whale watching boats as there were Humpback Whales feeding in the area today and the last cruise ship of the season in port. One smaller Humpback was diving and presumably feeding right in the Ecological Reserve diving against the flooding tide. I wonder if they can use the flow to their advantage in feeding more efficiently with less effort? Natural history speculation aside, the count of observed whale watching boats from 11:00 to 19:00 (dusk) was thirteen with some vessels visiting more than once.
The Chum Salmon run started in earnest while I was away and there appears to be fewer sea lions hauled out than there were before. There are many in the water however. Sea lions of both species are very busy eating Chum Salmon with most of the kills I observed, happening right in or at the edge of the tidal flows. They thrash the fish and rip it apart at the surface and swallow large chunks tail last at the surface as well. This source of scraps, of course attracts gulls. Several species of gull were seen in these sea lion driven feeding flocks today; Glaucous-winged, Hermann’s, Thayer’s and Ring-billed Gulls. There were three or four fairly hefty Elephant Seals hanging around the marine railway today. They have such huge eyes and such clean looking pink mouths. Many of the Sea Lions have serious tooth decay and oral disease.

While I was away there were several a visits to the island. The Victoria Natural History Society made it part of their birding trip on September 27, sixteen friends of the Royal BC Museum made a visit October 4th and a family visit was made by by Mike and Carol Slater, one of their daughters and several grand-children. Mike and Carol were the last light-keepers at Race Rocks and the first Eco-Guardians. They survived some epic storms and I am sure they have some great stories to tell. If you are interested in the “contemporary” history of Race Rocks, there is a lot of information on this web-site, including ancient videos, images and even historic weather events.

My main tasks today were to get moved back into the house, to do the seawater sampling, fix the pier fence and run the generator for a few hours in order to top up the batteries. There is new clean oil in the Lister gen-set and new filters etc. thanks to Jeff. The old Lister seems to run better than ever tonight a I finish my last task, posting this blog..

Gray on gray.

It was a bit of a gray day with some thick fog and even a few patches of sunlight, which made fog-bows. This is my made up word for the colourless, rainbow-like arches made by the sun in the fog. Winds were light and swung around out of the north, northeast and over to the east, with the northeast predominating, at about 5 knots. The barometer was fairly steady today and the forecast for tomorrow is for more of the same only more southeast, also with showers.

There were Dall’s Porpoise and Humpback Whales nearby late in the afternoon, which brought a few whale watching boats with a total of nine noted in the Ecological Reserve. The operator of the vessel King Salmon, of Great Pacific Adventures needs to review the regulations for operation in the Ecological Reserve.

The newcomers today were four Greater White-fronted Geese. This species nests in the arctic west of Hudson’s Bay and the western populations winter from here down to Mexico.

Greater White-fronted Geese were resting and recovering here today.

Greater White-fronted Geese were resting and recovering here today.

Today was the day, for the weekly census of megafauna and these are the results:
Steller’s Sea Lion 176
California Sea Lion 406
Elephant Seal 6
Harbour Seal 168
River Otter 2
Canada Goose 4
Greater White-fronted Goose 4
Double-Crested Cormorant 18
Pelagic Cormorant 8
Cormorant sp. 2
Black Oystercatcher 8
Black Turnstone 11,
Killdeer 2
Surfbird 28
Common Murre 4
Thayer’s Gull 113
Glaucous-winged Gull 22
Heerman’s Gull 6
California Gull 1
Western Gull 1
Gull spp. 256 (probably in similar proportions to above, unable to tell due to distance and fogged glass in the tower)

Fence maintenance takes quite a bit of time right now as new sea lions arrive for the winter and learn to stay away from the houses and off the jetty. They would probably prefer to be right here in the kitchen but that is a trade-off with having a guardian here. Fresh-water production and electrical generation continue to be a priority. Today was also the day for month-end report, house cleaning and packing. I am off to Scandinavia to share and learn more about Ocean Literacy. Thanks to all the PC Marine Science students who were willing to share their thoughts with the participants of the gathering at the University of Gothenberg.