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.

The Tie That Binds

It was another northeast day, with really not much happening weather wise. It blew NE about ten knots, was mostly overcast in the morning, with some sun in the afternoon. The barometer rose gradually all morning and then started to slowly slide after noon. It is expected that tomorrow’s southeast will bring rain, starting late tonight.

The whale watching boats were busy in the afternoon with Humpback Whales to the southeast of Race Rocks and more activity out to the west. A total of eight tour boats were seen in the Ecological Reserve.

Today was mega-fauna census day and these are the results:
Steller Sealion 298
California Sealion 508
Harbour Seal 79
Northern Elephant Seal 9
River Otter 2
Canada Goose 22
Greater White-fronted Goose 1
Harlequin Duck 5
Double-crested Cormorant 61
Pelagic Cormorant 15
Black Turnstone 9
Surfbird 5
Black Oystercatcher 38
Glaucous-winged Gull 145
Thayer’s Gull 1482
California Gull 3
Western Gull 7
Heerman’s Gull 35
Gull sp. 52
Common Murre 1
Common Raven 2
Fox Sparrow 2
Savannah Sparrow 15

Here are a couple of shots of Surfbirds, alone and with Black Turnstones.

Surfbirds resting in the Jetty Bay.

Surfbirds resting in the Jetty Bay.

Subi & Bltu
The census was challenging due to the numbers and species of gulls and the fact that both Steller Sealion and Harbour Seal numbers were lower than expected during the morning count, so they were re-counted in the early evening. I generally like to count Harbour Seals on the morning low tide but the tide wasn’t really doing much today. The evening counts were higher for both the Steller and the Harbour Seals. Two new Elephant Seals arrived today. They are both moulting, the smaller one hung out with the dual tagged three year-old, which appears to be staying on. The bigger animals may have gone back to Middle Rock as there were still six animals visible there.

Ring-necked animals as well as tagged and branded animals were also re-surveyed today. I am still working on the branding data from a month ago. Two of the ring-necked Steller Sealions that have been observed since August are still here and languishing as the plastic straps cut into the backs of their necks. I am putting out an appeal to the disentanglement crew again.
Euju plastic_strap Oct16
Euju oct 16 close-up
The second ring-necked animal ‘highlighted’ here is also branded on its’ left side 946R. I believe that it was branded at its’ natal colony which from the R should be Rogue Reef in southern Oregon. From the number it was branded after 2009 but I will find out more.

If it is not lying on its' left side this ring-necked Steller's Sealion is easy to tell apart from the others.

If it is not lying on its’ left side this ring-necked Steller’s Sealion is easy to tell apart from the others.

Like the other Steller it has plastic strapping, which is visible on the ventral surface.

Like the other Steller it has plastic strapping, which is visible on the ventral surface.

This is a bit gory but I hope it will inspire the disentanglement team to come to Race Rocks.

This is a bit gory but I hope it will inspire the disentanglement team to come to Race Rocks.

The Atlin Post passed by Race Rocks today but did not slow. Must have been in a hurry.

The Atlin Post passed by Race Rocks today but did not slow. Must have been in a hurry.

Did not do much maintenance today other than the basic cleaning, making water with the desalinator and electricity with the generator.

The Tale of Two Tags

It is a beautiful evening with God rays and backlit clouds after light westerly winds and rain showers for most of the day. The afternoon swell told of offshore storms but the wind waves here were fairly calm throughout the day. The barometer continued yesterday’s slide in the morning but climbed out its bowl after lunch and is still climbing as the sun sets over behind Neah Bay. Tomorrow looks finer but strong wind warnings continue and it looks like it will turn to another southeaster by evening.

The sun was setting north of the Straits of Juan de Fuca when I arrived at the end of August. Now it sets in behind Neah Bay

The sun was setting north of the Straits of Juan de Fuca when I arrived at the end of August. Now it sets in behind Neah Bay

In spite of wet, cool weather, the whale watching boats continue to ply their trade and a total of four boats were noted in the Ecological Reserve today. There are also hardy sports-fishers, still looking for the big one. Most of those boats steer around the Ecological Reserve and a minority of those who pass through, still do not heed the Ecological Reserve speed limit of 7 knots.

More on the tagged Elephant Seal spotted last Sunday. I thought that I had found another tagged animal yesterday because even though I was fairly sure it was the same animal #6967, the tag I spotted was #5850. I finally managed to get a photo showing both tags.

Mark re-capture or re-sight data is used to estimate population numbers and tendencies. These two tags tell of an interesting story about assumptions and how we need to be careful of our assumptions as they can hide the truth.

Mark re-capture or re-sight data is used to estimate population numbers and tendencies. These two tags tell of an interesting story about assumptions and how we need to be careful of our assumptions as they can hide the truth.


Patrick Robinson, Director of Ano Nuevo Reserve, explained that they are double-tagging Northern Elephant Seal weaners with non-matching numbers and it was interesting to learn why. Mark-racapture is a technique long used by biologists to determine population sizes and is based on known proportions, the number of individuals marked versus the total number counted. The students at Pearson College use this technique to estimate limpet populations. Mark re-sight is similar and, you guessed it, recapture is not necessary, just re-sighting. Adult bull Northern Elephant Seals can weigh up to 2,000 kilos, be 4 meters long and are known to be aggressive so I am really relieved that recapture is not needed to do the math. What is messing up the math is the assumption the animals that have lost their tags are dead and of course it is much more complex than that even if they have two tags.
Researcher Lisa Schwarz, of Dan Costa’s lab at the University of California Santa Cruz, is experienced modelling demographics in other species of marine mammal, including the Southern Elephant Seal. She is now looking at problematic assumptions about tag loss that can reduce perceived survival rates in Norther Elephant Seals. In Southern Elephant Seals, her team found that the “assumption of independent tag loss produced an underestimate in the proportion of animals with zero tags which led to underestimates in survival.” It turns out for many species that they are more likely to lose both tags than just one. They also found that tag loss varies with age, sex and health. Her work on Northern Elephant Seals will further refine the demographics modelling for this species. That is the backstory of the tale of two tags which is of course really just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to read more here is a link to Lisa’s paper on Southern Elephant Seals. http://www.esajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1890/ES12-00132.1

Lisa Schwartz is interested to see if Northern Elephant Seals' tag loss patterns are similar to their southern 'cousins'. The results may have implications for predicting accurate survival rates in young animals, adult males and females.

Lisa Schwartz is interested to see if Northern Elephant Seals’ tag loss patterns are similar to their southern ‘cousins’. The results may have implications for predicting accurate survival rates in young animals, adult males and females.

Maintenance chores were mostly of the indoor variety today after getting pretty soaked doing a quick town run in the boat. I have improved my landing technique and tie two lines crossed in front of the bow while winching the boat aboard the cradle. It seems to reduce the stern movement a little. The swell was also more manageable today. Picking your weather for boating forays is key to safety at Race Rocks.

Musical Rocks at the Race

It was another north-easterly day, with an ocean swell running up and down the islets of the Race. Although it was mostly overcast in the morning, periods of sunshine dominated and it was a pleasant, autumn day. The barometer continued to climb until about noon and then slipped back down, but not as far as yesterday’s low. The marine forecast is for variable winds in the morning and west Wednesday evening with periods of rain during the day.

In the pinniped world of Race Rocks, haul-outs are shifting around like musical chairs. Steller Sea lions are now abundant on North Rock, which in September was the exclusive domain of Harbour Seals. There is a small Harbour Seal hauling out in the jetty bay now and most of the California Sea Lions have moved to the south and west side of Great Race. Middle Rock, which had ten Elephant Seals, a few weeks ago, now has over one hundred Steller Sea Lions and five of the Elephant Seals have moved back onto Great Race. They arrived all wet and big-eyed this morning and moved in for all day slumbering. All of these pinnipeds make interesting sounds, music to their ears, I am sure, and they all distinctly different. More on that another day.

It is quite delightful what you can see out your kitchen window here. I looked out while doing dishes this evening and saw two large Humpback Whales to the south, just outside the Ecological Reserve near Rosedale Reef. There were no boats around, just the two of them blowing and diving, circling around in the same area, taking fairly short dives and showing their big flukes in a beautiful display of might and grace. The dishes were quickly superseded with the spotting scope and binoculars. A sport fishing boat approached, slowed and stopped a respectful distance away and just sat there taking it all in, for a long time. When they left the scene, they did so slowly, giving the whales a wide berth. I believe that this sort of respect insures a better viewing experience as well as protecting the whales. Earlier in the day, I stopped for tea and was just heading for my book when I looked out the kitchen window and saw this plain, medium-sized shorebird foraging with the Canada Geese. It was a Dunlin in winter plumage.

Dunlin?Dunlin?3

Routine maintenance was augmented with getting the Underwater Video Camera (Camera #2 on this web-site) hooked up to the Internet and starting winter preparations such as getting the furnace running. I had hoped to join the marine science class by boat for their kelp forest adventure but the swell and wind waves were a bit too large to launch and retrieve the boat.

Northeast Winds Switching to Westerlies.

Northeast winds predominated from early morning until late afternoon when they switched around to west-southwest. There were only sprinkles of rain, until the switch and once the wind turned, you could see laden clouds scudding across the foothills and pouring in through the Strait. It started raining in earnest, early evening and is blowing 25 knots from the WSW as I write this blog. The barometer bottomed out today at just over 1000 hPa and is now steadily vacillating in that trough.

There were still hardy whale watchers out in spite of the weather and five whale watching boats were noted in the Ecological Reserve during the day. There was a surprising amount of sports fishing activity in the vicinity. Everyone was well behaved in the Reserve.

Steller Sea Lion numbers seem to be on the rise with over 110 individuals hauled out on Middle Rocks with the Elephant Seals and several hundred more on Great Race. Two more of the smaller (two year old) Elephant Seals and a bigger sub-adult scooted up the ramp, under the fence and off to their favourite Great Race haunts. It is surprising how fast they can move doing the wave. Later I watched two of them sparring, in practice for a fighting adulthood.

It is a treat to have the Harlequin Ducks back from their rushing mountain summer streams. They are such thoroughly white-water birds and seem to seek out exciting places to forage.

Other than the regular duties, I spent some time cleaning up the boat today after a wild landing in the northeast waves. There are a couple of improvements that would improve landing safety including auxillary bunks on the trailer. These could act as a tunnel and help centre the boat so that as a wave comes in and lifts the stern, the boat is not pushed off track. More weight would also be good and so would a bailer that is lashed on. Yes it was a good work-out.

Thanksgiving Edition (No Turkeys Here.)

The day started with a hazy, overcast sky and an ocean swell rolling in from the open Pacific. Although visibility was 10 to 15 nautical miles, the marine air gave everything a soft, muted look and both Port Angeles and Victoria looked further away than they actually are. In the morning, winds were light to gentle breezes starting in the southwest and swinging over to southeast. In the afternoon it shifted to north-northeast and became noticeably colder and wetter.
The ocean swell became dramatic by mid-afternoon, exploding over north rock and making a rolling break into the jetty bay, surging right over the jetty. Although the barometer was higher today than it has been all week, it is now slowly dropping and Monday ‘s forecast is for more clouds, wind and rain. Hmmm sounds like October.

Whale watching activity was fairly brisk today with seven boats in the Ecological Reserve. Everyone was fairly well behaved. Seaking Adventures was certainly giving a lot of throttle in the Reserve, crossing from Great Race over to North Rock but that may have been because he was bucking the tide. There were also a couple of sports-fishing boats passing through the Reserve in a hurry, Foghorn Charters was one of those two.

Some operators may not know that the speed limit is only 7 knots within the Reserve.

Some operators may not know that the speed limit is only 7 knots within the Reserve.

A large Humpback Whale passed through the Reserve westbound, late afternoon, there were no whale watching boats around.

A lot more gulls arrived with the cool wet weather and are roosting just about everywhere on Great Race now. I am curious what the numbers will be for this week’s census on Wednesday.
CaGu California Gulls resting and preening on Great Race.[/caption]

Western Gulls are a little north of their usual range here and hard to distinguish from Glaucous-winged X Western Gull hybrids.

Western Gulls are a little north of their usual range here and hard to distinguish from Glaucous-winged X Western Gull hybrids.

With the influx of California Gulls it is going to be tricky distinguishing and counting all the large gulls. A gull that is easy to distinguish and also a favorite of mine, is the Heerman’s Gull.

Heerman's Gulls are our most exotic looking gulls.

Heerman’s Gulls are our most exotic looking gulls.


Another avian visitor spotted today was the small to medium sized sandpiper pictured below, I think it is a Western Sandpiper but would like confirmation.
WeSa
There were two young Elephant Seals on Great Race today and one of them was “tagged as a weiner in 2012” at Ano Nuevo Island in California “and hasn’t been seen since, so this is an important data point” according to Dr. Patrick Robinson, Año Nuevo Island Reserve Director.
Mian 6967
The second Elephant Seal was sleeping on the marine railway in the morning.
mian jetty

Race Rocks has become Canada’s main Elephant Seal colony. It is important as a fall haul-out location for sub-adults, as well as a winter birthing and mating site and spring moulting site.
Race Rocks is an ecological treasure located at a key location next to busy shipping lanes and popular sport-fishing grounds. I am thankful to those who had the vision to protect this amazing area and thankful to be able to experience it.
roro close to RR
roro & maersk

Weather Day

A series of squalls and thunder showers turned Race Rocks into an emerald isle today.

A series of squalls and thunder showers turned Race Rocks into an emerald isle today.

Today was a weather day; we had all kinds. The morning fog was thick but lifted early and a westerly wind blew in squall after squall with dramatic downpours interspersed with glorious sunshine. The island had several good fresh water rinses, much needed after a long dry season.

Gulls lifted after the heavy rain and flew above the Davis Weather station drying their wings.

Gulls lifted after the heavy rain and flew above the Davis Weather station drying their wings.

There were dramatic cloud towers with thunder rumbles in the distance. Late afternoon the west wind simmered down to a steady 20 knots and the sky cleared. The barometer rose all day as it became nicer and nicer. A strong wind warning remains in effect for central Juan de Fuca and the outlook is for west winds, showers and increasing cloudiness Sunday and then a shift to southeasterly winds and rain on Monday.

Some of the whale watching boats seemed to be in a hurry today. The speed limit within 400 meters of the islets is 7 knots.

Some of the whale watching boats seemed to be in a hurry today. The speed limit within 400 meters of the islets is 7 knots.

It was a busy day for whale watching boats visiting the Ecological Reserve. A total of eleven boats were noted watching pinnipeds and more passed just outside the boundaries following the lags and watching Humpbacks just to the south and east of Race Rocks. Several of whale watching boats were pushing the boundaries of speeding in the reserve.

In a hurry? King Salmon of Great Pacific Adventures rushing through the Ecological Reserve at Race Rocks.

In a hurry? King Salmon of Great Pacific Adventures rushing through the Ecological Reserve at Race Rocks.

The usual dive boat spent most of the day in the Ecological Reserve doing multiple dives to the north of Great Race and finishing their last dive just off the jetty.

The Steller's Sea Lion would be a good candidate for disentanglement. He is robust and the strapping is not cutting into the back of his neck, yet.

The Steller’s Sea Lion would be a good candidate for disentanglement. He is robust and the strapping is not cutting into the back of his neck, yet.

Ecological observations were made throughout the day as opportunities arose.
I spotted a new (to me), entangled, Steller’s Sea Lion. It looked as though the culprit was plastic strapping again and there is a tiny glimmer of hope for the animal because, although the plastic had cut into the flesh of its throat, there was a bit of it unraveling and maybe there will be more. Again this would be a good candidate for disentangling because the plastic strap could easily be cut on the back where it was not embedded and because the individual is (for now) otherwise healthy-looking and robust enough to get into several scraps just finding a place to sleep.

If it wasn't so anthropomorphic, I might be tempted to suggest that these two are both saying do something, please.

If it wasn’t so anthropomorphic, I might be tempted to suggest that these two are both saying, ‘do something, please’.

 

You can see the extent of the injury being caused by the plastic cutting into this animals' neck.

You can see the extent of the injury being caused by the plastic cutting into this animals’ neck.

Alex and I took advantage of the downpours to collect rainwater in the wheelbarrow and wash outside windows. Alex made a sturdy, long handle for the squeegee and we worked as a team to clean and squeegee the exterior of the windows on both houses. The science house windows were still covered from gull breeding season, dive bombings and will benefit from a few more downpours which are on the horizon now. We tried to trouble-shoot the wind direction problems (again) with the Davis Weather system. Holding the vane at ninety degrees did not affect the reading on the console display. The usual chores regarding power, water and seawater sampling were also completed.

Camera 2 Reconnected

The weather changed many times today. It started out foggy with no wind, then cleared with a light north wind. Then it clouded over and blew a little more from the southeast. By late after noon there was light rain, which continued into the evening while the wind shifted back to the northeast. The barometer remained fairly steady until this evening when it started to fall. The forecast for the weekend is cloudy with showers and a strong wind warning for central Juan de Fuca Strait.

Only one whale watching boat was noted in the Ecological Reserve today and it arrived in front of the jetty at the exact time that Second Nature arrived with students from Pearson. Second nature tied up to the jetty and conducted a working dive installing the underwater camera (Webcam #2). Half the team dealt with mounting and connecting the camera while the rest of the crew ran the cable out and secured it along the way. Everyone was well-briefed top-side and it was probably a thrilling dive with the many sea lions in the water all around the divers. Students Stuart, Alex and Sean were in the water with Chris and Courtney led Joliene, Sarah and Yam. Riikka was dive marshal and had a crew of three who made sure that everything went according to plan. The camera is installed and connected and we should be able to view it again shortly.

I didn’t spend much time on ecological observations today but as I was wheel barrowing gear around in the morning, I looked up and saw a big flock of Turkey Vultures. They seemed to be coming from Rocky Point and heading across the Strait to Washington State. They seemed to be using the light tower as a navigation aid. I counted and the group included 102 birds. Five of them turned around just after Race Rocks, maybe they had forgotten their passports.

Today was a clean-up and re-group day here. I tidied up after the electricians and moved and packaged up the waste and debris from the oil change on the Lister generator. The solar panels were washed, fresh water made and electricity generated. Just before the dive was over I launched the boat and went to pick up Alex.

Pea Soup

It was socked in with fog as thick as pea soup today. It cleared off this evening just before six and well in time for a fantastic sunset and my realization that it was probably a beautiful day, just about everywhere else in the region.

California Sea Lions silhouetted by setting sun.

California Sea Lions silhouetted by setting sun.

There was not much wind today, the high was 5 knots out of the east-northeast and everything is damp almost as if it had rained. Most of the day the flag hung limp and a bit sodden. The barometer continued yesterday’s gradual rise until about noon when it started to slowly decline, ending up at about the same place it started. The forecast looks like rain for at least a week but it probably just means showers. I keep forgetting that rain here and rain in Bamfield are just not the same thing.

There were no whale-watching boats observed although one commercial sports fishing boat stopped by to have a look at the sea lions.

The results of this weeks’ large animal census follows:

Steller’s Sea Lion 173
California Sea Lion 412
Harbour Seal 136
Elephant Seal 12
River Otter 1
Canada Goose 20
Greater White-fronted Goose 5
Harlequin Ducks 8
Double-crested Cormorant46
Pelagic Cormorant 5
Black Oystercatchers 20
Black Turnstones 6
Killdeer 4
Glaucous-winged Gull 88
Glaucous-winged x Western Gull Hybrid
Thayer’s Gull 303
Heerman’s Gull 17
California Gull 12
Western Gull 2
Ring-billed Gull 2
Gull sp, 260
Bald Eagle (adult) 1
Fox Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow 17

Most of the sea lions have moved over to the west side of the island and are hauling out on Middle Island and some of the smaller rocks. They are seem to be spending much more time in the water instead of sleeping on land and salmon kills are visible all over the Ecological Reserve when the visibility is good enough to see.

Wall-to-wall California Sea Lions catch a nap in a pile.

Wall-to-wall California Sea Lions catch a nap in a pile.

Thayer’s Gulls are the dominant gull now in terms of numbers and they seem to spend a lot of their day resting and grooming. All the gulls seem to take advantage of the sea lion feeding events as bits of salmon are flying. I double-checked my Thayer’s Gull identification with Dick Cannings and his super-birder son, Russell and they concur that this is a Thayer’s Gull.

Race Rocks is an important resting, roosting and feeding place for Thayer's Gulls recovering from a busy summer in the Arctic.

Race Rocks is an important resting, roosting and feeding place for Thayer’s Gulls recovering from a busy summer in the high Arctic.

My biggest task today was attempting to muck out the roof of the energy building where the solar panels are installed. It reminded me of a stable job I had when I was a kid. I actually used a snow shovel to scoop out the organic crud that had built up under the last of the panels to be raised by the electrician yesterday. The rest of the day’s maintenance-type activities were the regular jobs entailed in living here; making fresh water, topping up the batteries with the generator (even the solar panels had a hard time keeping up in the thick fog), doing the seawater sampling and sweeping a few walkways.

Battery Power

The fog came and went again today but overall there was enough sunshine to keep the solar panels producing power. There was very little wind, always less than ten knots and often less than five. The direction was quite variable: in the morning it came from the north, then switched around to south and was blowing westerly at sunset. Now in the late evening it has turned back to a three-knot north wind. The barometer rose gradually most of the day so we are back up where we were a couple of days ago. The forecast is for increasing clouds with some sunshine tomorrow.

Today, I was not able to monitor vessel traffic in the Ecological Reserve as well as I usually do, nevertheless, 23 whale watching boats were observed in the Reserve, several visiting multiple times.

I did a large animal census, today and will report on it tomorrow as it is late now.

The middle of the day was taken up with battery room maintenance. Courtney showed me how to do it by doing 24 batteries and then I did the rest while the electrician and his apprentice were there. They checked on me to make sure that I was okay, working in that dangerous environment. All 96 batteries were checked and topped up with distilled water. Other chores included the usual daily tasks, seawater sampling, generation of electricity with the Lister and launching the boat. Once the electricians were finished, I gave them a ride into Pedder Bay. In spite of fog, there was a bit of a sunset. Here’s the shot.

As the tide ebbs, the sun sets through the fog reflected in the boils and rips.

As the tide ebbs, the sun sets through the fog reflected in the boils and rips.