The Long Weekend.

Fog followed an overcast dawn and was repetitively beaten back by sunshine throughout the day. While the sun was out, it was intense (900 Watts/meter2), but fog lingered just to the west and Beechey Head was repeatedly obscured as the fog came and went. Eventually in early evening, pushed by the west-southwest wind, the fog rolled back in and enveloped Race Rocks. For most of the day day the wind blew west a fairly steady, 10 – 15 knots. The fog wind was more intense though, pushing 25 – 30 knots. The barometer went up a bit in the morning and then, after noon it dropped by a little more than it had gone up, ending up at ~1014 hPa and falling. The forecast is for a strong wind warning, (more westerlies), mainly sunny, with a few clouds.

No whale watching vessels were observed in the Ecological Reserve today. Several private, sportsfishing boats went through at a respectful speed and they were not fishing in reserve. One rental boat from Pedder Bay Marina was fishing in the Rockfish Conservation Area on both the east and on the west side of the houses. The people seemed to know that they were not supposed to be there and were playing a bit of hide and seek. Two couples were all fishing for and keeping rockfish in the Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA). Whether or not they exceeded the limit for outside RCA (1 rockfish per day) is open for speculation.

Two large male Killer Whales were spotted travelling east, along the north edge of the Ecological Reserve in Race Passage. As is often the case with Bigg’s Killer Whales, they seemed to be evasive, perhaps exhaling underwater. They were spotted again near nNorth Rocks and then skirted around to the south. From their behavious, it is likely that these were Bigg’s Killer Whales.

It takes a lot less energy to play when suspended in water.

It takes a lot less energy to play when suspended in water.

The Northern Elephant Seals have been sticking very close to shore during their swims, preferring the shallow sub-tidal in the bull kelp fringes. The young males who love to play fight when they are hauled out continue their sparring activity in the water. I wonder if the Bigg’s Killer Whales could hear them?

A small seal with new tags.

A small seal with new tags.

Another new (to me) Northern Elephant Seals showed up today, well tagged with #9836 on the right and #9807 on the left. All four tags looked really new as did the seal. The smallest one ashore since I arrived in March, it had almost completed its’ moult and the skin was looking too big for it, so I venture to guees that it has been hauling out on Middle Rock moulting for a while and came over to Great Race because of all the bustling seal activity here.

This small animal is starting to look like her skin is a bit too big for her.

This small animal is starting to look like her skin is a bit too big for her.

Both routine chores and seasonal maintenance were accomplished today. The grated, aluminum ramp on the jetty was repaired and trouble-shooting completed on the Whaler’s electrical system. There were no new visitors today.

Finally Field Exam.

It blew west 15 – 20 knots all day as the barometer slowly climbed to 1016 hPa and leveled off. The early, overcast sky gave way to sunshine by late morning and it continued brilliantly until sunset. The forecast is for more of the same with the strong wind warning continuing.

Two whale watching boats were observed working in the Ecological Reserve and both followed guidelines and regulations, treating the Reserve and its wildlife with respect. Several sports fishing boats passed through the Ecological Reserve at low speed and only one halibut sports fishing boat was slow to slow, in the go-slow zone, doing at least 15 knots but eventually remembering and slowing.

All of the ecological happenings reported on, in the last week or so continued today. Great Race was busy with Northern Elephant seals coming and going from their bathing routines, moulting, sleeping and jousting. The gulls, guillemots and oystercatchers continued to prepare for the next generation and Canada Geese were out and about, promenading their goslings. A raven was seen taking one small gosling that had been noted dead earlier, near a nest in front of the science house. Both species of sealion seem more vocal this week, with the Steller’s mostly on West Rocks and the Californians more spread out but definitely back at South Islands.

Today was busy with visitors as Laura and 36 first year marine science students arrived early to do their marine science field exam. Chris and Courtney, shuttled the class out in Second Nature and Hyaku. An extra trip in Hyaku brought out author Peter Johnson who is researching lighthouses for an up-coming book, along witha guest photographer. Hanne, a second year marine science student from Pearson College also arrived on that trip and she photographed the first years hard at work and enjoyed observing elephant seals with Courtney.


Connor continuing to learn from nature even as he writes exam.

Ha biodivers

Ha finishes off answers on biodiversity and species richness, surrounded by diverse intertidal species.

more biodivers

Determining a relationship between tidal height and intertidal diversity.

marsci exam west

‘Delightful dichotomies and wondrous waves’ is the intriguing title of this exam station.

My family continued their visit and helped out in lots of different ways, from assisting boats and people on the jetty, to encouraging me in becoming more proficient and comfortable running the derrick. I assisted Laura and students with the field exam, which is very unique. This is one exam the students will  never forget.




Sonny Saturday.

The west wind blew 20 – 25 knots all day, bringing cloud, drizzle, rain and eventually, late afternoon, sunshine. The strong wind warning remains in effect and the barometer, which has been hovering above 1010 HPa., has started to drop very gradually. The forecast for tomorrow calls for a mix of sun and rain.

Identifiable, commercial tour boats in the Ecological Reserve were limited to five whale watching boats and one dive charter, today. Two Sea Doo- type vessels, came from the direction of Victoria, did a tour around Race Rocks, and headed back.

Luxuriant growth of Pineapple Weed, Matricaria sp. has filled in the highly disturbed areas where hundreds of sealions hauled out last fall and winter, compacting the soil and destroying all vegetation. Although considered a weed, the pineapple smell is nice and covers up the devastation left behind by the sealions.

Tall pineapple weed covers the area occupied by sealions last fall and winter.

Another species left over from the old gardens here, is blooming right now and very beautiful. It looks like it might be in the iris family but it is not something I am familiar with. So if you are reading this and recognize the plant, please let me know what it is.

You are invited to name (identify) the mystery plant.

You are invited to name (identify) the mystery plant, which may be a heritage lighthouse plant.

Mystery flower.

Mystery flower is Gladiolus imbricatus, originally from southeastern Europe/Turkey. It has been growing unattended for at least fifty years. Thanks to Garry Fletcher fo the identification.

Floyd continues to visit Great Race. He spends extra time in the water, suspended and fairly weightless, understandably more comfortable, considering his great bulk.

Floyd top head floyd ventral face

Floyd sleeping near the science house.

Floyd sleeping near the science house.

Eighteen elephant seals continue to haul out on Great Race and their moults are at different stages, depending on start time. The animals that arrived early appear to have completed their moult except for the regrowth of vibrissae. Animals that arrived recently, like Floyd and the female, 5086 are just starting the process.

Glaucous-winged Gulls looking broody.

Glaucous-winged Gulls looking broody.

Some gulls are already looking broody and sitting like they are practicing for incubation. Mating pairs can be seen throughout the colony.

My family continues to visit. Chores and maintenance included a lot of regular tasks, some monthly jobs and a few extraordinary repairs. The fire-pump ran for several hours today adding to the seawater in the cistern.

Musical Rocks

It was another west wind kind of day. It was already blowing 20 knots at dawn and stayed a fairly steady, 15 – 20 most of the morning and afternoon. It increased to 20 – 25 in the evening. A strong wind warning remains in effect with a chance of showers and drizzle predicted for tomorrow. The barometer remained fairly steady all day, just below 1010.

A dive charter operator worked in the Ecological Reserve today with divers and tourists top-side as well. Two whale-watching vessels were observed in the Ecological Reserve. There may have been more as I went ashore for a few hours.

Sealions are starting to haul out on the jetty again. When I arrived in March and for April they were hauling on South Islands. From there, they moved to West Rocks and now juveniles of both species are moving back to south Islands and seem interested in Great Race, especially the jetty.

Sealions are back on South Island after trying out the other rocks.

Sealions are back on South Island after trying out the other rocks.

The elephant seals continue their daily rituals of interacting through fighting, piling up against each other, sleeping, moulting and for most of them, taking at least two ocean swims daily. The tagged female 5086, just starting her moult was here again today as was the young male 5850, who is almost finished his moult.

Female #5086 on day two at Great Race.

Female #5086 on day two at Great Race.

Mian5086 length

Floyd spent a long time in the water today, tucked in behind the kelp bed in his personal little bay. Like 5850 he spent quite a bit of time draping kelp over his head and playing around with it.

floyd's kelp bonnet

Floyd as a tiny weightless animal in the ocean.

floyd's thalassiotherapy

Kelp wrap anyone? Great for an epidermal moult.

Floyd singing his very nasal ocean song.

My family has arrived for a visit. Chores are routine and there are lots of hands on deck to help with maintenance and repairs.

Great Guy at Great Race (Covering May 13 & 14)

Wednesday and Thursday were both westerly days, wet in the mornings, clearing in the afternoons, with winds increasing through the day. Wednesday winds reached 25 -30 in the evening and it was much quieter on Thursday with an evening breeze of 10 – 15. on Fog reduced visibility to about a mile this morning but quickly burned off. The barometer stayed fairly steady around 1010 hPa both days and there is a strong wind warning (20 – 30 knots) in effect for Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, two whale watching vessels were observed in the Ecological Reserve and none on Thursday. Several sport fishers passed through at a respectful speed both days. There was military blasting on Wednesday with no apparent effect on the wildlife other than Steller’s Sealions neck craning.

A large male Northern Elephant Seal arrived at Great Race yesterday along with a record (for me) number of seals 17 ashore here for the moult. More length measurements were made on new arrivals and the big guy who were calling Floyd in honour of large portions, measured 3.22 meters from the tip of nose to tip of tail. He seems a mellow fellow but very large and I suspect, still growing.

Floyd resting up in preparation for the herculean effort of hauling himself up the path.

All paths leading up from the jetty had heavy traffic today.


Floyd resting up in preparation for the herculean effort of hauling himself up the path.

A new (to me) female who is just starting her moult arrived today. She is tagged and her very worn number is 5086.

This female is larger than the other tagged animals I have seen. You can see the first few roles of skin and fur as her moult starts on her hind flippers.

This female is larger than the other tagged animals I have seen. You can see the first few roles of skin and fur as her moult starts on her hind flippers.

Thursday is census day and here are the results

Northern Elephant Seals (including 1 on Great Race)

Harbour Seals 101

California Sea lions 27

Northern Sea lions 24

Canada Geese 24 (+18 goslings)

Harlequin Ducks 3

Pelagic Cormorants 18

Double Crested Cormorants 19

Bald Eagle 1 adults, 2 sub-adults

Black Oystercatchers 12

Whimbrels 8

Pigeon Guillemots 227

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

Common Raven 1

Barn Swallows 2

Savannah Sparrow 2

American Pipets 3

Wednesday Courtney brought Guy and Christine out on Wednesday for eco-guardian training and to trouble-shoot electrical generation issues. While she was here she and Guy cleaned the battery tops of water and attempted to fix the Lister’s over-speed issue. With load (boat winch), it went to over-speed, which shut it down and the power to the main house. Running the de-salination unit did not affect the generator. Christine trained on seawater sampling, faunal observations and had an introduction to the house and island.


Greener Pastures (Covering May 11 & 12)

The wind blew west 20 – 25 knots until early afternoon on Monday when it slowed, came in from the southwest and cleared out the cold, wet clouds. For the rest of the day, it stayed partially overcast with sunny breaks and the forecasted call for more of the same, with showers was spot on. The dropping barometer leveled out a bit Tuesday and the prediction is for continuing strong westerlies, which blew all day 10 – 20 knots. Wednesday looks like a wet one.

Monday morning  was blustery  and bristling with police and military activity on the water, all around but not in the Ecological Reserve. Only two whale watching boats were noted in Reserve on Monday.Tuesday only one whale watching vessel was noted in Reserve. There was a Pedder Bay rental with independent researchers counting seals and sealions. Tuesday, Second Nature arrived with a large contingent of support staff, maintenance, IT and volunteers. Tuesday was punctuated by military blasting.

The elephant seals were on the move today and yesterday. After a dawn swim, Monday, only half the animals moved back behind the boathouse, where most of them have been sleeping for the last couple of weeks. The grass where they were lying, behind the boat house, is a fried brown colour. Although it looks dead, it will probably come back after a couple of weeks like the other crushed and cooked parts.

Elephant Seal lawn treatment results.

Elephant Seal lawn treatment results.

Seven animals, including two females who started the move, found fresh, green grass right outside my basement door. Tuesday was a repeat performance except that we were also graced by the presence of a very large male. It was a short visit and I was too busy to measure him but he was massive.

This before the lawn treatment, the previous photo is after.

This before the lawn treatment, the previous photo is after.

big boy

This big boy is luxuriating in the nice green grass.

This big boy is luxuriating in the nice green grass.

There were at total of 17 Northern Elephant Seals on Great Race Monday and at least two individuals here Sunday that were gone Monday. My guess is that there is exchange with the group hauling out on Middle Rocks and that was reinforced by the big visitor here today.

California Sealions started hauling out on the jetty today.

Some the gull pairs are getting quite good at their acrobatic feats of reproduction which involve the male standing, balanced on the females back.

Chores were minimized Monday due to an injury. There were no visitors Monday and six staff/volunteers Tuesday. The men moved a tidy tank across the island, Max fixed camera 5 and did some trouble-shooting and Courtney started training Guy.


Streaks of White Foam, Breaking Waves.

The fog came in and out during the night and as dawn arrived, there was a west-southwest wind that blew all day varying little from west, as the day progressed and keeping up a continual 25 – 35 knots. It was quite cloudy here until early evening when the clouds lifted a little. Light levels were down a little, and so were temperatures, even more so, with the wind chill. The gale whipped the seas into a frothy mix of gray and white. The barometer didn’t do much today and the forecast remains the same, with a few more clouds Monday and gale warning continuing.

Only three whale watching boats were noted in the Ecological Reserve today although there may have been more. It was too rough for the smaller, open boats. One large sports fisher went through.

I spent most of the day indoors today so my usual, long ramblings about ecological happenings will have to wait.

There were no visitors and chores were routine

More Than Radical Moult?

The east-northeast breezes that came with dawn, soon turned to west-southwest and became light winds by early afternoon. The early morning sky was quite hazy with smoke and “marine air”. A gale warning was in effect today and when the wind picked up to 20 knots in the late afternoon it cleared the haze temporarily, but then the “marine air” (with brown tinges) thickened and started to feel like a chill fog. The wind rose to 30 knots in the evening. The rising barometer leveled off for the afternoon then started dropping. The usual forecast continues.


I was surprised that a vessel of this size would use Middle Channel but she was well driven, slowly and carefully.

I was surprised that a vessel of this size would use Middle Channel but she was well driven, slowly and carefully.

It was a busy Saturday on the water and a parade of whale watching boats came through the Ecological Reserve to observe the usual cast of characters. A total of 20  commercial whale watching boat visits to the Ecological Reserve were observed today.  All but one of these vessels took their time while in the ER, minimizing potential impact on wildlife by driving slowly.Their passengers probably saw more that way. The one vessel that seemed a bit pressed, just had a momentary lapse and dropped his speed after clearing away from a sports fisher also observing.

Some of the vessels that came through Middle Passage seemed a mite large. One of the smaller, open vessels took the passage between Great Race and South Islands. There really isn’t much room in there and there are a lot of animals in the water and on the rocks of that narrow passageway. Not a good practice, nor is it really following the regulations or guidelines.

A few sports fishers came through the reserve to have a look at the animals and they also drove slowly and kept their distance. There were several rental boats in the Ecological Reserve today, all but one behaving. One rental packed with people sped right through the “rockpile”, not slowing for wind, current or Ecological Reserve. A dive charter from Ogden Point dove a couple of sites in the Ecological Reserve today, All very calm and professional.

The Northern Elephant Seal moult continues with most animals sleeping in a pile and making the trek to the water at least once a day for a soak and a swim.

Waking up en masse one seal at a time.

Waking up en masse one seal at a time.

Some of animals are starting to look like their skin is a bit too big for them,

Some of animals are starting to look like their skin is a bit too big for them,

The little female A114 came back today. She is in terrible shape with many open sores, continuously bleeding on the ventral side, which leaves trail of blood and she is often shivering or maybe it is trembling? She smells really awful, perhaps not long for this world, or is it just a super radical moult? I think it is pathological.

This little female, A114/ A473, has serious skin problems. More than just a radical moult.

This little female, A114/ A473, has serious skin problems. More than just a radical moult.

A114 appeal

The flies covering her are called kelp flies but they seem to thrive on elephant seal body fluids.

A114 skin cracks

Where the skin folds above the foreflippers, the folds have become open cracks.

Psoriasis Sister looking fairly healthy (in spite of the moult), compared to A114.

Psoriasis Sister looking fairly healthy (in spite of the moult), compared to A114.

Out of the ~20 animals observed closely, there are three with the ‘more than a radical moult look’; two females and a male. Earlier, I confused A114 and the “Psoriasis Sister”. I now know they are very different animals of different size. A114, the smallest is definitely the worst for wear with her gouges, deep cracks and ventral bleeding. All of these animals keep to themselves (separately) and have not been seen sleeping in the skin to skin “pile” with the healthy looking, very social seals.

Pairs of Pigeon Guillemots, Black Oystercatchers and Glaucous-winged gulls are mating. Three pairs of Canada Geese are walking their goslings, successful broods of eight, six, four and three. There seem to still be two pairs who have not nested and the other six pairs are still incubating.

There were no visitors and chores were routine.






May 8

Although it started out from the north-northeast, for most of the day, the wind blew from the southeast. Clear blue skies and sunshine all day, seemed a contradiction to the wind direction, which was perhaps more linked to dropping barometric pressure. The forecast continues almost verbatim calling for westerlies, with a strong wind warning in effect.

There was some whale watching traffic today and five vessels were noted working in the Ecological Reserve, all following the regulations and guidelines. Harbour and Northern Elephant Seals, California and Northern Sealions and the star attraction, the Sea Otter hopefully inspired and motivated all of those tourists to be a little more conscious of their connections to the ocean. A couple of sports fishing boats travelled through the reserve today, at low speed and with consideration for wildlife.

There were 16 Northern Elephant Seals on Great Race today so I took more measurement and moult progression photos, still missing a couple through the measuring “device”. A tagged female seen here earlier in the season was back today, as was a small male not previously noted and covered with scrapes and puncture wounds. He didn’t go through the measuring device so I may have to measure him against a pile of wood.

Mian7688 mina no measure

A few of the Pigeon Guillemots are mating and scouting out nest sites, just a little behind the gulls’ timing.

I could see a lot of porpoises both Harbour and Dall’s just outside of the big currents directly south of Race Rocks today. They were probably a mile outside the Ecological Reserve Boundary.

Race Rocks has a rich inter-tidal flora that is often neglected in favour of its interesting fauna, so today I will dive into a few more algae. Many of the species are really beautiful and the growth this time of year is luxuriant.

Sexy Ulva

This two toned Ulva lactuca is going reproductive (aka sexy seaweed).


Spongomorpha is a green algae with tiny little hooks that bind the strands together like dreadlocks.


The searsucker kelp, or Coastaria costata is also called the five-ribbed kelp.

cymathere 2

Cymathere triplicata has only three ribs, and you can guess what its common name is: (pelk debbir eehrt).



This is one of the many species of nori found on the shore here. I am not sure if it is Porphyra or one of the new translations. The Whelsh name for it is laver.


Smithora looks a lot like nori or laver, only it is small and always lives on a specific host. Here it is growing on surfgrass.


Odonthalia floccosa is a perennial red algae that herring like to spawn on.


Constantinea is another perennial red. It grows like an umbrella with the  stipe (stem) in the middle.

Constantinea is another perennial red. It grows like an umbrella with the stipe (stem) in the middle.

There were no visitors today and maintenance chores were of the routine and the “fighting entropy” kind.

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.