Ocular and Slash – ambassadors of the realities of risk

Another whale has recently been documented with scarring from entanglement. We’ve identified the whale as Ocular, born in 2016 to Slash (BCY0177). Slash has her nickname because, from the first time we saw her in 2008, she had extreme scarring from a large boat propellor. Ocular’s entanglement scarring was first documented last week.

Ocular and Slash – ambassadors of the realities of the risk to whales of vessel strike and entanglement.

They are not exceptional cases. Our research, done in collaboration with DFO, shows that ~1 in 2 Humpback Whales off BC’s coast have scarring from entanglement. This data provides an indication of how serious the risk of entanglement is but does not reveal how many Humpbacks die after becoming entangled.


How many are hit by boats? We don’t know. We see scarring on some survivors but here too, it is not possible to know how many are hit and die as a result of their injuries. There are whales like KC (BCY0291) that we know have been both hit by a boat and been entangled (twice that we know of in KC’s case).

Thankfully, with the new Marine Mammal Regulations it is now law that such interactions with marine mammals must be reported (all incidents of concern to 1-800-465-4336). But increased public awareness is also very much needed. Please see www.HowToSaveAWhale.org.

Content about what to do if you find an entangled whale is summarized below:

  • With great urgency, report the entanglement with location to the DFO Incident Line / VHF 16. 1-800-465-4336.
  • Do NOT attempt to remove any fishing gear or rope from the whale as it risks human and whale safety (has led to human death).
  • If at all possible, remain with the whale at a distance until trained help arrives or another boat takes over tracking, otherwise the chances of relocating the whale are greatly diminished
  • Take whatever video/photos are possible but maintain a distance that doesn’t stress the whale.

Professional training and equipment are needed to assess the entanglement and proceed safely with the greatest chance of success. Often, much of the fishing gear in which the whale is entangled is not visible at the surface. If well-intentioned members of the public remove the gear at the surface, it is made much more difficult to:
1. recognize that the whale is entangled and;
2. disentangle the whale even if it is relocated.

Trailing gear at the surface provides the opportunity for trained responders to attach a tag to track the whale and/or to attach floatation to maintain contact with and slow down an entangled whale. Loss of this gear can significantly reduce rescuers’ ability to save the whale.

July 8th documentation of Ocular’s entanglement injury near Comox by Peter Hamilton, Lifeforce Foundation.

Three Generations of Humpbacks Documented!

Three generations of Humpback Whales have now been documented!

This is such an indication of the great collaborative effort in studying the fortunate return of Humpback Whales off British Columbia’s coast, and its importance.
Calf:
Alethea Leddy was the first to document Apollo with a calf, now nicknamed Nova. Alethea’s photos from June 18th near Race Rocks even allowed us to determine that the calf is male. The calf had been lying on his back tail-lobbing whereby the pelvic area could be seen. See Aletha’s photo at the end of this blog that allowed determination of Nova’s gender. For detail on gender determination in Humpbacks, click here for our blog on the subject. 

Mother:
We know that Apollo was born in 2010 to Horizon but did not know her gender before now.

Grandmother:
We first documented Horizon in 2004 when she was already at least subadult. Apollo is her first known calf. We documented a second calf in 2013 and have not had re-sightings of this whale.

Importance:
Calves only stay with their mothers for a year. Having these solid ID photos allows us to ID them in future. Because the calves often lose a lot of the white pigmentation in their tails as they age, It is particularly helpful to also have photos showing both sides of the dorsal fin and the trailing edge of the tail. Being able to study whales as individuals allows us to have data informing everything from age of first calving (varies per population), to life expectancy, to social associations, to how the whales use the coast.

The nicknames:
Humpbacks are nicknamed for distinctive features so that it is easier to recognize them as individuals. Horizon has horizontal lines on her tail. The markings on Apollo’s tail suggest planets. And, while some of the white will likely disappear on the calf’s tail, there is a distinctive line and a moon-shaped bump that will likely stay. Thereby, Alethea suggested Nova, also keeping with the celestial theme of these 3 generations of whales.

To make the point again that it takes a dedicated community to study giants, below are the names of all those who have contributed sightings of these 3 whales (outside of our direct MERS team). This includes naturalists, captains and guest of at least 9 ecotourism companies as well as our research colleagues:
Jarret Morton, Alexandra Morton, Marilia Olio, Tasli Shaw, Mark Malleson, Gary Sutton, Jos Krynen, Amber Stroeder, Kaitlin Paquette, Johanna Ferrie, Eiko Jones, Peter Hamilton, Leif Nordman, Shea Majbroda, Michelle Mercer, Chloé Warren, Jennie Leaver, Jeff Aoki, Carmen Pen, Alison Ogilvie, Geoff Dunstan, Roger McDonell, Franz Plangger, April Macleod, Jim Borrowman, Jess Fargher, Maureen Towers, Dave Towers, Sophia Merritt, Kyle Kermode, Inge van der Wulp, Shea Majbroda, Jan Kees, Humpbacks of the Salish Sea, Keta Coastal Conservation.

For detail on gender determination in Humpbacks, click here for our blog on this subject.

See this link to purchase a MERS Humpback Whale Catalogue (PDF) for whales documented from the northern Strait of Georgia to the northern end of Goletas Channel. Updated PDF provided annually at no extra charge. 

We’re Hiring! MERS Data Analyst

Job Posting
Marine Education and Research Society
Summer Student Position: Data Analyst  

The Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting conservation and understanding of marine ecosystems through scientific research, environmental education, and marine wildlife response.  We are based on NE Vancouver Island. For information about MERS’ research, education and wildlife response efforts, see www.mersociety.org.

The Data Analyst will be involved in MERS’ efforts to study and protect marine mammals in British Columbia, with a focus on consolidating Humpback Whale sighting and photo-identification data as part of a province-wide project to better understand this population. This Humpback Whale study is a collaborative, coast-wide effort that will allow for enhanced knowledge of the abundance, habitat use, social associations, movements, and threats of Humpbacks in B.C., for the purposes of conservation.

Duties will include:

  1. Conducting comparative analysis of Humpback Whale catalogues to determine the identifications of individual whales.
  2. Data entry and database management for Humpback Whale sighting and photographic data.
  3. Assisting in supervising volunteers during data entry and photographic data analysis in order to maintain the quality of the MERS databases.
  4. Aiding in MERS’ work to serve as a resource to media and the local community (with a focus on local ecotourism operators) in order to enhance the economics/value of wildlife viewing experiences.
  5. Helping to develop resources to reduce threats to whales and, thereby, increase the sustainability of ecotourism in the region.
  6. Other office-based work as needed.This is an office-based position but there may also be some opportunities for the Data Analyst to accompany MERS researchers on boat-based surveys to collect Humpback Whale photo-identification data.

Successful candidates:

  • Are Canadian or have a Canadian work permit. (Please note: MERS will not be able to assist candidates in obtaining a Canadian work permit).
  • Are students currently enrolled in a full-time post-secondary program, returning to school in the fall of 2018 (funding requirement).
  • Are studying biology, environmental science, resource management or a related field and have knowledge of the biology and ecology of marine mammals in British Columbia.
  • Are between 15-30 years of age (funding requirement).
  • Have strong computer skills. Previous experience with some or all of the following programs an asset: Microsoft Excel, Photo Mechanic, Filemaker, Adobe Lightroom, and QGIS.
  • Work well independently and with minimal supervision.
  • Have experience with data entry.
  • Have exceptional organizational skills.
  • Are able to demonstrate strong abilities in matching whale flukes and fins for identification.

Salary:
$15/hour

Work term:
10-week contract with an anticipated start date of June 18th, 2018

Position location:
Much of the work can be done remotely but, for the purposes of supervision, it is preferred that the Data Analyst is based in Victoria or on NE Vancouver Island.

Application deadline:
May 13, 2018

Application format:
Applications should include a cover letter specifically addressing position requirements, resume, and 3 references (name, position and email address) with a minimum of 2 being employment contacts.   Applications should be emailed to nicole@mersociety.org.

Selection procedure: 

  1. References of short-listed candidates contacted.
  2. Short-listed candidates interviewed via SKYPE.
  3. Final interviews held in person in Vancouver, Victoria or Port McNeill. Candidates will be asked to complete an exercise to assess their ability to match whales IDs.

Please note that only short-listed applicants will be contacted and that this would happen before May 20th.

How to Save a Whale (video)

“How to Save a Whale” is an essential resource on the risks of collision and entanglement. It was made possible by the Sitka Foundation. Please see below for the video and share widely.

With the fortunate increase in the number of Humpback Whales off our coast, it is essential that boaters know more about the risks of collision and entanglement (for the sake of whale AND boater safety).

Our preliminary results conducted in collaboration with DFO show that over 47% of Humpbacks in British Columbia have scarring that shows they have been entangled (>1,000 Humpbacks). This data provides an indication of how very serious the risk of entanglement is. It does not reveal how many Humpbacks have died as a result of entanglement.


For key points on how to avoid collision, please see www.SeeABlowGoSlow.org 


Summary of key points on what to do in case you find an entangled whale:

  1. With great urgency, report the entanglement with location. In British Columbia call the DFO Incident Line at  1-800-465-4336. If you do not have cell service, use VHF Channel 16 (Coast Guard).
  2. If at all possible, remain with the whale at a distance until trained help arrives or another boat takes over tracking, otherwise the chances of relocating the whale are greatly diminished
  3. Take whatever video/photos are possible but maintain a distance that doesn’t stress the whale.

Why it is so important NOT to attempt to remove any fishing gear or rope from the whale:

  1. It risks human and whale safety (has led to human death). Professional training and equipment are needed to assess the entanglement and proceed safely with the greatest chance of success.
  2.  Often, much of the fishing gear in which the whale is entangled is not visible at the surface. If members of the public put themselves at risk and remove gear at the surface, they would not help the whale because now it is more difficult to:
  • Recognize that the whale is entangled; and
  • Disentangle the whale even if it is relocated.Trailing gear at the surface provides the opportunity for trained responders to attach a tag to track the whale and/or to attach floatation to maintain contact with and slow down an entangled whale. Loss of this gear can significantly reduce rescuers’ ability to save the whale.

 

Whales! Researchers. You? Join us!

There are two opportunities to have the adventure of a lifetime and contribute to our work at the Marine Education and Research Society. We are so grateful to Stubbs Island Whale Watching and Ocean EcoAdventures for making these opportunities possible (September 30 from Cowichan Bay and October 7th from Telegraph Cove).  We’ve tried to give a sense of the wildlife in the fall with the slideshow below. All photos were taken in October.

These are very significant fund-raisers for what we do to reduce risks to whales. They are an opportunity for us as researchers to share our work directly with you and for you to see and learn from the astounding beauty of this coast.

Details for how to sign on for the trips are in the table below. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions at jackie@mersociety.org.

Sponsor Ocean EcoVentures Stubbs Island
Whale Watching
 
Date Saturday September 30th  Saturday October 7th 
Departure Location Cowichan Bay Telegraph Cove
Time 10:00 am to 1:30 pm
Minimum of 3.5 hours
Meet at 09:30
9:00 am to 4:30 pm
Minimum of 7.5 hours
Meet at 08:30
Lunch included No Yes  Generous sponsor  – the Sportsman Restaurant in Port McNeill
Vessel Type Three open vessels (12 passengers each). Two are rigid hull inflatables and one is a hard-sided cruiser. Two have washrooms. One vessel, the MV Lukwa – 18 m closed vessel with washrooms.
See this link. 
Cost per person $130 $225
MERS researchers attending Christie McMillan, Jackie Hildering, Jared Towers.
To reserve a spot Please email jackie@mersociety.org with the names and email addresses of those who will be attending and provide a phone number in case we need to contact you. Reservation secured with one of the payment options below.
Payment options: 1.     E-transfer to mersociety@gmail.com indicating “MERS trip Cowichan Bay”.
Please use password humpback.
2.     Cheque made out to “Marine Education and Research Society” Box 1347, Port McNeill, V0N 2R0 with “MERS trip Cowichan Bay” in the memo line.
1.     E-transfer to mersociety@gmail.com indicating “MERS trip Telegraph Cove”.
Please use password humpback.
2.     Cheque made out to “Marine Education and Research Society” Box 1347, Port McNeill, V0N 2R0 with “MERS trip Telegraph Cove” in the memo line.

Who You Gonna Call? Helping BC’s Marine Mammals.

*Call 1-800-465-4336 to report entanglement, injury or disturbance of a marine mammal in British Columbia.

Who You Gonna Call” is a series of four short videos aimed at increasing knowledge of how to help marine mammals in British Columbia.

These resources provide background on threats sake disturbance and entanglement and provide information on what to do, and who to call, when incidents of concern are witnessed.

See below for the following videos:
#1 Marine Mammal Disturbance                #2 Whale Entanglement
#3 Seal and Sea Lion Entanglement           #4 Injured, Stranded or Dead Marine Mammals

Marine Mammal Disturbance
By Jackie Hildering; Marine Education and Research Society

Whale Entanglement
By Christie McMillan; Marine Education and Research Society

Seal and Sea Lion Entanglement
By Wendy Szaniszlo; Vancouver Aquarium

Injured, Stranded or Dead Marine Mammals
By Lisa Spaven; Fisheries and Oceans Canada

 

Our gratitude to all who made these resources possible.
Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) funding was provided through the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) / Canadian Marine Animal Response Alliance (CMARA).
Videography was so generously provided by April Bencze.

“Reel” Solution – balloon releases and impacts to wildlife

This is very inspirational. So often, you don’t get to know if your efforts have an impact but this time  . . .

Ashley Hasgawa is a student at Shawinigan Lake School. She attended one of our “Humpback Comeback” presentations. We always make quick mention of our work around endangered Leatherback Turtles – that they belong off the coast of British Columbia, coming all the way from Indonesia and that a risk to them is that they cannot discern plastics and balloons from their jellyfish prey.  (See leatherbacksinbc.org.)

Ashley later took up contact asking for data around this risk to wildlife, explaining that her school had a balloon-release at their Closing Day ceremony. She had done the work to know that, while they use biodegradable balloons, these can take a very long time to breakdown (over 6 years, see this link).

Canada Day balloons found drifting off the west coast of Vancouver Island on July 21, 2017. They were retrieved by the crew of the Canadian Coast Guard Ship JP Tully. We would later see a Leatherback Turtle. In a global study of 408 dead Leatherback Turtles, more than 30% had plastics in their intestines (Mrosovsky et al, 2009).

She wanted to ensure she had solid facts before having a discussion at her school about how the risk could be further reduced.

We provided the data and some links to alternatives for such ceremonies. The lowest risk would be not to release balloons.

Never could we have anticipated the ingenuity of the compromise agreed upon by the graduating class and school management.

Biodegradable balloons clipped securely to fishing line, released, reeled back in, and then popped and put into the compost. That’s ingenuity. Photo by Becky Han, Shawinigan Lake School. 

Here is Ashley’s recent email describing what they did:

” . . .  We attached a carabiner to each balloon, as a grad class, we all clipped the balloons onto a fishing line like a kite. As you can see in the pictures [see below], they all flew out together. Later on, we brought it back down again after the graduation ceremony. Unfortunately, there were still about 3-4 balloons failed on clipping onto the fishing line, but most of the balloons did get brought down, got popped by our school and dumped to our own compost facility. This could not have happened without the support of our headmaster, David Robertson, and the teachers, especially, my fine art instructor, Scott Noble for always helping me. Thank you so much for your fantastic presentation, I will never forget it. I am so happy that I went and made a difference for the environment.”

Imagine how happy we are.

Thank you Ashley and all those who made it possible for a student’s concern to lead to empowerment. Our great hope is that this approach to balloon releases will go widely into the world, creating further awareness of the risk to wildlife.

For sustainable alternatives to balloon release ceremonies, please see this link by “Balloons Blow”.

Photo provided by Ashley Hasegawa.