How to Save a Whale (video)

We are very excited to launch our “How to Save a Whale” resource made possible through 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.

 

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

We are very pleased to launch 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 like 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

Seal and Sea Lion Entanglement
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.

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“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.

 

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Trap-Feeding – A new humpback feeding behaviour!

One of the best things about researching individual whales is that, no matter how long we study them, we keep being reminded of how much more there is to learn…

In 2011, MERS researchers observed a humpback whale named “Conger” (BCY0728), a whale that we have documented off northeastern Vancouver Island since 2009, doing something that we had never seen a humpback do before. Conger was remaining at the water’s surface with his mouth wide open, and he stayed like this for an extended period of time.

TF7

With his mouth open, he spun slowly in place for about a minute, and then used his flippers to push fish toward his mouth!

TF8

After observing this feeding behaviour several more times, we named it “trap-feeding”, because it reminded us of the way that Venus flytraps catch flies. Humpbacks were remaining stationary and waiting for prey to enter their mouths. By studying the behaviour further, we have learned that, in addition to often using their long flippers to direct fish toward their mouths, humpbacks also benefit from diving birds that are chasing the same prey. While trying to escape the birds, the small fish appear to school in or next to the whales’ mouths.

We know of only two whales who used this trap-feeding behaviour in 2011 –  Conger and “Moonstar” (BCY0768), who was three years old at the time. But by the end of 2015, sixteen of the humpback whales that feed off northeastern Vancouver Island had been documented using this strategy at least once. In some cases, humpbacks even trap-fed side-by-side!

TF9.jpg

Aided by the many people that have contributed photos, videos, and sightings of trap-feeding over the past six years, MERS researchers have concluded that when whales trap-feed, they are feeding in the same locations and on the same prey species (juvenile herring) as when they lunge-feed. BUT there is a big difference in the size and density of the schools of fish that humpbacks consume when they trap-feed vs. when they lunge-feed…

fish.001

The schools of herring that humpback whales trap-feed on are much smaller and less dense than the schools that they lunge-feed on.  We believe that trap-feeding is an energetically efficient way to feed on these smaller schools of fish. When whales are lunge-feeding, they accelerate toward their prey, then open their mouths – an energy-intensive strategy that only makes sense if schools of fish are large and dense enough to result in a net energy gain for whales.  But while trap-feeding, whales open their mouths while stationary or near-stationary, and therefore use much less energy.

If you see humpback whales exhibiting this feeding behaviour, we would love to know! Sightings and photos can be sent to info@mersociety.org

Additionally, MERS researchers are in the process of publishing a study focused on trap-feeding – so a lot more information about this new humpback whale feeding strategy will be available soon!

~ Christie, Jackie, Jared and the MERS Team

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MERS Presentations on Humpback Whales


From urban centres to remote communities, if you live on BC’s coast, we are striving to be of use to you.

We’re going far and wide to share our work on the return of Humpback Whales from the brink of extinction – all the good news, their remarkable feeding strategies, and the need for raised awareness for the sake of whale AND boater safety.

Presenter is MERS Education Director and Humpback Researcher – Jackie Hildering.

April 4th – Powell River; 7 PM; Cranberry Seniors Centre; host Malaspina Naturalists; (all welcome; donations welcome).

April 5th – Sechelt; 7 PM; Sunshine Coast Arts Centre; host Sunshine Coast Conservation Association; (all welcome; entry by donation). 

April 8th – Gabriola Island; 7 PM; The Roxy; hosts Gabriola Rescue of  Wildlife Society, Gabriola Streamkeepers, and Gabriola Land & Trails Trust; (all welcome; free entry).

April 11th – Nanaimo; 7 PM;  Vancouver Island University’s Malaspina Theatre; host Vancouver Island Sustainability; (all welcome; free entry).

April 26th – Courtenay; 8 PM; Florence Filberg Centre – Upper Floor Hall;  host Cape Lazo Power and Sail Squadron AGM.

April 27th – Duncan; 7 PM;  Vancouver Island University Cowichan – Lecture Hall; hosts Cowichan Naturalists, Cowichan Watershed Board, VIU Cowichan.

April 28th – Nanaimo (Nanaimo Yacht Club members and invitees); 7:30 PM; location and host Nanaimo Yacht Club; (all welcome; free entry). 

June17 – Kitimat; 7 PM; location and host Kitimat Valley Institute; (all welcome; free entry). 

June 21, 22 or 23 – Klemtu; 7 PM; location to be finalized; host Spirit Bear Lodge.

June 24 – Bella Bella; 7 PM; location to be finalized; hosts Qqs (Eyes) Projects Society
and Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department.

June 28 – Bella Coola; 7 PM;  Bella Coola Valley Inn.

September 22 – Quadra Island; details to follow; host Sierra Club – Quadra.

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Puzzle Pieces

Want a glimpse into the world of trying to study Humpbacks as individuals?

It’s key to everything we do. If we can’t recognize the whales as individuals, we can’t count them; or know their range; or determine rate of entanglement; or study what feeding strategies they use, etc. etc. etc.!

Often it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not.

In this blog we share two examples of how puzzle pieces come together so that we can better understand Humpback Whales. It’s hoped that these examples give a sense of how much effort and collaboration is involved in studying these far-ranging giants and – how the contribution of sightings can provide us with essential puzzle pieces.

Puzzle #1 

On the evening of August 25th two Humpbacks were in Comox Harbour and generated a lot of concern. Boats and jet skis were reportedly travelling at high speed near the whales. Public concern about the safety of the whales led to media attention and additional opportunities for us to provide education about safe boater behaviour around Humpbacks. We are so grateful too that people cared enough to sponsor MERS “See a Blow? Go Slow!” signage for Comox Harbour.

It was an important sighting and we hoped to be able to determine who the whales were. Thankfully, Peter Hamilton of Lifeforce contacted MERS with photos of the whales.

fb-memes-004
The following fluke shot allowed Alison Ogilvie of MERS to ID one of the whales.

fb-memes-005The photo shows enough features of the whale’s tail for Alison to recognize “Towers” (BCX1239).

We nickname the Humpbacks for distinctive features. In this case, see the two distinctive peaks on the right side of the trailing edge of the tail that inspired the name “Towers”? (See our ID photo above).

But the second whale – who was s/he? While we can often recognize individual Humpbacks from their dorsal fins, we had never documented a whale with this dorsal fin before.

Whale #2. Even though the whale has a very distinctive dorsal fin, we could not ID the whale as we had not documented it before.

Whale #2. Even though the whale has a very distinctive dorsal fin, we could not ID the whale as we had not documented him/her before.

Months passed. Then, on December 11th, we got reports of two Humpbacks travelling past Alert Bay to the north. Jared Towers of MERS and volunteer Muriel Halle were able to get ID photos. Look at the distinctive dorsal fin! It’s the same whale that had been in Comox Harbour on August 25th.

fb-memes-001They were able to get a fluke shot whereby we now have the ability to recognize this whale in the future (see below). S/he has been nicknamed “Bullet” for the distinctive circle-like shape on the trailing edge of the right fluke (upper third).

fb-memes-009Even though this is an adult Humpback, the August 25th sighting in Comox Harbour may be the first known documentation of this whale. To date we do not know of any prior sightings by our colleagues studying Humpbacks in other areas on BC’s coast. We anticipate however that we will get more pieces of the puzzle in the future.

Puzzle #2

Here’s a puzzle with pieces dating back to 1996! That’s the first known documentation of “Kappa” (BCX0158). The knowledge comes from a photo given to MERS by data contributor, Bruce Paterson. Kappa was nicknamed by for the “K” marking

Through the work of others we know :

  • Kappa migrates to Hawaii! Documented in March 2004 in Maui as part of the SPLASH Project.
  • Kappa is female! She was sighted with a calf in Maui in 2004 and was seen repeatedly with the calf in BC as well from July to September 2005. This includes documentation off SW Vancouver Island by Brian Gisborne for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
  • Addition sightings include her repeatedly being in Washington State.
    • The first documentation there was in October 1997 as reported by the Cascadia Research Collective (catalogued as CRC-13576).
    • The last known documentation of Kappa in Washington was on December 4, 2016 by Heather McIntyre of Maya’s Whale Watching as relayed to the citizen science site known as “Happy Whale“.

And then .  . then there was this past December 30th. Again we got reports of two Humpbacks traveling past Alert Bay, heading north. Again, Jared was able to get photos.

When those photos were relayed, one of us may almost have fallen off her chair. It was Kappa, the first known sighting of her around NE Vancouver Island in 20 years!

See below for the ID photos resulting from that sighting.

fb-memes-002

Kappa was nicknamed  for the marking in the shape of a “K” on the lower left part of her tail.  Kappa is Greek for the letter K. See the marking?

BUT who was the whale with her on December 30th? That whale didn’t fluke. We only have a flank shot.

Sound familiar?

Here we go again –  another puzzle we will hopefully be able to solve.

Piece by piece by piece  . . .  contributing to the important and intriguing picture of understanding – and protecting – North Pacific Humpbacks.

fb-memes-001

Unknown Humpback traveling with Kappa (BCX0158) on December 30, 2016.


[Update: As a result of this blog, another puzzle piece has been delivered. “Bullet” was documented off Port Angeles, Washington on July 29th, 2016. S/he was photographed by Alethea Leddy of Island Adventures. Information was relayed by Tasli Shaw.]

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