Job Posting: MERS Research Assistant 2016

Summer Student Position

The Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) is a registered Canadian charity dedicated to promoting conservation and understanding of marine ecosystems through scientific research, environmental education, and marine wildlife response. For information about MERS’ research, education and wildlife response efforts, see

The Research Assistant (RA) will provide data entry, analysis, administrative and other support to the Marine Education and Research Society’s efforts to understand and mitigate the threats to marine species around northern Vancouver Island.

Primary duty: Entering and performing preliminary analyses of humpback and minke whale sighting, photo identification, and acoustic data.

Additional duties:

  • Providing further administrative support as needed including development of promotional / educational materials; website updating; social media input and assistance with the humpback sponsorship program.
  • Planning, preparing and attending outreach events.
  • Supervising volunteers during data entry and analysis in order to maintain the quality of the MERS databases.
  • Assisting with photo identification and sightings data collection. (Please note that this position will be primarily office-based with occasional opportunities for fieldwork).

Time permitting, there may be an opportunity for the RA to use MERS data to work on an independent project of interest to him/her.

Successful candidates:

  • Are Canadian citizens, permanent residents, or have refugee protection under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and are legally entitled to work in Canada in accordance with relevant provincial or territorial legislation and regulations (funding requirement).
  • Are students currently enrolled in a full-time post-secondary program, returning to school in the fall of 2016 (funding requirement).
  • 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 Pro, Adobe Lightroom and InDesign, QGIS, and Raven.
  • Work well independently and with minimal supervision.
  • Have exceptional organizational skills.
  • Have knowledge of the biology and ecology of marine mammals in British Columbia.
  • Are able to demonstrate strong abilities in matching whale flukes and fins for identification.

Salary: $12/hour

Work term: 10 weeks – anticipated start date June 27, 2016

Position location: Port McNeill, BC

Application deadline: May 24, 2016 (midnight PST)

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

Selection procedure:

  1. References of short-listed candidates contacted.
  2. Short-listed candidates interviewed via SKYPE.
  3. Final interviews held in person in Vancouver 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 will happen before May 30th, 2016.

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Which Whale Will it Be?

[Update April 11, 2016: It’s Argonaut! Argonaut will be the next whale in our Humpback Sponsorship Program! Great thanks to all who provided their input. We will have Argonaut sponsorship packages available by mid-May.]

Which whale will it be? You decide!

We’re adding a Humpback Whale to our Marine Education and Research Society sponsorship program. Conger? Guardian? Freckles? Argonaut? All four of these Humpbacks are very regularly seen around NE Vancouver Island. Please see their photos and details below and provide your choice via a comment on this blog.

The whale that gets the most blog comments and “likes” on the related post on Facebook by April 11th will be the one added to the choices at

(Psst MERS Humpback Whale sponsorship packages are just $43, benefitting so many Humpbacks since the funds support our work to reduce the threats of entanglement and vessel strike to whales in BC.)
which whale MERS sponsorship program.002

Conger (BCY0728) has been sighted around NE Vancouver Island every year since 2009. The nickname is due to what was perceived to be an eel-like shape on the right side of his/her fluke (fainter now). Conger is the first whale we documented “trap feeding”. This is a novel feeding technique being studies by MERS that appears to be used to efficiently feed on small, diffuse schools of juvenile herring. Conger is unique in that he often flukes his tail on every dive where most Humpback Whales will only fluke every 5 to 8 dives when they go on a longer dive. Conger has also been documented pursuing mammal-hunting Killer Whales (known as “Transients” or “Bigg’s Killer Whales)! Yes, that’s right PURSUING Killer Whales.
which whale MERS sponsorship program.001Guardian (BCZuk2011#4) is easily identified by her very white fluke with distinct black pattern and her hooked dorsal fin. If lucky enough to see her lunge feeding at the surface, it’s spectacular! She most often rockets out of the water vertically where most Humpbacks have more of a horizontal lunge through herring. And yes, we know Guardian is female from having seen her underside while she was tail lobbing. She’s been known to us at MERS since 2011 and who knows, this year she could return with her first known calf. Guardian had a very scary encounter with a log barge in 2015. See the video at this link. 
which whale MERS sponsorship program.003We’ve known Argonaut (BCY0729) since 2009 and s/he may be the Humpback Whale seen most predictably around NE Vancouver Island. We documented over 150 sightings of Argonaut in 2015 alone, most often within 1 km of Telegraph Cove. This makes this Humpback quite the ambassador for his/her kind, having been observed by thousands of whale watchers from around the world. You’ll note the distinct black A-shaped marking on the left side of fluke that is, in part, what inspired Argonaut’s nickname. There is also a connection to someone named Jason i.e. the association is with “Jason and the Argonauts” of Greek mythology.
which whale MERS sponsorship program.004

Freckles (BCY0727) was first documented in BC waters in 2009 when she appeared just outside Telegraph Cove. She certainly got our attention as she had such distinct white coloured, freckle-like markings. These pigmentation spots have faded since then but still make Freckles very easy to identify even when she doesn’t lift her tail for a dive. While Freckles is not yet known to have had a calf, we know she is female because we saw her “hemispherical lobe” when she was tail-lobbing. Only females have this mound on the underside of their bodies. In addition to lunge feeding, we have seen her use a bubble-net to concentrate small fish and she also knows how to trap feed. We know of at least two cases when she has been harassed by mammal-hunting Killer Whales.

Be sure to leave a comment indicating your choice for which whale will be added to the MERS Humpback Whale Sponsorship Program! Deadline is April 11th. 

Posted in Humpback Sponsorship Program, Humpback whales | Tagged | 22 Comments

Terrestrial Predators Feeding on Marine Mammals?

Ivan Dubinsky - wolf photo

Coastal wolf after feeding on what was likely a Pacific white-sided dolphin. See below. © Ivan Dubinsky; telephoto lens and cropped.

By Jackie Hildering
MERS Education & Communications Director.

Do terrestrial predators like wolves and bears feed on marine mammals?

Why yes they do. They not only scavenge on the energy rich carcasses of dead marine mammals when they wash ashore but, there are cases of terrestrial predators hunting marine mammals!


Imagine the calories and further nutrition available from a dead marine mammal. When whales die and sink to the depths, they are referenced as “whale fall” and feed communities of organisms for decades.


What? Wolves feeding on sea otters? (Juvenile bald eagle and raven above them). Discussed below. Photo ©2014 Meredith Lewis; telephoto lens and cropped.

What would be a good term for when a dead marine mammal washes ashore and delivers a bounty of nutrients  . . . an “all-you-can-eat-buffet”? Why, with the smell that exudes from a decaying marine mammal, there’s even the equivalent of a dinner bell.  Or, in considering how many calories are made available so easily, maybe a better label would be “a free lunch”?

I’ll never forget watching black bears lunching on a dead whale, their noses white from the whale’s blubber, reminiscent of how a child’s face gets covered when enthusiastically eating ice cream. I regret that I did not have a camera with me that day.

Very thankfully, others have generously shared their images to make this blog possible. No words can have the same impact as the following images in communicating examples of how terrestrial predators feed on marine mammals; and, how nutrients do not go wasted in nature.


The above photo may already be familiar to you. It has been widely used in news stories related to the “Unusual Mortality Event” of humpback and fin whales in 2015. Taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it shows seven brown bears (aka grizzly bears) feeding on a dead fin whale. (Please see the end of the blog for the hypothesis of what may have caused the death of the whales).

Alaskan wildlife photographer Brad Josephs reports observing twelve brown bears and several coastal wolves in the area of another dead fin whale in Alaska in 2015.

Brad Josephs

A brown bear and coastal wolf feeding on a fin whale carcass. Photo ©Brad Josephs. Click here for his blog on the predator interactions around the carcass; includes video of fighting between brown bears.

Studies on the interactions of wolves and bears when feeding on a dead whale include the work of Tania M. Lewis and Diana J.R. Lafferty using remote cameras around a dead humpback whale in Glacier Bay, Alaska in 2010.  In their research, they found little evidence of interspecies aggression between the wolves and bears in the four month long “Blubber Bonanza” provided by the humpback whale carcass. There are, however, likely to be dominance displays between brown bears.

Ivan Dubinsky recently documented coastal wolves in British Columbia scavenging on what appears to be a Pacific white-sided dolphin carcass.

Ivan Dubinsky_Wolves-2

©2016 Ivan Dubinsky. Photo taken with telephoto lens and cropped.

Ivan Dubinsky_Wolves-1

©2016 Ivan Dubinsky. Photo taken with telephoto lens and cropped.

Ivan Dubinsky_Wolves-3

©2016 Ivan Dubinsky. Photo taken with telephoto lens and cropped.

April Bencze’s photos from the Central Coast of BC provide an example of coastal wolves scavenging on a dead Steller sea lion.

April Bencze scavenging_DSC0763

©2014 April Bencze;  Photo taken with telephoto lens and cropped.

April Bencze scavenging_DSC0883

©2014 April Bencze;  Photo taken with telephoto lens and cropped.

April Bencze scavenging_DSC0955

©2014 April Bencze;  Photo taken with telephoto lens and cropped.

And here you have Black Bears feeding on a sea lion carcass, photo by Erica Beauchamp.

©2007 Erica Beauchamp

©2007 Erica Beauchamp. Photo taken with telephoto lens and cropped.

The remains found in wolf scat by Stacey Hrushowy, reveal that the wolf ate a Pacific harbour seal. Was this the result of scavenging or  . . . predation?!

Stacy Hrushowy_20140114_200121

Remains found in Coastal Wolf scat ©Stacey Hrushowy.


Cougar scat has also been found to contain remains of Pacific harbour seals and California seal lions. But, no matter how stealthy, wily and fleet-footed the predator, it is impossible to conclude from a scat sample alone if marine mammals were predated upon or scavenged.  Observations are needed.

Wolves have been observed hunting seals, California sea lions and even a juvenile Steller sea lion on our coast. Notably, there is one wolf on a small, rocky island that has been repeatedly documented making a living by eating Pacific harbour seals hauled out on the rocks. I will not share further details of the location for fear of the wolf being disturbed (or worse) and am grateful that others who are aware of the location have the same sensitivity and concern.

And, THEN, there’s the case of coastal wolves possibly predating on sea otters! This is being studied by Dr. Chris Neufeld of Quest University who has shared his research in presentations entitled: “Life and Death on a Small Island: Novel Interactions Between Wolves, Sea Otters, and People in Kyuquot Sound, BC“.

The hypothesis is that this is predation rather than scavenging; that the wolves ambush the otters when they briefly are on land. It is anticipated that documentation, including Dr. Neufield’s use of trail cameras, will soon lead to conclusions about whether this is truly predation and, if it is, what strategies this wolf pack has learned whereby the succeed in hunting sea otters.

See below for Meredith Lewis’ remarkable photos of the wolves feeding on sea otters.

Meredith Lewis_IMG_7824

©2014 Meredith Lewis.  Photo taken with telephoto lens and cropped.

Meredith Lewis_IMG_7745

©2014 Meredith Lewis.  Photo taken with telephoto lens and cropped.

An unfortunate but necessary footnote:

With regard to the Unusual Mortality Event of humpback and fin whales referenced above, a hypothesis about how they died is that warmer waters led to increased algae growth, including species like red tide that produce biotoxins (in the case of red tide, it is the neurotoxin domoic acid and there is also saxitoxin produced by another harmful algae bloom). These biotoxins bioaccumulate up the food chain, impacting top level predators like the whales. More information about the hypothesis at this link.

Whales too can have high loads of human created persistent bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals like PCBs, DDTs and PBDEs (brominated fire retardants).

Thereby, if marine mammals have toxins in their systems, terrestrial predators feeding on them could further bioaccumulate the chemicals. This is certainly the case with the bioaccumulative toxins of human origin. In the case of demoic acid from red tide algae, it appears that this chemical dissipates quickly from the body whereby terrestrial predators would not be at risk of further bioaccumulation through scavenging on marine mammal remains. This is why it has been so difficult to confirm if indeed harmful levels of demoic acid are responsible for the whale deaths; the chemical quickly dissipates from the dead whales’ bodies.  (With thanks to Dr. Andrew Trities for this information).




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A (spectacular!) day of MERS research

Posted by Christie McMillan (MERS President and humpback whale research director):

Even though it has been 10 years since my first summer working with whales off northeastern Vancouver Island, there are still days that leave me stunned at how incredible this area really is in terms of the numbers, diversity, and behaviours of marine mammals found here.

Humpback whale "Zorro" (BCX0380) breaching in Blackfish Sound

Humpback whale “Zorro” (BCX0380) breaching in Blackfish Sound. (Photo by Christie McMillan, MERS. Taken with a telephoto lens and cropped)

Just over a week ago, I was on the Merlin (MERS’ research and response vessel), monitoring the behaviour of whales around the commercial fishery for chum salmon, collecting data on the numbers and locations of fishing nets and whales, and standing by in case of an entanglement. Together with Marie Fournier, who was helping MERS out with these efforts, I was sitting in the fog and light rain in Queen Charlotte Strait when we heard a loud whale blow, and looked toward Malcolm Island to see a whale with a long body and small, curved dorsal fin surfacing close to the shoreline. We were amazed and excited to see that this was a fin whale, part of a threatened population that is only very occasionally seen off northeastern Vancouver Island. While two fin whales were seen in the area in 2011 and two more in 2012, this was my first time seeing the world’s second-largest whale species here. We collected identification photographs of the fin whale for our colleagues at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and based on the shape of the dorsal fin and scarring on the whale’s body, we were able to confirm that this was a different individual from the fin whales seen in 2011 and 2012.

A rare sighting of a fin whale in Queen Charlotte Strait. (Photo: Christie McMillan, MERS)

A rare sighting of a fin whale in Queen Charlotte Strait. (Photo by Christie McMillan, MERS)

After leaving the fin whale, we headed into Blackfish Sound and came across two very surface-active humpback whales. The behaviour of humpbacks at this time of year is quite different than during the summer. When humpback whales return to Vancouver Island after their winter migrations to Hawaii or Mexico where there is little to no food for them, they appear to be very focused on feeding. In the fall, however, they tend to spend more time socializing. On Saturday, “Claw”, a whale that was first seen in the area in 2011 and “Zorro”, a whale new to the area this year, were very surface active, interacting with one another. They were “head-lobbing” (bringing their heads out of the water and slapping them down on the water’s surface), breaching, and tail-slapping. Almost every time the whales surfaced, Zorro was behind Claw and appeared to be posturing, exhibiting behaviours similar to humpback whale males in competitive groups in the breeding grounds. We are unsure of whether this behaviour around northern Vancouver Island is related to mating, but we do know that it happens more frequently as the breeding season approaches.

Humpback whales "Claw" and "Zorro" spyhopping

Humpback whales “Claw” and “Zorro” exhibiting a surface-active social behaviour called head-lobbing. (Photo by Christie McMillan, MERS)

Humpback whale "Claw" breaching

Humpback whale “Claw” breaching. (Photo by Christie McMillan, MERS. Taken with a telephoto lens and cropped)

As we headed down to the bottom of Blackfish Sound, we saw some splashing up ahead of us, and found a group of Bigg’s (mammal-eating) killer whales chasing a Steller sea lion. The killer whales were leaping out of the water, attempting to ram the sea lion. Several hundred other Steller sea lions were in the water by the shoreline behind the killer whales.

Bigg's killer whale attacking a Steller sea lion. (Photo by Christie McMillan, MERS)

Bigg’s killer whale attacking a Steller sea lion. (Photo by Christie McMillan, MERS)

Partway through the sea lion chase, two humpback whales (“Domino” and “Backsplash”) came swimming rapidly over from the other side of Blackney Pass. They immediately began interacting with the killer whales, surfacing right next to them. Shortly after, they were joined by a third humpback whale, “Quartz”. The two species of whales continued to follow and interact with one another for over half an hour. We are unsure of why these species were in such close proximity to one another… it may have been territorial behaviour, it may be that humpback whales are keeping an eye on potential danger, or there may be another reason for this behaviour. Regardless, it was a reminder of how much we have yet to understand about these two species.

Humpback whales "Quartz", "Domino", and "Backsplash" interacting with Bigg's killer whales. (Photo by Christie McMillan, MERS)

Humpback whales “Quartz”, “Domino”, and “Backsplash” interacting with Bigg’s killer whales, with Steller sea lions watching. (Photo by Christie McMillan, MERS)

Humpback whale "Backsplash" interacting with T__ , a mammal-eating killer whale. (Photo by Christie McMillan, MERS)

Humpback whale “Backsplash” interacting with T141 , an adult female mammal-eating killer whale. (Photo by Christie McMillan, MERS)

Eventually, the killer whales went on a long dive, and we found ourselves surrounded by a sheen of oily water from the blubber of a marine mammal – it appeared that the killer whales had finally killed a seal or sea lion and were feeding on it underwater. We collected samples of tissue in the water so that genetic analyses could be conducted to determine the species that the killer whales had eaten, and collected identification photos of the whales, using Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Bigg’s killer whale catalogue (Towers et al. 2012) to identify the killer whales as the T055 group, along with T139 and the T141s.

Our 2015 field season is now drawing to a close… my 10th year of collecting humpback whale data off northeastern Vancouver Island. A day as remarkable as this one has me looking forward to the next field season, when we can continue to address some of the many questions regarding the humpback whales in this area and the threats they face.

Posted in Humpback whales, Killer whales | 6 Comments

It’s a Girl!!!

Freckles is a "she"!!!  Read on to find out how we know...

Freckles (BCY0727) is a “she”!!! Read on to find out how we know (photo by Jackie Hildering, MERS)

This time of year, when most humpback and minke whales that spend the summers feeding in BC are down in their winter breeding grounds, MERS researchers and educators  are spending more time at our computers and less time out on the water. One of our focuses this winter has been to share the results of MERS research with people who spend time on and near the water with the goal of discussing how we can work together to better understand humpback whales and the threats that they face, for the sake of boater and whale safety. In addition, we have been working on humpback and minke whale publications for scientific journals (see our latest publication on minke whales).

See a blow? Go slow!

MERS Director Jackie Hildering has been traveling around Vancouver Island to talk about the return of humpback whales and how we can work together to reduce the threats that they face. See our Facebook page for information about upcoming presentations











With the help of one of our experienced and dedicated volunteers, Alison Ogilvie, we have also been reviewing some older humpback whale data, getting our photo and sightings databases up to date. One of these older humpback whale photos has allowed us to learn something new about one of our best-known whales, “Freckles” (BCY0727). Freckles was first seen in 2009, and was named for the white, speckled markings on its body. Since then, Freckles has lost some of these markings, but has become one of the whales that shows very strong site fidelity to northern Vancouver Island, coming back to the same area to feed each year.

Freckles in 2009 (photo by Jackie Hildering, MERS)

Freckles in 2009 (photo by Jackie Hildering, MERS)

Freckles in 2014 (photo by Christie McMillan, MERS)

Freckles in 2014 (photo by Christie McMillan, MERS)

The photo in question allowed us to determine that Freckles is a female. Determining the sex of humpback whales is not as easy as it is for many other animals… there are no obvious physical characteristics that are reliably visible at the surface to distinguish males from females. MERS has documented several of the humpback whales that spend time off northeastern Vancouver Island come to the area with a calf, so we know that these whales – including Chunky (BCX0081), Ripple (BCX1063), and Slash (BCY0177) are females. However, the sex of the vast majority of the humpback whales in our catalogue is unknown. We were therefore very excited to see photos of Freckles tail-lobbing repeatedly, which made the underside of her body visible. In this photo, I was able to see a small feature on Freckles’ body, the hemispherical lobe, that allowed me to determine that she is female.

Freckles tail-lobbing, with her hemispherical lobe visible

Freckles tail-lobbing, with her hemispherical lobe visible (photo by Jackie Hildering, MERS)

Only female humpback whales have a hemispherical lobe, a small round lobe between the whale’s umbilicus (belly button) and fluke. These diagrams from Glockner (1983) demonstrate the different features of male and female humpback whales.


Diagram from: Glockner. A. 1983. Determining the sex of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in their natural environment. In Behavior and communication of whales. Edited by R. Payne. AAAS Sel. Symp. No. 76. pp. 447-464.

Now that we know that Freckles is a female, we are very curious to see when she might bring her first calf to the northern Vancouver Island area. Knowing Freckles’ sex is also very valuable for better understanding humpback whale behaviour.

~ Christie

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Movements of minke whales in the eastern North Pacific

There are some species of cetacean that are more difficult to study than others. The minke whale, for example, is a small, uncommon and normally solitary rorqual that lives in the eastern North Pacific. As a result of their size, abundance and behaviour, minkes are difficult to find and once observed, they often make a long dive and are not seen again. Not surprisingly, little is known of their natural history.

A rare view of a minke whale breaching off of northeastern Vancouver Island. Photo: JTowers

A rare view of a minke whale breaching off of northeastern Vancouver Island. Photo: JTowers

To learn more about this cryptic species, we at MERS undertook a photo-identification study of minke whales beginning in 2005. With some help from many colleagues up and down the coast we accumulated 405 encounters with minkes in Washington and British Columbia by 2012. The data we gathered included 6,990 identification photos. Over the first few years of the study a few things quickly became apparent when analyzing the images.

Red dots indicate the locations where minke whales were encountered between 2005 and 2012.

Red dots indicate the locations where minke whales were encountered between 2005 and 2012. CBC: Central British Columbia, NVI: Northern Vancouver Island, WVI: Western Vancouver Island, SVI: Southern Vancouver Island. Map: CMcMillan

First, encounters with minke whales occurred predominantly between spring and autumn. Despite our best efforts searching for minke whales in all the places that we found them during summer, we did not see any of these whales during the winter.

Seasonal distribution of all encounters with minke whales from 2005 to 2012 shown for each area.

Monthly distribution of all encounters with minke whales from 2005 to 2012 shown for each area. Graph: JTowers

Secondly, known individual minke whales could often be found in the same areas within and among years. These animals would spend long periods of time during summer in very localized regions of the coast. After an absence during winter they would return to the same regions the following year. Some animals were so predictable that we could often correctly guess where we would find them on certain days.

The number of encounters with minke whales, the number of individuals photo-identified and the number of new animals each year from 2005 to 2012 in the northern Vancouver Island area.

The number of encounters with minke whales, the number of individuals photo-identified and the number of new animals documented each year from 2005 to 2012 in the Northern Vancouver Island area. Graph: JTowers

Third, some of these very predictable animals showed up in other parts of the coast hundreds of kilometres to the south during spring or autumn. These relatively long-range intra-annual movements (up to 424 kilometres between encounter locations) are the furthest documented for this species in the Pacific Ocean! The patterns of these movements indicate not only that the minke whales we photo-identified have different seasonally preferred foraging ranges but also that they undertake seasonally-based long distance travels.

Green lines indicate northerly  travels of minke whales M002, M006 and M008 during spring. Orange lines indicate southerly travels of minke whales M003, M008 and M021 during autumn.

Green lines and arrows indicate northerly travels of minke whales M002, M006 and M008 during spring. Orange lines and arrows indicate southerly travels of minke whales M003, M008 and M021 during autumn. Map: CMcMillan

It is generally assumed that minke whales in the North Pacific migrate to higher latitudes in the spring to feed in cold waters during the summer and to lower latitudes in the autumn to breed in warm waters during the winter. However, several authorities refer to minke whales in coastal waters of the eastern North Pacific as resident or behaviourally distinct from migratory populations. Instead, based on the temporal distribution and movement data we collected from minke whales in these waters it can be inferred that they do indeed migrate.

M003 also known as Galaxy  in Queen Charlotte Strait off northeastern Vancouver Island during summer. Galaxy has also been observed in Washington state on several occasions during spring and autumn.

M003 also known as Galaxy in Queen Charlotte Strait off northeastern Vancouver Island during summer. Galaxy has also been observed in Washington state on several occasions during spring and autumn. Photo: JTowers

To find out more about the movements of minke whales in our coastal waters and other evidence that reveals where these animals may migrate to during winter check out our latest peer-reviewed article recently published online in the Journal of Cetacean Research and Management. It can also be found on the MERS site.

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MERS 2014 Whale Watch Fundraiser

The second annual Marine Education and Research Society fundraising whale watch trip provided a fantastic sample of the wealth of wildlife that northeastern Vancouver Island has to offer.

Our fabulous MERS supporters on the Gikumi

Our fabulous MERS supporters on the Gikumi.  Photo by Jared Towers (MERS).

Telegraph Cove was still in view when we came across our first sightings of the trip… Steller sea lions hauled out on the rocks, and humpback whales Freckles and Argonaut foraging in the productive waters of Weynton Pass. Common murres, northern phalaropes, rhinoceros auklets, Cassin’s auklets, and ancient murrelets were also seen feeding in the area.

Humpback whale "Freckles" (BCY0727) foraging with gulls overhead

Humpback whale “Freckles” (BCY0727) foraging with gulls overhead. Photo by Jackie Hildering (MERS)

The whale sightings continued as we proceeded out to Bold Head, where we encountered humpback whales Corporal and Backsplash traveling close together. Just minutes after leaving these whales, a group of Dall’s porpoises came rooster-tailing toward the Gikumi. These porpoises, the fastest marine mammals in the world, swam along with the boat, riding our bow wave.

The Steller sea lion activity in Blackfish Sound was incredible… during the summer, most of these sea lions head to rookeries to breed, leaving very few in the Telegraph Cove area. By fall, however, they return from their breeding areas, and focus on socializing and feeding instead. A large group of these sea lions were interacting with humpback whales Conger and Ridge, taking huge leaps onto the whales, and following them at high speeds. The humpback whales were “trumpeting” in what we perceive to be exasperation at highly maneuverable Stellers moving around them. We were also lucky enough to witness Steller sea lions feeding on chum salmon. Cued in by splashing as the sea lions thrashed their prey around, and by the birds who gathered to pick up any scraps of fish left behind, we were able to get a great look at how these sea lions catch and consume their prey.

Steller sea lion feeding on a chum salmon, while gulls wait to pick up the scraps. (Photo by Jackie Hildering, MERS)

Steller sea lion feeding on a chum salmon, while gulls wait to pick up the scraps. Photo by Jackie Hildering (MERS)

There was more humpback-tivity in Blackfish Sound, where we found Guardian tail-slapping repeatedly. Humpback whale calf Lorax was also active at the surface, while her mother, Ripple, fed nearby. In the churning waters of Blackney Pass, the tidal currents lead to amazingly productive waters. Here we saw Bonaparte’s gulls, cormorants, more sea lions, and the humpback whales Slits, Guardian, and Inukshuk feeding.

Humpback whale "Guardian".  Photo by Jackie Hildering (MERS)

Humpback whale “Guardian”. Photo by Jackie Hildering (MERS)

A huge thank you to everyone who braved the liquid sunshine to support MERS, to Jim and Mary Borrowman of Orcella Expeditions for sponsoring the trip and providing delicious baked goodies, and to the Sportsman Restaurant in Port McNeill for donating an excellent lunch. Thanks to their generous support, all funds raised on this trip will be directly used for MERS’ research, education, and marine wildlife response efforts.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments