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Official Blog of the Great Bear II

First class wilderness adventures and holiday cruises on the coast of British Columbia.

Current | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 |2019 | 2018-2016 | 2015 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006-2004

Spring 2013

In the News - April 14, 2013:

Annual Herring Spawn in Strait of Georgia, BC
Oceanside Star | March 7, 2013
Parksville Qualicum Beach News | March 5, 2013

The annual spring herring spawn off Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island began this year on Saturday, March 2nd. The sea was turquoise with the milt of male herring. The week of March 4th, Greg Thomas, coordinator for Pacific herring for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, reported approximately 15 miles of spawn in the Strait of Georgia and an abundance of fish in the 100,000 ton range. Sea lions, gulls and bald eagles could be seen in abundance enjoying their annual herring feast, with some predators travelling from as far away as Alaska and northern California.

Herring roe on seaweed Herring roe on seaweed. Photo © Eloise Rowland

Aerial view of herring spawn An aerial view of the herring spawn along Parksville and Qualicum Beach. Photo © Fred Collins

Four New Species of Ancient Whales Found
National Geographic News | February 19, 2013

In 2000 at a construction site in Laguna Canyon near Los Angeles, California an outcrop was uncovered which contained whale fossils aged approximately 17 to 19 million years. Researchers discovered 11 whale species at the site, four of which were previously unknown. Although they had teeth, the four newly discovered species belong to the group including baleen whales and are related to the ancestors that gave rise to today's baleen whales such as blue whales and humpback whales. Before this discovery, toothed baleen whales were thought to have been extinct for about 12 to 14 million years.

upper left jaw and teeth of an extinct baleen whale Morawanocetus - Part of the upper left jaw and teeth of an extinct baleen whale that had teeth. Photo © Meredith A. Rivin

Geomagnetic Imprinting and Homing in Pacific Salmon
Weird and Wild - National Geographic News Watch | February 13, 2013
Current Biology 23, 312-316 | February 7, 2013

In Fall in the Pacific Northwest, female sockeye salmon lay their eggs in gravel beds of their natal stream or tributary. After hatching, the alevins grow and feed on their yolk sac before moving into freshwater lakes to mature for one to three years. As smolts, the salmon make their way to downstream to the open ocean where they spend two to three years. The fish eventually return to the streams in which they were born in order to spawn.

In the final stages of spawning migration, Pacific salmon identify their natal river using chemical cues. What has remained unknown is how salmon navigate from the open ocean to the correct coastal location. A study led by Nathan Putman, of Oregon State University, analyzed 56 years of fisheries data to determine that sockeye salmon of the Fraser River navigate across the open ocean and seek the correct coastal area using the Earth's magnetic field. As juveniles, the salmon imprint on the magnetic field where they first enter the ocean. Upon maturation, the salmon seek the coastal area with the same magnetic signature as their natal river.

Sockeye Closeup Adult sockeye salmon. Photo © Tom Quinn, University of Washington

Barnacle Reproduction Revisited
Vancouver Sun | January 19, 2013
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 280 January 16, 2013
Weird and Wild - National Geographic News Watch | January 15, 2013

A new study by researchers of the University of Alberta and Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre in British Columbia describes the first species of ocean-dwelling arthropods, the Pacific gooseneck barnacle, known to spermcast.

Barnacles are not free-living, but instead are anchored to their substrate such as rocks. Because they cannot move around to find a mate, gooseneck barnacles have evolved an extremely long reproductive organ which can be manipulated to fertilize a neighbour. However, from experiments with barnacles collected from the western shore of Vancouver Island, the researchers revealed that Pacific gooseneck barnacles can fertilize a mate that is beyond its reach by spermcasting -releasing sperm into the water. These observations raise doubts about previous claims of self-fertilization in barnacles.

Pacific gooseneck barnacle Pacific gooseneck barnacle. Photo © Eloise Rowland

Orcas Trapped in Sea Ice in Northern Canada
Montreal Gazette | January 10, 2013

A pod of 12 orcas was trapped by shifting sea ice in the Hudson Bay near Inukjuak along Quebec's northeast coast. It is not known whether the pod migrated north from Canada's west coast, where orcas are more common, or from the Atlantic coast, but as the whales travelled into the bay, the ice behind them shifted and closed them in. Approximately 25 km of ice stretched between the pod and open water leaving the whales with only a small breathing hole. Luckily, just as officials were debating whether to employ an ice breaker to free the animals, and after being trapped for over three days, strong winds finally opened up the ice and the orcas were freed.

Orcas trapped by sea ice Pod of orcas trapped by sea ice in the Hudson Bay near Inukjuak, Quebec. Photo © Handout/Marina Lacasse

Willow the White Humpback Whale Spotted off Norway Coast
The Daily Mail | November 15, 2012
Ocean Views - National Geographic News Watch | November 15, 2012

A rare white humpback whale was spotted off the coast of Spitsbergen, an island of the Svalbard archipelago, Norway. Swimming among a pod of typically coloured grey humpbacks, the white whale nick-named Willow was sighted by maritime engineer Dan Fisher. Willow likely has a condition known as leucism, a condition characterized by reduced skin pigmentation resulting from defects in pigment cell differentiation or migration during embryonic development.

White Humpback Whale Willow the white humpback whale spotted off the coast of Spitsbergen, Norway. Photo © Dan Fisher/Barcroft

February 1, 2013

See us at the Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show!

Outdoor Adventure Show graphic

January 24, 2013

January 24, 2013

VWS scientist Wayne McCrory to present spirit bear report to
Enbridge Joint Review Panel Hearings - January 28, Kelowna, BC


Click on our Enviro Alerts page to read the full advisory.

Valhalla Wilderness Society ~ P.O. Box 329, New Denver, British Columbia, V0G 1S0
Phone: 250-358-2333; Fax: 358-2748; vws@vws.org; visit www.vws.org

January 22, 2013

Migrating Humpbacks

As air-breathing, land-dwelling creatures, it is easy for people to forget that nearly three-quarters of the earth's surface is covered in water. This marine habitat is home to around 80 known species of cetaceans, a group of marine mammals comprising whales, dolphins and porpoises. Cetaceans can be divided into two types: the odontocetes or toothed whales, and the mysticetes or baleen whales. Of the 11 species of baleen whales found worldwide, eight frequent the waters of the British Columbian and Alaskan coasts.

The 27,000 km (17,000 mi) BC coast is made up of a network of islands, fjords, straits and inlets resulting in an abundance of sheltered waters preferred by many whale species. Upwellings of cold, nutrient rich water produced by the North Pacific Current lead to an abundance of plant and animal life, including planktonic invertebrates consumed in large quantities by baleen whales. The mysticetes are generally the largest of the cetaceans with baleen that is specialized for filtering large quantities of small prey items such as plankton, krill, small fish and some mollusks. Made of a keratinous material, baleen is similar in composition to human hair and fingernails. Plates of baleen with bristle-lined edges grow down from the gum of the upper jaw. During lunge feeding, a whale lunges and takes in a mouthful of food-rich water. As the mouth closes, the baleen acts like a sieve. Water is squeezed out with the whale's tongue while food items are trapped in the bristles.

Plates of baleen whale Left: Plates of baleen grow down from the gum of the upper jaw. Right: Cross section through the head of a whale showing the bristle-lined edges of the baleen plates (figure based on Eder and Sheldon, 2001)

humpback whale lunge A humpback whale lunge feeding, showing a mouthful of baleen.

humpback whale feeding A humpback whale feeding, showing its baleen and throat pleats.

Humpback whales exhibit a variation of lunge feeding known as bubble net feeding. One or several humpbacks produce bubbles while swimming in a circle below a school of fish. The rising bubbles form a curtain that disorients and traps the fish. The whales then lunge up through the middle of the curtain and engulf the fish in their gaping mouths. Pleats in the skin allow the humpback's throat to expand while feeding.

humpback whale bubble net feeding A humpback whale bubble net feeding (figure based on Eder and Sheldon, 2001).

Below is a video of two humpback whales bubble net feeding on the BC coast.

Humpback whales bubble net feeding. Video © Eloise Rowland.

Humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangeliae, are renowned for their extensive migrations, travelling as far as 8,000 km or 5,000 mi, between low-latitude calving and mating waters, and high-latitude feeding waters. Humpbacks seen along the coast of BC winter in the coastal waters of Japan, Hawaii or Mexico before heading north in early spring. Females can be spotted escorting their calves to summer feeding grounds off the coast of BC, southeast Alaska, the Bering Sea and southern Chukchi Sea. Although humpbacks commonly live in groups of two to three, some groups can be as large as 15 or more especially in favourable feeding and breeding waters.

five humpback whales Traveling along the coast of BC, the blows of five humpback whales can be seen, including the characteristic heart-shaped blow.

The humpback is an acrobatic whale. Megaptera, meaning "large winged", is a fitting name for the humpback as is evident when a whale rolls on its side and slaps its nearly five metre long pectoral flipper on the surface of the water.

Humpback whale flipper slapping Humpback whale flipper slapping.

Humpbacks can also be seen lob tailing, forcefully slapping their tail flukes on the surface of the water.

Humpback whale lob tailing Humpback whale lob tailing.

Unique markings on the flukes, especially visible upon diving, can be used by researchers and whale watchers to identify individual whales.

Whales flukes Unique markings on the flukes can be used to identify individual whales.

One of the humpbacks most spectacular displays is a breach when some or even all of the whale's body rises out of the water.

Humpback whale breaching. Video © Eloise Rowland.

Perhaps more spectacular is the song of the humpback whale - one of the longest and most impressive in the animal kingdom. The song can last from minutes to half an hour and may consist of trills, grunts, whistles and whines often sung in a repeating pattern. An entire performance may last several days and can be heard miles away. Intriguing is the fact that the humpback song changes from season to season with all singers in a given geographical area producing nearly identical versions of the same song. Because males sing mainly during the breeding season the song is presumed to function in the attraction of females, but the exact purpose is still unclear. It is not known how humpbacks, and other baleen whales, produce sounds. Baleen whales have a larynx but do not have vocal cords or structures such as the "monkey lips" used in sound production in toothed whales. The exact mechanism for hearing in baleen whales is also somewhat of a mystery.


  • Length: 11.5-15 m (38-49 ft)
  • Weight: 22680-40823 kg (25-45 tons)
  • Birth length: 4-4.9 m (13-16 ft)
  • Birth weight: 907-1814 kg (1-2 tons)
  • Gestation: 11.5-12 months
  • Sexual maturity at ~12 m (39 ft) long

As of May 2011, the North Pacific population of the humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangeliae, is listed as of special concern by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada). Research conducted between 2004 and 2006 indicated an estimated abundance of 18,000 humpbacks in the North Pacific with about 2,145 whales present seasonally in BC water s (numbers do not include first-year calves) (COSEWIC). The Species at Risk Act (SARA) lists the North Pacific humpback population as threatened. Threats to humpback whales include noise disturbance, habitat degradation, entanglement in fishing gear and debris, and ship strikes.


COSEWIC. 2011. COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangeliae in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, Ottawa.

Eder, T. and Sheldon, I. 2001. Whales and other Marine Mammals of British Columbia and Alaska. Lone Pine Publishing, Alberta, Canada.

SARA. 2012. SARA Species Profile: Humpback Whale North Pacific population. Species at Risk Public Registry, Ottawa.

Scowcroft, G., Vigness-Raposa, K., Knowlton, C. and Morin, H. 2012. Discovery of Sound in the Sea. University of Rhode Island, USA.

Shore, V. and Folkens, P.A. 1999. Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises of British Columbia, Canada. Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Stop BC's Wolf Hunt

Curious Coastal Wolf


This genetically unique Coastal Wolf lives on an island, far from any homes, villages, or towns. The wolves in this pack fish for salmon, hunt deer, and eat the carcasses of marine life that is washed up on the shores of the islands where they live. The cycles of their natural environment, keeps their numbers in check or permit them to flourish. There is no need to "manage" these wolves.

However, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resources in the Province of British Columbia, have come up with a draft of a new Wolf "Management" Plan. This plan will allow wolves to be hunted without licenses and in some places, without bag limits, using guns or snares or traps or allowing them to be shot from helicopters. In some areas, even the pregnant female wolves and even the pups, may be killed.

In northeastern B.C. in Fort St. John, they like to have WOLF KILLING CONTESTS! Minister Steve Thomson condones this wolf-killing contest!


If you would like to comment on this new WOLF "MANAGEMENT" PLAN and the WOLF KILLING CONTEST in northeastern B.C., please email Minister Steve Thomson, and let him know how you feel:

CLICK HERE to automatically send an email to Minister Steve Thomson
(to: flnr.minister@gov.bc.ca, jane.thornthwaite.mla@gov.bc.ca, lpynn@vancouversun.com, info@oceanadventures.bc.ca)

CLICK HERE to join the online petition against the slaughter of our wolves.

CLICK HERE to participate in B.C.'s "Wolf Management Plan" consultation.

CLICK HERE to read "Contest offers cash prizes for wolf kills in northeastern B.C."

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