Archive for category Field Cameras
By Claire Hume, Pacific Wild Intern
En route to set up the remote camera for the herring spawn, I quickly forgot about my cold fingers and toes when Max spotted a dolphin porpoising nearby. I struggled to count the fins as they briefly broke the surface. “Seven!” I shouted, there were at least seven. Starting my count again I adjusted that estimate to twenty-five. Then fifty. And, upon realizing the pod of dolphins had us surrounded, my excitement reached an all time manic high and I abandoned the count altogether. Max, who had remained calm and collected, later informed me there were at least a hundred and fifty white-sided dolphins in the group, probably more.
As the dolphins cut gracefully through our waves, there was one who was much smaller than all the rest, who flung himself clear out of the water in a spectacular jump. I could practically hear him saying “weeeeeeeee!” as he flew through the air. Eventually the dolphins headed on their way, off to search for herring I suppose, and we carried on ours – off to install a camera that would monitor the behaviour of animals feeding on the herring spawn.
After scouting for the perfect camera spot on various beaches and points, we found one that we thought might work. The criteria, though simple, were proving quite difficult to fulfill. The camera needed to be mounted in a stable location, such as up a tree, that gave an unobstructed view of the beach and intertidal zone while receiving transmission signal that would allow us to send the video back to Pacific Wild headquarters via our mountaintop relay site. Max clambered up countless trees, reporting spectacular views from each, but none of them were receiving strong enough signals from our radio tower to justify its use.
Eventually we found a spot that seemed to work and Max and Diana unloaded the boat – a feat in itself as we were anchored on a patch of steep and seaweed-covered rocks. The rest of the afternoon was spent installing the camera and wiring it to send its footage in the right direction. We’re hoping the camera will allow us to watch wolves, bears, whales, and birds as they feast on herring and their eggs. We are streaming this footage live into the local school to help give youth a view into their surrounding environment. If all goes well, everyone will be able to watch the herring spawn excitement from miles away! For now, it’s a waiting game to see if the herring will decide to spawn in this location – which was teeming with life last year – again this season.
Sun, snow, rain, hail, repeat. All within an hour.
This is the “herring weather” that greeted the rest of our field crew when they arrived last week and began readying boats and testing equipment for our work to document the herring spawn.
This incredible natural history event has sustained wildlife and First Nations communities alike for millennia. As humpback whales complete their migration and black bears begin stirring after a long winter, herring and their eggs are a welcome source of nourishment.
After years of an unsustainable commercial fishery, the herring stocks collapsed and have yet to fully recover on the central coast. Each year, people in Bella Bella wonder if they will be able to harvest enough of the herring spawn on kelp (SOK) to feed their families.
The Hakai Network has developed the Herring School to study the ecological and socio-cultural impacts of herring and their decline. Similarly, Pacific Wild is working to highlight the importance of this foundation species.
This spring we are working with an international film crew to create a documentary on the herring spawn. We are also bringing the spawn into the Bella Bella Community School through our remote wildlife cameras, and we are taking students out into the field with us. Our new HD pan-tilt-zoom camera will bring live footage of the spawn happening miles away into the classrooms at a stunning quality that we have not been able to achieve until now.
These past few days, the weather has calmed and the spawn has started. The VHF is crackling with chatter on hot spots, Heiltsuk fishermen have begun setting lines in the water for SOK, and we have our first camera in place.
Stay tuned as we post updates during this exciting time of year!
Photo by Ian McAllister
by Claire Hume, Pacific Wild intern
With herring season upon us, a small group of us here at Pacific Wild took advantage of a break in the weather and took a trip along the outside of the Great Bear. Our mission was to identify new locations on the windswept and rugged outer coast for the next hydrophone and remote wildlife camera installations planned for Heiltsuk territory.
Little did I know that this one trip would introduce me to sea otters, humpback whales, signs of an outer coastal wolf pack, and the incredible sight of a group of transient whales surfing through breaking swells as they preyed on Stellar sea lions.
As we crossed miles of open ocean swells and entered a rocky outcropping of islets downwind, I was hit with the smell of 500 Stellar sea lions. They watched us curiously as we pulled the boat along shore. As we slowed to a stop, Ian and Tavish slipped into their diving gear, grabbed underwater cameras, and hopped into the water. Finding a suitable underwater crack in the rock to lay the hydrophone cable is essential if we expect to keep the cable intact through the winter. The sea lions, comically sluggish and clumsy on land, clambered over their sleeping neighbours and grunted in each other’s faces. But the moment they hit the water, after dragging and wobbling their way to the rock’s edge, they moved easily with an incredible combination of power and grace. I wondered, as we bobbed around in the sunshine, what, exactly, our plan of action would be if the divers were met with a less than friendly response from the giant creatures swirling below. With no way of knowing how the underwater world was treating them, we just continued to bob and hope for the best.
A short while later the divers resurfaced, all smiles. Swimming with the sea lions, they informed us, didn’t make them nervous at all. They compared it to visiting a gang of playful, albeit massive, dogs. It wasn’t until I saw their footage later that day that I really appreciated their analogy. The sea lions kept their distance as they calmly circled the divers, curious to see these strange new beings from all angles. Occasionally coming closer to blow bubbles at their masks or to look at their reflections in the camera, the sea lions came across as beautiful and inquisitive animals.
On our way back from diving, Max thought he spotted something up ahead. Eagerly scanning the horizon for a dorsal fin or spout, our concentration was interrupted by a killer whale breaching clear out of the water. A group of transient mammal-hunting whales was heading right for the sea lion rock.
We dropped the hydrophone overboard and listened as they called to one another and then fell silent, a sign that they were going into hunting mode. Turning the boat around, we raced back to the sea lion rock and waited, with a quiet engine and cameras ready, for the killer whales to come our way. Minutes later they arrived, six adults plus two calves, and began tearing back and forth through the surf as sea lions barked and bawled. The tension was incredible both on the island and on board as everyone scrambled to get ID photos and footage.
Then, just as quickly as it had started, they were gone, moving south, most likely to the next sea lion haul out.
Back on solid ground we compared our whale pictures to DFO’s killer whale catalogue and identified the individuals we saw as members of the T55 Group. The largest male in the pod was born in 1972 and goes by the ID label of T54. Clearly the next location for a hydrophone station had been found – now it’s just a matter of waiting for the right weather window.
When the hydrophones and camera are installed this summer, Pacific Wild will transmit the audio and video streams live through their website, allowing people all over the world to monitor the behaviour of the animals in this incredible ecosystem and appreciate what a spectacular place this really is.
A guest blog post by Emma Hume
After a few days working in the float lab where the Pacific Wild team sets up and monitors its cameras and hydrophones, Max and Diana were ready to install a pair of remote cameras. On a river a short boat ride away from Pacific Wild headquarters, one underwater camera would monitor salmon and below the surface happenings, while the other would provide an eagle eye view of the entire estuary.
When we arrived, salmon schooled at the mouth of the river, jumped sporadically and swam in circles, their shark-like dorsal fins making it clear they were waiting for something. But where the ocean met the river, the fresh and salt water mixed to created an underwater sheen, and only a few salmon could be seen. Though they weren’t ready to spawn, the long grasses in the estuary were strewn with salmon carcasses – some half eaten, others missing only their heads or eyes.
Even further upriver fresh bear scat was full of berries, and the huckleberry bushes along the bank missing half their leaves suggested bears were still choosing to fill their bellies with berries rather than fish. With the salmon spawn less than a full moon away, it was the perfect time to install the cameras.
A day was spent up a tall and branchy old growth sitka spruce testing for the radio signal needed to connect the cameras to the float lab. Unfortunately even the top of this spruce couldn’t get us signal up river, so we decided to return the next day to try a spot further downstream on a tree overhanging the river.
Once we had radio single it was smooth sailing. An unwieldy cable that would transmit video captured by the cameras to the radio, and back to the float lab, was strung along the river bank and up into the trees. There it was connected to a box containing a fuel cell, batteries, and the various electronics necessary to transmit the signal. The team built a rock house for the underwater camera on the side of a gravel bar. The other camera, which looked more like a bulging frog eye than a camera, was installed on a tree overlooking the estuary. The two cameras were connected into the whole system with more snaking black cord.
All of a sudden, by connecting a small laptop to the cords wiggling out of the box, we could see the tall grasses of the estuary blowing in the wind behind us, only this time on the computer screen. The river continued gurgling towards the sea and a raven croaked in the distance. It was all recorded. We left as the rain began to fall. The salmon were still swimming circles at the mouth of the river, silver from their years at sea, and the schools were thicker than the day before.
Less than a week later the cameras caught a pack of wolves eating salmon, playing, scratching and doing their best to tolerate pesky ravens. As we watched, this time from the float lab, we talked about how magical it was to watch life on a salmon river unfold from afar.
Photos by Emma Hume
Herring are small, oily fish that migrate along the coast of British Columbia to spawn in early spring. They are an important food source for local First Nation communities. The fish spawn on seaweed, rocks, and anything else that is in protected areas of the waterways. To harvest herring eggs, local community members strategically sink kelp or hemlock branches for the fish to spawn on, then collect the branches covered in roe.
As the herring begin to spawn this year, we are poised to document this impressive annual ritual with underwater and above water cameras and hydrophones set on strategically placed hemlock branches. Jordan Wilson, with his immense local knowledge, assisted us in choosing a site, sinking the branches, and placing the equipment.
Soon after the spawn began, a late winter storm rolled through. The herring need calm protected waters for a successful spawn, and moved away or hid deep in the water while the wind blew and the waves built. Now we wait patiently for them to return and continue their amazing ritual.
Check out what the wolves have been up to! This video was taken with one of our remote pan-tilt-zoom cameras.
Coming up to Denny Island to volunteer for Pacific Wild for two weeks at the end of September has been a wonderful experience.
Part of my work was to monitor the cameras for activity. I was sitting at the computer monitor early one morning viewing the estuary where the remote camera is set up. The wolves came out of the forest, two of them. The wolves found dead salmon near the river to eat. It’s a feast for the wolves as they go about eating just the heads. It’s a thrill to watch these Great Bear Rainforest wolves “live”.
The range of weather experienced was amazing, from the heaviest rain and wind storms to a few sunny days. One day, the most intense and radiant rainbow I’ve ever seen arched over a nearby island that happened to be named Rainbow Island. Also the generosity and friendliness of the people here I will not soon forget.
But it is the wild nature here that will bring me back. The cycle of life is in full force here, from the salmon filling the rivers to spawn and die, to seeing the highest tides of the year.
So, as I sit and monitor, keeping an eye out for wolves, I will have great experiences to share with friends when I go home.
Jeff also helped us prepare our office for the winter- adding insulation and reinforcing the siding. Thanks Jeff!
A note from Diana.
Since early September, when the first pinks and chums entered this natal stream, we have been captivated by the unfolding cycle of salmon dying and giving life to so many others.
This season we have added an underwater camera to document the spawning cycle while a parallel pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera overhead watches the terrestrial species dining on the strong run of salmon. This collaboration between Pacific Wild and the Heiltsuk community allows us the unique opportunity to study wildlife in a non-invasive manner.
Each morning when daylight breaks the ravens begin croaking, seagulls are calling and more mornings than not a pack of wolves emerges out of the rainforest to take their fill of salmon. This live footage streams into the Bella Bella Community School and the Pacific Wild office. There we’re able to remotely operate the camera from miles distant, all powered by an innovative and cutting edge technological advance of a fuel cell. No more changing batteries, no more disturbance, no more hassle. This is technology that is opening up the secret lives of the creatures of the Great Bear Rainforest.
Or, at least until last week. That’s when torrential rains and more than a couple hurricane force storms battered the coast. Not too surprisingly, we temporarily lost the camera signal. The intrepid Becca made two trips up the mountain to our relay station above Bella Bella and scaled the wind generator pole that holds the transmitters. A bit of fiddling and just like that we were back in business! Well, kind of. The underwater camera had gotten knocked down by the rushing water so all we could see was gravel, and for some reason the PTZ was non-responsive. A bit more fiddling was needed.
I bombed over to the camera site on Friday afternoon, fearing the worst – that I might find the PTZ had fallen out of the tree and shattered into a million pieces. Not to worry though, it was all in one piece and all I had to do was a simple restart and that was back online too! I made a mental note to return to the camera site bringing the proper tools to trim back some of the branches from our makeshift camera shelter to provide a better field of view. I think knowing that I had to go back anyways made it less frustrating when I returned home and learned that the underwater camera had become disconnected.
The next afternoon I picked up Jeff, a volunteer for Pacific Wild, and we headed back to the cameras. Thankfully the downpour had subsided, so we only had to work in a light rain. I got the underwater camera back online while Jeff cleared the fallen branches from around the PTZ. Within minutes we had completed two of the three tasks for the day. All that was left was the fun part: repositioning the underwater camera.
I took off my gumboots and raingear, rolled up my pants legs, and waded into the river. I was in just over my knees when I realized that this was not going to work. I knew approximately where the camera was, and with the tide high like it was I would have to go in a lot deeper than my knees. Not to mention that I couldn’t see anything underwater since the river was so dark with tannins from all the rain. And then there was the pesky issue of the icy gravel daggers digging into my feet with every step. I got out of the water and told Jeff that the job might have to wait. As I walked back to my raingear I weighed both sides of the issue.
Just do it – there’s not really a better time to come back anytime soon. The low tides are all at prime times for us to get wolf footage. Don’t do it – it’s really cold…But really my feet are the worst part. I could just put my gumboots on and let them get flooded….But then they won’t be dry for days. Gross. I don’t think anyone would blame me if I put this off…but I don’t want to have to come back later.
So I did it. I put my boots on and got back in the water. I waded around up to my chest with my face pressed against the surface of the water so I could see. I fumbled around for what felt like quite awhile with Jeff providing lots of moral support. Finally I spotted the camera! I reached down and grabbed…a dead fish. Seriously?! I composed myself and tried again, this time successfully picking up the camera. I brought it to shallower water and repositioned it, holding it in place with rocks.
We went back to the office, crossed our fingers, and flipped on the computer. We watched pink and the occasional chum salmon swimming by in a choreographed circle and we zoomed in on a bald eagle and murder of crows feeding on salmon with the PTZ. Talk about satisfaction!
Now we’re back in business with the cameras streaming live to the school classrooms and to our office. We’ve already had several more wolf sightings!
We’d like to extend a sincere thank you to Jeff for all of work help these past couple of weeks. Thanks to his help we’ve been able to make camera repairs in inclement weather, capture some great footage of wolves, and winterize our office, among other things.
It took us 2 ½ years to buy a boat, 8 months to attain Canadian work visas, 10 days to sail up the coast from Seattle to Bella Bella and 6 minutes to fall in love with our new home.
My fiancé, John, and I live on Halcyon, our 40’ Valiant sailboat, in a quiet little cove between Shearwater Marina and the town of Bella Bella. When we are here, at home base, we do much of our work in a newly constructed floathouse on the dock, with a commute time of between 8 and 12 seconds, depending on traffic and potential road blocks. Much of the time, though, we are not at home base but out in the field, scouting new sites, working with first nation youth, or troubleshooting disobedient equipment.
If I had no calendar, you could fool me into believing we’d just arrived in Bella Bella a week ago. But then I think of all we’ve learned and accomplished and I know it’s been longer than that. We motored into Whiskey Cove in early July, enthusiastic and eager to get started. Diana arrived the very next morning to impart her knowledge about the equipment in use, the program to date, and the goals of the project. She even helped us set up trial camera sites to ensure we grasped the process and the capabilities of the equipment.
We spent the first two weeks organizing gear, familiarizing ourselves with the layout, and reinforcing the infrastructure on the top of the mountain. We asked Ian a lot of questions, and called on Diana every weekend. It didn’t take long to feel confident in the shop and ready to get into the field. In our third week, we got that opportunity.
The clouds finally rained themselves out and the sun peaked through as we packed up the speed boat with sleeping bags, provisions, tools, safety gear, fuel, and extra radio transmitters. We were heading to Gil Island, 80 nautical miles northwest of Bella Bella, to troubleshoot a camera site that was not behaving. The camera was set up to monitor Sea Lion Rock, an island aptly named for the hundreds of sea lions that lounge and laze in the sun on the rocks. PacificWILD had partnered with Hermann at Cetacealab, an organization dedicated to upholding the balance between whales and their environment through the use of hydrophones and observation, to set up this camera a few months back. The intention is to record footage of these sea lions without the disruption of human presence, then share the footage with students in Hartley Bay and Bella Bella. Hermann had been having trouble with the camera talking to the transmitters and the transmitters talking to the lab, so we went up there to try to diagnose the issue. A few hours after our arrival, we had the system up and running, with live video feed of Sea Lion Rock streaming back at the lab.
The trip, though, was dual-purpose. In addition to working out the kinks in the Sea Lion camera project, we wanted to examine Hermann’s hydrophone systems to augment our understanding as we build our own hydrophone configurations further down the coast. Hermann was so gracious in answering our questions and demonstrating how his system works. He even invited us to stay the night and assist him in the deployment of a new hydrophone the next morning!
After breakfast, we all piled into two speed boats packed full with cable, housing, electronics, and diving gear. With six of us on site we were able to install the hydrophone and ensure it was working properly, and still get back in time for lunch. What a great experience for us to get to go out with a hydrophone pro and deploy a new system!
If it is not already obvious, we are thrilled to be up here working with PacificWILD and look forward to meeting the many locals that live on the coast in order to increase understanding and raise awareness about the beautiful and magnificent life thriving in the Great Bear Rainforest