Grey skies, grey whales and great expectations

The summer of 2011 marks the twenty-ninth year since the establishment of the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve (RBMBER). During the early 80’s, the area now known as Robson Bight was going to become a booming ground for the logging industry. Luckily, many local lobbyists, conservationists and fisher people protested and therefore RBMBER was established as a sanctuary for the northern resident killer whales (NRKW).  RBMBER provides an area free from whale watch oriented boat disturbance and vessel noise, allowing the NRKW to more easily find their favorite food (salmon) as well as rub on the beaches located within the reserve.

Orca swimming past Robson Bight

RBMBER includes marine and terrestrial components and is 1715 hectares in area, centered around the Tsitika River estuary. The marine component is 1248 hectares and the land component is 467 hectares, which creates an upland buffer zone. Both the land and marine portions are widest around the Tsitika estuary, which drains into Robson Bight.

RBMBER protects the only undisturbed estuary on the east coast of Vancouver Island.  The estuary is described as having diverse flora and fauna; supporting high populations of invertebrates; the river system and associated mature forests is also an important flyway for the marbled murrelet and the northern goshawk. All five species of Pacific salmon, steelhead trout, cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden char and eulachon migrate through the estuary to their spawning grounds in the Tsitika River.

Vessel traffic outside of RBMBER

The Robson Bight Warden’s primary job is to inform boats of the reserve boundaries and the Be Whale Wise guidelines. Monitoring services are also conducted from a land based observation site known as “Eagle Eye”, on West Cracroft Island. Three types of data are collected from our observation deck:

  • Whale Scan Log (collecting information on killer whale presence, activity and location according to the study area),
  • Vessel Traffic Log (recording vessel direction of travel across a stretch of Johnstone Strait – east or west), and
  • Boat Count Log (recording vessel type, location according to study area zones, vessel activity and speed).

Two humpback whales, Bubbles and Chunky, travel by "Eagle Eye"

We have had a busy and very wet start to the 2011 season out here in Boat Bay. We started on the water July 1st and have made 35 contacts, as many private boats make their way north for the summer.  Most of the contacts have been very friendly and are keen to learn more about RBMBER and the local marine mammals. Also this year we have already had over 50 visitors, from all over the world, join us at ‘Eagle Eye’ for our interpretive talks about RBMBER, the orca, as well as hike with a cultural interpreter.  A new addition to this years experience is our Cultural Interpreter, who takes kayak groups, private boaters and other visitors through an eye-opening walk through the surrounding conservatory. During the walk, visitors also learn more about the local First Nation people and how they have evolved in harmony with the area and its wildlife.

Along with other excitement, we have had a lot of cetacean activity so far this season. The A8’s, A35’s, A34’s and the C10’s came in for a quick visit on July 8th but have not returned since. The A30’s and A23’s are by Scarlet Point right now hopefully making there was down here for a rub at the beaches. We have had more humpbacks around RBMBER than in the past five years, there have been 21 different individuals in the area so far this summer! We also had a visit from the ‘local’ grey whale, Dusty, who last weekend came right into Boat Bay and spent the morning feeding under our dock & warden boat. On that same day we spotted 3 wolves walking along the shoreline just below the observation station, then got to hear them howl & bark as we hiked up to Eagle Eye. Furthermore, there has been an increased amount of Pacific white-sided dolphins activity, we are watching ~200 porpoising in Robson Bight right now! Last but certainly not least, we also saw a group of transients hunt and kill a Dalls porpoise, that is no easy feet since they are the fastest marine mammal in the world!

Dusty, a local grey whale, swim close to the warden boat which is attached to our dock

Pacific white-sided dolphins porpoise below "Eagle Eye"

 

We out at RBMBER like SWS, are looking forward to a positive season and hope that the sun and residents arrive soon!!

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