Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Death at SeaWorld

Is there a benefit to keeping orcas in captivity? From a very narrow point of view, there probably is, as thousands of people can see these magnificent creatures who probably would never get the chance to. But what they are seeing is not typical orca behaviour in the wild; there are seeing glorified circus animals doing tricks and stunts far removed from their normal behaviours. And though the risk to trainers is now abundantly obvious, what of the risk to the physical, and perhaps more important, the mental health of the whales? Can intelligent, social and vocal animals with huge natural ranges be housed in what are essentially giant bathtubs, either in isolation or with unfamilliar orcas from different lineages with whom they can't communicate, without going a little nuts?
As a child growing up here in Victoria, one of the most popular tourist attractions in city was Sealand of the Pacific. And perhaps the Sealand experience is a microcosm of the story of orcas in capitivity. Nowhere is that question of captivity more relevant than in the history of Sealand, and in the deaths of Miracle, and Keltie Byrne.
Miracle was a young juvenile orca found alone, shot, and starving on the east coast of Vancouver Island in 1977. She was captured and moved to Sealand, a six hour drive on the back of a flat bed truck. She survived the trip, but when she was released into a tank at Sealand, she sank to the bottom of the pool. Rescuers pulled her to the surface, and she began a long and difficult road to return to health, but she beats the odds. A Miracle. She eventually became a star attraction at Sealand, but in January, 1982, she somehow became entangled in the nets of her sea pen and drowned.
Keltie Byrne was a trainer at Sealand. In late 1991, she slipped and fell into a tank with Tilikum and two other orcas. Sealand, unlike SeaWorld, did not do any water training -- the trainers never went in the water with the whales -- so having a trainer in the water was a new situation for the whales. Tilikum took her under the water and held her there, blocking her escape from the tank. Eventually all three whales began playing with their visitor. It took hours to retrieve Keltie's body from the pool. She was the first trainer ever killed by a captice orca.
Sealand closed within a year. Tilikum was sold to SeaWorld.
This is a heck of a lot of back story to get into for a book review, but David Kirby's Death at SeaWorld opens with Keltie's death, and Tilikum would go to even greater infamy, causing two more deaths at SeaWorld, including the title incident of the book.
These are astonishingly intelligent creatures, as evidenced by a chapter when the author relates the story of a scientist running visual and aural training on two recently captured orcas and it quickly became apparent that in actuality the orcas were running tests on the scientist. Equally astonishing is the utter ignorance with which orca trappers went about their work in the 1960s and 1970s. Working under the mistaken assumption that the local waters contained hundreds if not thousands of orcas, on one memorable day trappers netted almost all of the local resident orcas in one net. Some they let go, some they took away to transport to interested aquariums, some they killed, tying concrete blocks to their bodies so they would sink. They conceivably could have sold or killed all of them, not realizing that it indeed would have been all of them, all of the local residents. It wasn't until a few years later in the the mid-1970s that scientists actually counted the local orcas, and were surprised to discover how few of them there really are.
For anyone interested in the history of humanity's relationship with a fellow mammal, this should be required reading. The book tends to get bogged down with the legal ramifications of Tilikum's behaviour in its last third, but is utterly fascinating with its twin tales of modern orca research and the history of orcas in captivity.

Here's some bonus content. These are pictures my father took at a show at Victoria's Sealand of the Pacific in the fall of 1971. I'm not positive which whale is pictured. It's not Tilikum, and my guess is it's probably Haida.
1971 Sealand Oak Bay
1971 Sealand Oak Bay (3)
1971 Sealand Oak Bay (2)

Kayakers! Plant a Tree!

I love paddling in beautiful parks and waterfront right in the city. There are so many places in and around Victoria, BC where it is possible to find great launch spots. Take a small boat and enjoy green space around the water!
Trees don't just grow on trees, y'know. Er, well. Trees don't just appear out of nowhere, rather. In the city, it takes people to maintain trees, keep them from being cut down, promote sustainable use of parks, and other things that keep our green spaces green, and our paddling spaces enjoyably beautiful
The Tree Appreciation Day here in Saanich (part of Victoria) is being held on November 3, 2013. Go here for a link to the information about one particular way to appreciate trees by volunteering to plant trees and shrubs in parks. Volunteers are asked to help Saanich parks workers plant trees and shrubs that have been grown for these projects. Pick your choice of locations in Whitehead Park, Mt Douglas/PKOLS Park, or Emily Carr Park -- maybe a location near where you go kayaking! At ten am on Nov 3 I'll be planting trees along Douglas Creek, which drains into Cordova Bay.

As Cory Manton said in a press release:
Many benefits and values come from trees including a very specific sense of place, aesthetics, air quality, property value, soil and water conservation and protection of the environment. The planting and preservation of trees is an action that yields long range benefits.
Saanich’s Significant Tree Advisory Committee and Saanich Parks, in cooperation with the Saanich Pulling Together Volunteers, BC Hydro and Pacific Forestry Centre are looking for volunteers in our community to help plant trees and shrubs as detailed below. No experience is necessary.
Time at all locations is 10:00 am – 12:00 Noon.
  • Whitehead Park (Dysart Road) where native trees and shrubs will be planted in an area at the foot of the Dysart Bridge crossing into the park. This area was disturbed by human and dog traffic and is in the process of being restored. Parking is available along the frontage of Meadow Park on Dysart Street.

  • Whitehead Park (Goward Road/Prospect Lake Road) where native trees and shrubs will be planted along Tod Creek in areas under restoration. Parking is available in parking lots on Goward Road or Prospect Lake Road.

  • Mt. Douglas Park where native trees and shrubs will be planted along the recently restored tributaries that feed into Douglas Creek. Planting will take on Douglas trial just before the Weir trail access off Cedar Hill Road. Limited parking is available at Churchill Parking Lot or along Robinwood Road. You can also park at the main parking lot of Mt. Douglas Parkway by Ash Road and walk along Douglas Trail to the planting site.

  • Emily Carr Park (Gabo Creek) where native trees and shrubs will be planted along an area of Gabo Creek running through the park. Please park along Emily Carr Drive at Emily Carr Park. Drinks, snacks and planting tools will be provided. However, if any of the volunteers can bring a shovel and gloves it would be appreciated. Please remember to bring rain gear and boots since we will be planting rain or shine. If members of your group are interested in participating, please advise the total number of participants and at which location. This will allow us to make arrangements for food, etc.

  • If you have any questions please call me at 250-475-5522 or e-mail parks@saanich.ca.
    Sincerely, Cory Manton
    Manager of Urban Forestry, Horticulture and Natural Areas

    Friday, October 25, 2013

    Kayak Submarine

    We previously brought you a story about submersible canoes used in World War II, but here's a kayak that converts into a submarine. Designed by Oliver Feuillette, it looks like a fun yet crazy ride. "Air comes from a cylinder, over flow comes out. For long dive co2 filter is used i am talking over 2/3 hours. The pressure is equalized so scuba rules are apply, same for depth," Feuillette apparently posted on YouTube. Check out the video below:

    Wednesday, October 23, 2013

    CRD Land Acquisitions -- Paddlers take note!

    Are you a surfer at Jordan River? Are you hoping to do some surf kayaking at Sandycut Beach?
    The Capital Regional District has just released two documents -- an annual report and a bulletin on land acquisitions. Both are of interest to kayakers, as many of the places worth paddling are accessed by CRD parks. Thanks again to Anne Marie Marchi, the administrative clerk in Visitor Services and Community Development, who sends out these press releases. Wonderful to be so informed about what our CRD is doing with our parks in our communities!
    Check out their annual report at http://www.crd.bc.ca/parks/documents/regional-parks-2012-annual-report-web.pdf 
    And you can find their land acquisitions bulletin at http://www.crd.bc.ca/parks/documents/landacquisitionbulletin13.pdf

    Tuesday, October 22, 2013

    Update from BC Marine Trails Network

    Check out the BC Marine Trails Network at their website for their latest news! This coastal group is working hard to promote a kayaking trail all along BC's coast, with low-impact camping sites and more. Lately, their efforts to improve communications with First Nations have been really successful. The latest issue of their newsletter is here.

    Monday, October 21, 2013

    Fogtober and Sea Star Epidemic

    Yep, we had a good Fogust and September, even with some rain spells. Now we're half-past Fogtober, and all the trees around the shorelines have been changing colours. Marvelous!
    The last few days I've been on the water only a couple of times, six days apart. Augh! Withdrawal is tough, so I guess I am indeed hooked on kayaking. It's been foggy and breezy all that time, with an inversion holding foggy weather along the coast.

    The payoff for foggy weather is that the fish come up to the surface, and otters come out to catch them. There was a family of otters out in Cadboro Bay on the weekend, blithely and lithely slithering around a school of fish. The otter's round heads bobbed in the smooth water that was barely wrinkled. When their tails flickered for a dive, the little splash showed for hundreds of yards (metres). It's great to paddle a quiet boat, quieter and slower than the zodiacs and motorboats that zoom around the little training yachts sailing in the bay.

    I was glad to be on the water again. Lately, I've been jealous of the Gecko Paddlers and their casual outings to Race Rocks... but then, last week at a meeting with other university people studying digital humanities, a tenure-track professor looked enviously at me because last year I paddled down the Red Deer river, solo river camping. So, envy is a relative thing. I'll just go kayaking when and where I can, and let envy be a good servant rather than a poor master, eh?

    This photo is from Vancouver Aquarium' AquaBlog
    And meanwhile, it's time for paddlers in the Salish Sea area to go out and look for sea stars. Check on the health of the starfish in your home waters, folks. The sea stars in Howe Sound seem to be suffering from some disease. Click here for an article by Vancouver Aquarium on the die-off.

    Not all sea star types are affected, as the leather and bat and blood stars seem to be doing well. The large sunflower sea stars are particularly badly affected. Instead of looking plump and full-fleshed, the sick starfish are emaciated. If you see sea stars looking like the one in this photo, or just decaying on the sea bottom, leave a comment on Vancouver Aquarium's blog. Photos are helpful! Biologists trying to take affected animals for tests are appalled to find nothing but a bucket of goo by the time they get a sick starfish to the laboratory. Divers are also looking in Saanich Inlet to see if there are similar problems here across the strait.

    Areas in the Salish Sea have been affected by high populations of sea stars and sea urchins over the last several years, to the point where entire kelp forests are being eaten. I wonder if river otters and sea otters will be able to find plenty of urchins to eat, and thus maintain the kelp forests that sustain diverse shoreline life.

    Saturday, October 12, 2013

    Historical Paddle on the Gorge

    We kayakers are not the only ones who paddle on The Gorge, that narrow inlet that reaches from Victoria's Inner Harbour to a wide salt-water lake known as Portage Inlet. The Gorge has been the scene of human traffic in small boats for thousands of years since the Ice Age ended, and there are signs of all that use in the middens found at traditional First Nations village sites. There are some projects in place to restore the shoreline and water quality and bridges along this inland waterway.

    For more recent history, in 1861 a noteworthy traveler was visiting Victoria, and the Hudson's Bay Company took her touring on The Gorge. This traveler was Lady Jane Franklin, widow of Sir John Franklin (yup, the Franklin who was lost on an Arctic expedition). This week I've been reading an interesting series of books on Arctic expeditions written by Calgary author Ken McGoogan. In one of these books, Lady Franklin's Revenge, McGoogan tells the story of Jane Franklin's travels around the world. It was a great pleasure to learn that on her last great trip, she reached Vancouver Island and actually rode in a canoe in my home waters.

    The Hudson's Bay Company wanted to show off their local accomplishments, so the factor arranged for the town's worthies to accompany Lady Franklin on a boating tour. This sheltered inlet is well-suited for taking tours to show off the local shoreline and hills between the new town of Victoria and one of the farms set up to provide fresh produce. In a large Chinook canoe, Lady Franklin and her companion were conveyed by ten Canadian voyageurs wearing red shirts. They launched from the HBC wharf, which was probably located close to the foot of Fort Street today, (near the astonishingly good fish'n'chips booth Red Fish Blue Fish). A fleet of small boats carried dozens of local people along beside the large voyageur canoe.

    The Gorge wouldn't have looked to Lady Franklin and her niece Sophy Craycroft as it does now, with industrial development at the wide place now called the Selkirk Water and houses along the shoreline where the waterway narrows. It would have looked more like the portion just north of the Selkirk Water, which has been restored to a more natural shoreline with trees and grass rather than concrete docks and buildings.

    It was noted in The British Colonist newspaper that as Lady Franklin's boat passed under Victoria Bridge, "three rousing, hearty British cheers were given by a crowd thereon assembled." Ken McGoogan wrote on page 400 of Lady Franklin's Revenge that "Just beyond a rapids, at a place called Craigflower, Jane and her entourage relished an elaborate two-hour picnic before departing on their return journey to a final salute of gunshots."

    So, where was this picnic held? Clearly, McGoogan doesn't seem to have paddled on the Gorge above the only rapids at Gorge Narrows. If the picnic site were as McGoogan says "just beyond" the reversing falls under the modern Tillicum Bridge, it could have taken place at either Kinsmen Gorge Park or the beach where the Victoria Canoe and Kayak Club launches. Both sites have good beaches for landing and launching small boats, and sloping shores where picknickers still gather today.

    But there's a better place for picnicking with dozens of people and small boats.
    The picnic site might have been less than a kilometre above the Gorge Narrows, on what is now the Saanich side of the narrow waterway, at the present site of Craigflower Bridge, where Kosapsum Park now has a few picnic tables and a public restroom just above a sandy beach. It's possible, because the fine beach at this spot was there in 1861. There was also Craigflower Schoolhouse, built in 1855, and Craigflower Manor built in 1856 just across the water on what is now the View Royal side of the bridge.

    This is a photo from Wikipedia, showing the white schoolhouse building above the sandy beach.

    This site is very probably where the picnic was held. The shoreline is not steep, and would suit the 70-year-old Lady Franklin as she climbed out of her canoe towards a fine cup of tea. The beach faces south and on a sunny day in March it is very comfortable to sit here, warmed by the sun and sheltered from the wind. There's plenty of beach for the small boats, and room for people to stroll. It's no surprise that this site shows signs of thousands of years of use!

    Another possibility for the picnic site is Christie Point, which was used in the coming decades by the Christie family of settlers and other daytrippers as an excellent place for picnicking and swimming. Christie Point is a little farther on along the waterway, jutting into the wide saltwater lake that is Portage Inlet. But I don't think that the 1861 picnic took place here. It wasn't a popular place for daytripping until there were more houses built along the waterway. Christie Point is not just beyond the reversing falls, and most of all, it's definitely beyond Craigflower Manor farm.

    Y'see, the best reason to bring Lady Franklin out on this day trip was to show off how the HBC was "developing" the area. She had made a habit as she toured the world, to see buildings and projects of many and various kinds. Of course the HBC would show off one of their four model farms; Craigflower farm was the most successful of the four, and was already a reliable source of produce and dairy products for the growing community of Victoria. During the two hours the picnic lasted, the HBC would not have missed the opportunity to try to earn her praise.

    Christie Point wasn't yet homesteaded in 1861, so it would have been thickly forested and a pretty site with a narrow shore. Neither Kinsmen Gorge Park nor the VCKC site were homesteaded yet, so it's hard to know how closely the trees came to the water at that time. All the trees now seen along the Gorge Waterway are second and third growth after the area was logged clear, so modern photographs aren't a good way to tell how much room there was for lounging picnickers.

    It doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, to figure out exactly which beach a world traveler might have lounged on, but it interests me. I like seeing the connection between the colonial imperialists of Victoria and the way Lady Franklin got her way in the world. I like thinking of connections between daring Arctic explorers and long sea voyages, and the calm, sheltered waterway that is our home waters.

    Saturday, October 05, 2013

    2014 Pacific Paddling Symposium Dates Announced

    The 2014 Pacific Paddling Symposium will take place May 30 - June 1. The announcement states, "The Symposium will be hosted at the beautiful seaside village campus of the Lester B. Pearson United World College, set on the wooded shores of the Pacific Ocean. The location provides easy access to diverse paddling environments, from the protected waters of Pedder Bay to the challenging tidal currents of Race Passage. Pearson College is located on the west coast of Canada at the southern-most tip of Vancouver Island, 29 km west of the city of Victoria."
    Save those dates!

    Video of the Week

    If you haven't seen this video this week, you must have been hiding under a rock. Or not wasting your time on the Internet and doing something fun instead.
    In any event, here's the crazy video of kayaker Ben Marr and some buddies kayaking down the Lion's Bay Slide, hitting speeds of nearly 60 kmh. Holy crap, that looks like fun.

    Wednesday, October 02, 2013

    The Rainbow Warrior Is In Town!

    You don't have to be a card-carrying member of Greenpeace to take an interest in one of the flagships for activists on the water. The Rainbow Warrior is scheduled to visit Victoria Harbour on Saturday October 5 and Sunday October 6. Come by Ship Point (the docks close to the Causeway and Tourist Information Centre) between 10am and 6pm to come on board the Rainbow Warrior. The Greenpeace website has an invitation page here.