Archive for the ‘whales’ Category

Roy Henry Vickers’ The Elders Are Watching

March 31, 2012

By way of the Raincoaster.

Fisherman’s Wharf

February 13, 2010

Squid Mystery

January 12, 2010

This story in the local news about Squid appearing along the coast of Vancouver Island in Port Hardy caught my eye a few months ago. These odd ocean beasts are Humboldt Squid, named by Alexander von Humboldt, a Romantic-era naturalist and naturphilosophe of some renown. Curiously, they’re rarely found this far north, living in the warmer waters off California, Mexico and even further south.

Like beached whales or a sudden plague of locusts, these curious appearances prompt us to recall the dynamism of the living world, and its connection to all the natural phenomena around us — like changes in weather patterns and climate, both short term and long. In response to this highly unusual (even unique) phenomenon, one is driven to seek answers, to find links between cause and effect. This may be a fruitless endeavor, but it’s also an altogether human one. Perhaps this fatal migration was brought on by a lack of food. Ocean scientists have recently reported, for example, on the development of a “dead zone” in the Pacific along the coast of Washington and Oregon. Could it be that these creatures swam north through what we could call a kind of ocean “desert”, and were trapped as a result of an unwillingness to head south again because of lack of food?

Weather was undoubtedly a factor. It’s an El Nino year, and there are clear climactic factors associated with this. One is a general warming trend, particularly along the Pacific coast (ed. note: This is why the 2010 Winter Olympics here in Vancouver are probably doomed). Certainly, given that this last September was the second warmest in 130 years of record keeping, this is important. Perhaps the squid headed farther north than usual because of warmer seas, subsequently losing their way.

When I penned the initial draft of this post, I was also thinking about beasts like the Great White Sharks and sea lions, appearing further up the west coast than usual. Again, maybe the squid moved further north to evade migrating predators.

Like the previous post, however, the Devil’s in the details we don’t know; in the inexhaustible complexity of the living, of the way it challenges us to try, in a heroic but ultimately futile manner, to adapt and respond. Our predilection for order, mechanical linearity and causality mean that we are always one step behind.

These squid are still appearing, but the mystery remains.

Context, Cryptozoology and the Cadborosaurus

September 8, 2009

Cadborosaurus willsi, the famed Cadboro Bay sea monster, is a fascinating example of the strengths and failings of the “science” of cryptozoology. An ideal case study.


This image, culled from the public archives of the CBC, is of the Cadborosaurus, one of the most representative of a cryptozoological archetype — the sea beast. An ancient legend. From the Loch Ness Monster to Champy to endless other cases of things from the deep, it’s undeniable that mystery washes over the world’s oceans. And sometimes even laps up on quiet Vancouver Island shores…

To understand Cadborosaurus you have to understand the context of this area, and how culture and history mix. Cadboro Bay is located north of sleepy Oak Bay, a cozy community on the edge of the city of Victoria, and every bit the English country town…Fossilized into a rustic western landscape.

It’s easy to imagine seeing things in Cadboro Bay. Heck, it’s easy to imagine oddities by any shore. Perception is a strange thing. Especially when it comes to water and perspective. A case in point…


A sea monster? Or a rock?

Furthermore, there are a whole variety of species swimming along these shores. From otters to harbour seals to the occasional killer whale (Orca). And possibly stranger beasts. You can see all sorts of things moving around out there…


An otter, or a sea monster?

Who knows? This is the allure of cryptozoology. Beyond the many fine websites devoted to the subject, there are of course “hard facts”. We only know and have categorized a tiny (1/10th, perhaps) percentage of the species on earth, and new species, like the giant squid, are regularly discovered as we churn the ocean’s depths.

It’s tempting to think ancient dinosaurs still swim the mysterious abysses of earth, but is it really that likely we overlook so monstrous a beast? Perhaps…

One has to wonder at the convenient timing. Recall that Cadborosaurus was first spotted in the 1930s and popularized in the 1940s and 50s, when the community came into its own. Patterns of settlement matter here, as Scottish legends of mysterious monsters in the Loch could be easily transported to the sleepy Georgia Strait. More recent attempts to find and observe the Cadborosaurus have been made, as recorded in this CBC news piece from the 1990s.

Beyond mythology, when spending time sitting by Cadboro Bay, it becomes something else entirely — a natural space with a lively, vital aura. Add imagination, and one can easily envelop it in mystery. It has its own particular quality…Hopefully captured here…


That it’s also (possibly) home to a mythical beast only adds to the allure. A little more sparkle to this simple beauty.

Friendly or fearsome, Cadborosaurus is a fascinating and too little known example of a well-established cryptozoological mystery, and a local legend worthy of serious consideration. Worthy even of levity too…


And, most important of all, some good, clean fun! Science can be many things, but it’s at its best when you find the fun factor…


Animal Crackers

February 26, 2008

The brilliance of the Internet knows no limits. Truly astounding this technological marvel we’ve created. The latest? The Encyclopedia of Life, on-line (I mean, you wouldn’t want to ruin habitats by actually printing it…). A proposed storehouse of information — largely obscure, inert, and even a chilling ode to the death of nature. The topper? So many people visited the site today it purportedly crashed. The CBC wrote a story about it.

An idealistic publicity stunt. In the world we actually live in it’s kind of crazy. Like animal crackers…


September 10, 2007

Words fail. Went whale watching up in Sidney yesterday. The sun was shining hot and there wasn’t a cloud in the endless blue Vancouver Island sky. We met Liz, boat lady extraordinaire, on the harbour front at Seaquest Adventures HQ (I love it!). Gearing up was totally fun and the suit wasn’t hot if you were wearing shorts underneath. I wore it half-way at the waist, in a light t-shirt top, soaking up rays the whole afternoon…Just a perfect day to be on the water.


We were on the secondary boat, a smallish thing that fit our crew of 8 (two of whom were little girls) ideally. It was powered by twin outboards that pushed us through the water at about 60 km/h. Exhilarating.

Moving out of the harbour and quickly past the Sidney Spit, we started to really get out into open water. Near Pender Island there seemed to be activity, with a number of boats around, and some sign of whales — orcas — in the distance. But to date the most amazing sight was Mt. Baker in the background…


Then something was surfacing off the stern. A shark? If it was it would be one hell of a man eater. This was a much more tranquil and awesome beast…Liz cut the engines and we watched them swimming everywhere. A small microphone in the water picked up their song, which chirped and moaned through the scratchy static.


Moments after a pair passed on either side of the boat, not 10 ft. from us. Two big adult males. Stunning. Irina was so startled by the immensity of it she didn’t even take a shot. It would be our closest sighting…

They were truly amazing. Popping up everywhere — flapping their tails on the water, stopping and pushing up out of the water to have a look around, and even jumping up out the water completely (called “breaching”) in playful abandon.


Entranced, we oohh’d and aahh’d, and then began following a group of juveniles swimming north at a respectful distance.


All was well as we stopped our boat to watch them play, when suddenly a large yacht out of Bellingham across the way in Washington roared through the group with engines on full, nobody at the wheel. We waved, and our guide, Liz, whistled furiously, but the idiot just waved back from the deck of his boat and took a picture of us. Bloody ridiculous. The image of the U.S. flag fluttering proudly off the back of the yacht seemed iconic. An Ugly American moment.

After this, the group moved north for a short period then turned south suddenly, making a “course correction”. As we watched them go Liz commented that now the entire group (whales all around us for miles…) would turn south. Sure enough, I spotted a couple of big males off the stern and minutes later they swam right by…


We’d seen so much, chatting about the amazing creatures all along. Each group — or “pod” — was like a family, with unique acoustics and behaviors. They are genetically alike, but in a manner of speaking, “culturally” distinct. Seeing the creatures up close, yet in their natural habitat, was a first for me — and left me truly speechless.

Heading home we stopped once more at the end of a long, late-summer day to watch the sunset over the water in nearby Oak Bay. And remember being on it.


A transcendent Sunday afternoon and a wonderful experience. Those whales were incredible. Massive yet somehow so gentle. But there was also a sad sense that we are the real might, misdirected and cruel. Yet the beasts keep on, indifferent to the conflict and chaos outside of their realm. If only we could learn from their spirits.


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