The NIMMSA Conservation Fund has awarded a cumulative amount of $79,229.50 to 12 different projects over the past 3 years. Below are details pertaining to the annual awards along with submitted final reports and project updates from the successful applicants.

In 2020, we received 4 applications totaling $37,578.00 in requested funds and contributed $11,370.00 to the 2 projects given the highest evaluations by NIMMSA directors and staff. Listed below are the successful 2020 applicants:

  • OrcaLab was awarded $7,000.00 for Monitoring Orcas at the Strider Rubbing Beach
  • Marine Education and Research Society was awarded $2,370.00 for Maintenance of long term Humpback Whale population study around NE Vancouver Island for 2020.

In 2019 we received 6 applications totaling $46,951.50 in requested funds and contributed $32,851.50 to the 5 projects given the highest evaluations by NIMMSA directors and staff. Listed below are the successful applicants along with submitted project updates & final report summaries.

Bere Point Research received $2,100.00 for the purchase of field equipment for the “Wild Side Project.”

The 2019 funding has allowed Bere Point Research to purchase equipment that was needed for the Wild Side Project, Thank You. The project ran from July 1 – October 1 at Bere Point on Malcolm Island, BC. Monitoring activities implemented included setting up equipment and the research camp for the research season- placing the hydrophone & cable in front of camp, VHF radio set up, research shelter build, and many general activities to ensure camp is equipped to collect data, and withstand any weather. Bere Point being a popular spot to camp, whale watch, and generally just spend some time, it’s busy most days in recent years. And 2019 was another indication that this will continue into the future. Education is an important segment of our research at Bere Point. Being on-site practically 24/7 giving us the opportunity to educate visitors to the rubbing beach. I speak with hundreds of visitors in a summer season, educating and guiding them on how to act around Orca while they’re at the rubbing beach. My hope this past 2019 season was to collect data to compare to past seasons, as well as be there to be available to educate visitors. Looking for possible changes in the data/whale occurrence, that may help indicate negative impacts on the Northern Resident Orca & their Known Critical habitat, which my study area falls within.

Anecdotal results recorded this past season are: Cetacean Sightings Occurrences: N. Resident Orca- 40; Bigg’s Orca- 2; Humpback Whales- 55; Pacific Whited Sided Dolphins- 2; Dall’s Porpoise- 17; Harbour Porpoise- 29; Beach Rubbing Encounters by Northern Residents- 14; (though not a cetacean, Sea Otters have been observed on two occasions.) It’s believed that the numbers from this past season show a positive view of occurrences. What I would say to be, a somewhat normal season. It should be noted that, Bigg’s Orca occurrences are lower than typically seen in past years. Also, although not seen much within our study area, no Minke whales were observed this season, and they are typically seen a couple/ few times a season. In comparing this collected data to data collected over the past 22 years, providing a tested method to evaluate this important information.

2019 was successful in carrying out our objective. Data collected and added to our database of Bere Point Research. Visitors educated when the opportunity presented itself. Troy Bright was featured in the October issue of Alive magazine. Orca, Conservation, and Education were some topics in the article. Thank You for your support this pass 2019 season. We’ll getting ready for the 2020 season in the coming months. And as always, we’ll be watching and reporting on any Orca activity in our study area.

OrcaLab received $8,192.00 for Strider rubbing beach remote camera power.

The purpose of our grant was to install the power system required to support a remote video camera at the Strider rubbing beach in the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve. The Strider rubbing beach has become more frequently used than the Main beach in recent years. Accordingly, we requested a modification of the research permit we hold from BC Parks that allows us to conduct research in the Reserve, in order to install a remote camera and hydrophone at the Strider location. This was granted in 2018, enabling us to plan. The first stage of our plan was to install sufficient photovoltaic power to run the camera and hydrophone installations without needing to make frequent maintenance trips into the Reserve. The Strider site has poor solar exposure, being shaded by the mountains of Vancouver Island during most of the day, even in summer. Hence the need for substantial solar capacity. The second phase of the project’s plan was to install at least a surface camera on the rocky shore above the orcas’ rubbing zone, which is about 10m before the surface. If possible, an underwater camera would be installed as well. The camera(s) would be connected to the wireless network, which we use to monitor and control several remote video cameras at our Lab on Hanson Island. We also use the network to monitor and record acoustics from our hydrophone installations at the Main beach and Critical Point in Robson Bight. In 2019, thanks to the grant from NIMMSA and the technical assistance of Clay Fischer of Veridian Energy Cooperative, assisted by OrcaLab volunteers and staff, we completed the first phase of the Strider project on August 31st and September 1st 2019. We erected an 8-panel rack mounted solar array that consisted of 8 310W panels (2,480 W total). The array was connected to a charge controller that managed the state of 2 12VDC maintenance free lead acid batteries. The solar installation framework was subsequently reinforced with the hope that it would survive winter storms. Fortunately, this proved to be the case. The Strider project is now ready for the second stage. The following photos show the location viewed from the ocean, and the installation, viewed from east and west. We are excited by these developments in our research, and deeply grateful to NIMMSA for helping to make them possible. Thank you so much!

Marine Education and Research Society received $9,850.00 for humpback whale fishing gear entanglement data collection, analysis, and publication.

Through support provided by the NIMMSA Conservation Fund for our project entitled “Coast-wide estimate of the proportion of BC Humpback Whales that have survived entanglement”, the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) was able to make significant progress toward better understanding the scope of the threat of entanglement to Humpbacks in BC. The project took place between June 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020 but also included analyses of data collected coast-wide in 2017, and off northeastern Vancouver Island (NEVI) back to 2011.

Project activities, methods, and objectives were: 1) Collect Humpback tailstock photographs for one more year, to be examined for evidence of entanglement; 2) Examine Humpback Whale tailstock photographs taken coast-wide in 2017 for characteristic scarring caused by previous entanglements; 3) Evaluate whether photographs taken from UAVs (collected under research permit) can verify the results of tailstock photo analyses; 4) Use photographs collected from well-known Humpbacks off NEVI to look at annual rate of acquisition of entanglement scarring; and 5) Draft a manuscript for publication.

Objectives 1-4 were fully met. A total of 544 tailstock photographs were collected by MERS and collaborators in 2019, and all of these photographs were analyzed for the presence of entanglement scarring. Analyses of thousands of tailstock photographs taken in 2017 from as far north as Langara Island and as far south as off southwestern Vancouver Island were completed. Available UAV photographs and videos of Humpbacks off NEVI were examined; however, were not found to contribute significantly to the assessment of Humpback Whale entanglement frequency. A total of 3,480 Humpback tailstock photographs from NEVI between 2011 and 2019 were analyzed year-by-year to assess the number of individuals that acquired additional entanglement scarring over this time period. Given the very large volume of data, analyses took longer than expected, and necessitated contracting an experienced Humpback Whale matcher to assist in photograph analysis. As a result, although a draft manuscript is in progress, it has not yet been submitted for publication. MERS has however committed the funds required to cover the journal publication fee, and will complete the manuscript in time to inform the key upcoming decisions regarding the management of Humpbacks in BC outlined below.

The results of this project have benefits for both Humpbacks and humans in BC. A better understanding of the threat of entanglement to Humpbacks will contribute to the health of this population, which is increasingly relied on as a species of focus for tourism off NEVI. Humpbacks are listed as a species of Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), and the SARA Management Plan for this population is currently in development. The results of our project will have long-term benefits by informing the conservation measures included in this Management Plan, required to mitigate the threat of entanglement to Humpbacks. Additionally, a COSEWIC re-assessment of the status of BC Humpbacks is upcoming in 2022, and the results of our study will have further significant benefits through their inclusion in this assessment.

University of Victoria received $10,807.00 for humpback whale prey selection fieldwork and data analysis.

This project was part of a multi-year PhD thesis study investigating the spatial patterns of North Pacific humpback whale feeding that occur off northern and southern Vancouver Island. The thesis goal was to suggest reliable sampling methods for the evaluation of regional humpback whale diet over time. My objective in North Island waters was to acquire underwater spatial data on humpback whale foraging in Blackfish Sound, BC, to compare with similar data previously collected in South Island waters. With the funds provided by NIMMSA, this objective was met.

Our surveys were conducted in daylight hours from September 20 – 30, 2019. On calm days, we used an Acoustic Zooplankton and Fish Profiler (AZFP) to record the depth distribution of prey near feeding humpback whales, with the goal of mapping underwater prey fields. During the same timeframe, we instrumented four humpback whales with a CATS Diary suction cup tag for measuring three-dimensional whale diving behaviour. After a whale was tagged, we initiated acoustic surveys using the AZFP and followed behind the whale at a distance of 10 to 1000 m and three to five knots speed to record the prey that was targeted by the whale. The data collected by the AZFP and the whale-born tags are information-rich, and analysis of these data is exhaustive and ongoing.

The acoustics data show consistent differences between feeding regions, with measures of Pacific herring aggregations off northern Vancouver Island but deep layers of possibly walleye pollock and euphausiids (krill) in southern Vancouver Island waters. Herring tend to form vertically elongated aggregations in the water column that are visible near the seafloor and mid-water column in the acoustic data from Blackfish Sound; this is consistent with our surface observations, which documented juvenile herring as the dominant humpback prey in northern waters. Fecal samples from surveyed whales in southern waters comprised mainly bones from juvenile walleye pollock or Pacific cod, as well as herring, anchovy and krill, which is also consistent with our acoustic data.

Our results link humpback whale foraging behaviour to concurrent measures of prey from the AZFP, at temporal and spatial scales relevant to the whales.

Analyses currently underway include categorizing the whale dive profiles as either foraging or non-foraging dives, and comparing these to the vertical distribution of fish and zooplankton recorded during acoustic prey mapping behind the tagged whale.

This study is the first to describe the underwater spatial characteristics of humpback whale prey in BC waters. Humpback whales are enormous predators that are increasingly involved in vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. The need to map and eventually predict the intensity of humpback whale foraging in our inshore waters is crucial to protecting whales, boaters, and economic interests. We hope that this fine-scale sampling method will be useful for making important conservation decisions that impact our entire coastline.

Sayward Futures Society was awarded $1,912.50 for Kelsey Bay hydrophone maintenance and live-streaming. 

Due to Covid-19 Sayward Futures Society suspended their activities and have been awarded an extension to complete their project in 2021.

In 2018 we received 9 applications totaling $74,008 in requested funds and contributed $35,008 to the 5 projects given the highest evaluations by NIMMSA directors and staff. Listed below are the successful applicants along with submitted project updates & final report summaries.

University of Victoria received $7,150 for the project “The vocal behaviour of minke whales off northern Vancouver Island”

This project represented the culmination of an acoustic study conducted in 2012 in Cormorant Channel, BC. Our goal was to complete a scientific publication in order to share the results of our research. With the funds provided by NIMMSA, this goal was met. We submitted a scientific manuscript for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Bioacoustics on July 19, 2018 (see proof title page, below). The title of the manuscript is ‘Vocalizations of common minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) in an eastern North Pacific feeding ground’, and it describes call types identified from underwater acoustic recordings made in the presence of minke whales in Cormorant Channel. We placed a hydrophone and sound recording device in Cormorant Channel in the summer (June-August) of 2012, accompanied by daily observations from the shore of Cormorant Island. Observers recorded when minke whales or other marine mammals were in the area. The acoustic recordings were examined during times when minke whales were observed close to the hydrophone, resulting in about 64.5 hours of recordings to be manually searched for vocalizations, then re-analyzed a second time for quality assurance (over 100 hours of data analysis). Any potential minke whale calls were identified, and those found at times when only minke whales were in the area were used in further analysis. The selected calls were classified into four call types: pulse chains (111 calls), downsweeps (5 calls), broadband pulses (2 calls), and tonal wavers (22 calls). Considering the number of hours of data that were carefully analyzed, fewer calls were found than we expected from previous reports of minke whale vocal behaviour. We hypothesize that minke whales were not more vocal in this area due to predation risk, sexual segregation, and seasonality, and that some calls may have been missed because of acoustic masking. This study is the first to describe the vocal behaviour of minke whales in the eastern North Pacific on their feeding grounds. The results will allow acousticians to better detect minke whale presence in an area when they may not be easily seen at the surface, and to assess the potential impact of increasing noise from vessels and industry on their ability to communicate. We hope that our findings will provoke further study leading to a better understanding of the acoustic ecology of minke whales off the west coast of North America.

Examples in spectrogram format of the call that we found to occur most often: the pulse chain.

MERS Marine Education and Research Society received $10,008 for the project “Updated catalogue of the individual Humpback Whales documented off northeastern Vancouver Island”

Through support provided by NIMMSA’s Conservation Fund, the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) was able to update the catalogue of Humpback Whales documented from the northern Strait of    Georgia to the north end of Vancouver Island (study area). The aim had been to provide one updated catalogue but we were able to surpass this goal and produce two updates. The first was delivered to NIMMSA and its members on July 24, 2018 and the second on February 28, 2019. The latter included whales documented in the study area up to December 31, 2018. MERS also delivered a summary of all Humpbacks sighted in the study area and information about whether they were newly documented or whales already known in BC. These updates were made available to NIMMSA members at no charge. The Humpback Whale photographs taken by MERS and data contributors (many who are NIMMSA members) were processed by MERS as follows: • Identification of individual whales was determined and catalogue numbers were assigned. If the whale was not already known to MERS, team members cross-referenced the photo(s) with the Fisheries and Ocean Canada (DFO) Humpback catalogue. If concluded that the whale had also not been documented by DFO, the whale was assigned a MERS catalogue number. • Every photo was graded for quality. For previously undocumented whales, the best fluke and dorsal fin identification photos were added to the catalogue update. For whales already catalogued, new photos were compared to those in the catalogue, and if of higher quality, they replaced the photo(s) in the catalogue. • Every sighting was also entered into the MERS database.

For NIMMSA members and other ecotourism operators, the MERS catalogue helps to enhance the experience of guests by providing information about the individual Humpback Whales sighted during trips. This creates increased public interest and engagement, leading to greater awareness of the presence of Humpback Whales and the threats they face, and further contributions of Humpback data and reporting of incidents of entanglement, vessel strikes, and disturbance. The updated MERS Humpback catalogue is also being compared to Humpback catalogues maintained    by other researchers coast-wide, to reduce knowledge gaps regarding the abundance, population structure, movements, threats, and behaviours of Humpback Whales in BC. MERS intends to continue    to update our catalogue annually, thus sustaining these benefits to research, conservation, and public engagement. The support of the NIMMSA Conservation Fund also covered moorage for a MERS research vessel and 5 days of surveying for Humpbacks for the purposes of: cataloguing the whales; photographing whales to look for evidence of entanglement scarring; and documenting feeding strategies, site fidelity, social associations, and other population and behaviour data. MERS is grateful to NIMMSA for the support that made these catalogue updates possible. In addition to the financial support from the NIMMSA Conservation Fund, the photos and sightings data contributed by NIMMSA members greatly increase what MERS is able to achieve in documenting and understanding Humpbacks.

Pacific Orca Society OrcaLab received $3,675 for the project “Acoustic monitoring and land-based observations of cetaceans in northern Vancouver Island”

Thanks to a grant from the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association (NIMMSA), OrcaLab was able to purchase a Cetacean Research Technology SQ26 hydrophone.  On 21 August 2018, this was attached to the underwater camera frame in the shallows at MRB. This hydrophone has a frequency response to 50khz and is adequate for detecting orca, humpback and dolphin vocalizations. The transducer was connected to a digital recorder that in turn was connected to a Barix encoding device that transmitted the data to the Lab on Hanson Island via our wireless network.  At the Lab, data were decoded with another Barix device and connected to our recording system.  The new hydrophone was “piggybacked” onto the existing battery/fuel cell system already in place for operating the camera systems, therefore providing a reliable power source. The transducer and underwater camera are typically vulnerable to some sea state conditions.  Damage by rolling waves during storms has harmed previous hydrophones.  Erring on the side of caution, the hydrophone and underwater camera were removed 31 October 2018. OrcaLab plans to reinstall this hydrophone in 2019 after weather conditions improve and before the start of the new season. The total grant funds from NIMMSA are sufficient for us to install two hydrophones, and our intention is to install another at a second location in Blackney Pass adjacent to the Sea Lion haul out.  The location is called “Local Right”.  We anticipate this installation will be accomplished before the 2019 Resident orca summer season.   We are very grateful to NIMMSA for making these improvements to our project possible!

Salmon Coast Field Station Society received $6,000 for the project “Broughton Salmon Population Analyses”

The project ran from April 2018 to October 2019 at the Salmon Coast Field Station (SCFS) located in the remote Broughton Archipelago, BC, on the unceded traditional territory of the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw First Nations. The focus of this work is the area characterized as Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Management Area 12. In 2018, Salmon Coast hired a student, Emma Atkinson, to work on analyses of the status of Pacific salmon populations in the Broughton Archipelago (DFO Area 12). The project objectives included assembling up-to-date salmon escapement data, filling data gaps, reviewing past findings, and conducting spawner-recruit analyses that relate spawning adults to the offspring they produce. Atkinson conducted these computer-based analyses at the field station while engaging with community members to ground her work in the local context and concerns pertaining to salmon population health.

Our project objectives were met. Available salmon escapement, catch, and age-at-return data were assembled for the five species of Pacific salmon through 2017. We conducted spawner-recruit analyses for pink, chum, and coho species and assessed the status of individual populations using a stoplight approach (populations in good, uncertain, or poor health assessed as ‘green, ‘amber’, or ‘red’ respectively). The results of the work are synthesized and presented in a report, “The status of Pacific salmon in DFO Area 12: The Broughton Archipelago, northeast Vancouver Island, and mainland inlets””, which is in production to be released publicly later this year. In addition to the report, multiple outreach products were created including an executive summary, slide presentation used at meetings, and summary information used during outreach events in the surrounding community.

We will publish the status report for the benefit of titleholders, communities, and decision makers concerned about the health of wild salmon in Area 12. It is our hope that over the long term, wild salmon and other species that depend on wild salmon will benefit from the publication of this report. Sustainable management of wild salmon requires knowledge of their abundance and productivity. While there are recent status assessments of wild salmon for the North and Central Coast and for much of the Fraser River watershed, there are no comprehensive and up-to-date assessments of the status of wild salmon for much of the Inner South Coast. This project begins to address that gap by assessing the wild pink, chum, coho, Chinook, and sockeye salmon populations in DFO Management Area 12. Using the stoplight approach to assess population status offers a clear snapshot of the health of local salmon populations for the community in the Broughton Archipelago and North-Island area. Underlying this overview are rigorous analyses which may also be useful in decision-making processes that affect wild salmon. In the long-term, the data infrastructure has been set up so that these analyses (and assessments) can be updated in the coming years and a regular report can be produced, given interest and funding. Our results indicate that most Pacific salmon populations in the Broughton archipelago, north east Vancouver Island, and mainland inlets are at low or moderate abundance. Many populations show evidence of declining or uncertain capacity to rebound given current conditions, although a few exceptions offer reason for optimism. Salmon counting has sharply declined in recent years, with no recent DFO spawner abundance estimates for a number of systems including Knight Inlet, Kingcome Inlet, and Wakeman Sound. Declines in coverage undermine our capacity to assess salmon populations. This report represents the most up-to-date and comprehensive assessment of the status of Pacific salmon populations in DFO Area 12 and we present it as a public resource for information and decision-making.

photos by Mack Bartlett

CETUS Research and Conservation Society received $8,175 for the project “Rebuilding of the structure at Eagle Eye”

The Eagle Eye Rebuild Project took place on Cracroft Island, located in the Qwiquallaaq/ Boat Bay Conservancy. In the conservancy, Cetus manages a field research station that consists of a camp at Boat Bay and an observation post which we refer to as The Cliff or Eagle Eye. This position is 165 feet (50m) above the water and gives our wardens a bird’s eye view of the entire Robson Bight Reserve. At Eagle Eye, Cetus receives park visitors and gives educational talks, provides information regarding whale activity to our warden boat, and collects critical data on whale-vessel interactions.

The project was to rebuild the observation structure used to shelter Warden program staff and as a hub for receiving visitors to the conservancy. The project is now substantially complete. At the conclusion of the 2019 season, the structure was left with some exterior cosmetic work and Lexan glass to be installed. The overall objectives of the project were to have an improved new structure that would support the Warden Program’s research and monitoring activities, as well as to provide a more presentable location from which to receive park guests. Having an even, stable floor will make using spotting scopes and other tripod mounted equipment easier and reduce crew fatigue. As stated in the interim report, there were a few deviations from the original plan (i.e. change of roof slope and timing of the project). The project budget also varied as more funds had to be allocated to project logistics, the helicopter flight and Lexan glass (which is a high endurance plexiglass-like product) which will provide wind and rain protection at the back and each side of the structure. This left less available for solar and water improvements; however, these have been budgeted for separately for next season. Lexan will replace plastic sheeting which can degrade into smaller pieces. Cetus crews removed all the plastic sheeting from the site at the close of the season and made the decision to ban the material from future use at the site. In addition to the rebuild, Cetus also undertook a substantial clean up, removing materials from the two previous generations of structure as well as old tarps, batteries, water containers and wood. Cetus was also able to remove items like tarps and containers that had blown off the cliff in previous years and landed on the next cliff down, about 25 feet (7.6m). The structure now in place should provide shelter for observers at Eagle Eye for many years.

Cetus believes the improved conditions for the Warden crew and guests will have positive benefits for marine conservation, education and stewardship in the area. Thanks for the support provided by NIMMSA for this project.