Get Currents In Your Inbox!

The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association
SharePrint

Wildlife Encounters – Sea to Sky

Barb Peck & Bjarne Hansen

Hoku Pa'a
Niagara 35
December 6th, 2023

You just never know what you are going to see. That is an oft-heard sentence aboard Hoku Pa’a, usually said with wonder and joy as we reflect on the latest interesting sight, courtesy of Mother Nature.

This summer, we sailed from our home port in Esquimalt Harbour to the area around the Broughton Archipelago. Along the way, we enjoyed many surprising, fun, and awe-inspiring encounters with creatures of all sizes. Sometimes, we even learned something! From sea to sky, we’d like to share some of these experiences with you.

Aquatic

Anemone. We spent a fair amount of time paddling around in a kayak or on a stand-up paddle board, poking our noses into all sorts of nooks and crannies. At low tide, one can get up close and personal with a lot of sea life without having to jump into the often-chilly water. In the Broughtons, we were amused by an anemone clinging to the rock while most of its body sagged downward, as if straining toward the receding sea. We could wax eloquently about it, but really, it kind of looked like a big burgundy booger.

Squid eggs. The hot dry summer this year, while not good for the Province’s parched plants, meant more swimming than we expected. We especially took advantage of the opportunity to cool off and snorkel when rising tidewater had been heated by sun-warmed rocks – the less hardy of us doing her best to swim only in the top foot or so of water. In McIntosh Bay, a small bay within Simoom Sound, Bjarne chanced upon some mysterious (to us) masses of oblong white squishy-looking things; they seemed to be eggs, but what kind? One of the benefits of BCA is being part of a community where folks are willing to share their expertise. The brilliant and ever-enthusiastic Elaine Humphrey informed us that our white blobs were squid egg capsules (or candles) – neat! When I did a little research, I learned that several squid will lay their eggs in a mass and that each of the candles contains around 200 eggs.

Left: anemone exposed at low tide; Right: squid eggs

You might have had the pleasure of meeting Elaine at a May Rendezvous, where she has often brought microscopes and loupes for examining tiny sea life (mentioned in Frolicking with BCA Last May). You may also have had the pleasure of seeing her Introduction to Bottomology, a fun presentation that provided a fascinating look at a strand of sea grass under an electron microscope – the diversity of life on that one piece of seaweed was incredible!

Hooded Nudibranch. Nudibranchs are sea slugs, which, if you hadn’t seen any, could lead you to be surprised that many of them are quite beautiful with brilliant colours, interesting patterns, and feathery gills in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The lovely nudis we’ve seen while diving and snorkeling in the tropics (see e.g. here or here) have generally been under 4 cm long. At Waddington Bay on Bronwick Island, we spotted a mysterious creature, about 15 cm long, near the water surface. We learned later that it was a hooded nudibranch, but it looked more like a translucent balloon-animal jellyfish. Canadian Geographic has a great article about marine gastropod molluscs, noting that in B.C. we grow our nudibranchs big!

Two images of a hooded nudibranch.

Starfish. Sea stars or starfish are another common sight while cruising in B.C. waters (and elsewhere), although the type varies from area to area. What we thought was fun about this particular starfish is the location it had glommed onto. I was pulling up our anchor with the manual windlass, enjoying the pleasant scenery of Hoy Bay, while the chain rattled down the hawsepipe. I glanced at the rode approaching the pulpit – whoa! Or, more properly, belay that! Clinging onto the links was a sea star, probably wondering why the tide had dropped so fast. It was a good reminder to focus on one’s task – imagine if it had gone over the bow roller.

Left: close up of starfish attached to anchor chain; Right: phew, noticed the passenger before it got to the bow roller!

Clam Fountains. Clams are not an unusual sight and one might not associate them with much action. Even our terminology has them in beds. Nonetheless, we were quite entertained by this batch of clams exposed by low tide in the Burdwood Group at the mouth of Tribune Channel. These molluscs must have been having a great feast as the water they were projecting was prodigious. Like a hundred jack-in-the-boxes all being played at once, one never knew when or from where the next squirt would pop up and shoot across the shore. It seems like there should be a beautiful symphony to accompany the performance in this video, but instead we have a few crows.


Whales.
Every sea tale needs the tail of a whale. We saw several cetaceans – humpbacks, orcas and even a blue whale. The latter had us stumped for a bit. We weren’t very close, so at first it seemed we must be looking at two humpbacks (which also have a small dorsal fin) but their movements were strangely in tandem – something wasn’t right. We realized later that we were seeing the very long back of just one blue whale – the size of them is quite impressive! The most exciting encounter occurred while we were paddling: a humpback surfaced vertically with its mouth open (lunge feeding) about 100 metres from Bjarne’s kayak.

Our anchorage at Cartwright Bay looking across Sutlej Channel was open to waves from passing traffic but gave us great views of the orcas and humpbacks traveling along this corridor.

Land-based

Bears. It was high on our list of hopes to see bears. Thus, we found ourselves sailing up Mackenzie Sound, having heard that grizzlies are common there. With binoculars glued to my eyes, I scanned the shoreline. “Hmm, what’s that dark blob? Is it a tree stump? No, it’s moving!” As we ghosted closer in the light wind, I could see that, yes, it was a grizzly – and even better, there were cubs! The bears were meandering in a meadow at the outlet of a stream. Still under sail, we eased into the bight and found ourselves gybing and tacking in tight circles as we balanced getting close enough for a good look with keeping enough distance to not scare them, or run aground, all the while snapping photos and continuing to gaze through the binoculars. One could argue the pictures might have been better had we dropped the sails and turned on the stink-pot, but where’s the fun in that?

Closer inspection of our ursine friends revealed that having three cubs was taking a lot out of the mama bear – her ribs are quite visible in the photos. We hoped she found more to eat, but weren’t willing to offer up ourselves as a dinner option.

Top Left: mama grizzly looking gaunt; Top right: three grizzly cubs; Bottom: mama bear eyeing the strangers

The next day we were anchored in Turnbull Cove, a large, unusually flat-bottomed, well-protected bay. One thing about the Broughton area is that the scenery is big – the hills and mountains are high, the trees are tall, the water often extremely deep, and the shores are frequently steep-too. We were enjoying, you could say, this largesse of nature as twilight descended, when Bjarne says he thinks there’s a raccoon rustling on shore. The shape seemed a little dubious for that diagnosis, but the size appeared about right, so I grabbed the snoop-oculars – surprise! It was a black bear. The scale of the scenery had fooled us.

Another Carnivore. From Turnbull Cove, one can walk a former logging trail to Huaskin Lake. Decades ago much logging occurred around the shores of this 10 mile-long lake; logs were gathered up, floated as close to saltwater as possible, then hauled over the hill and down into Turnbull Cove where a large logging camp existed. The remains of a steam donkey lie rusting at the start of the trail. At the other end of the trail, a solid dock with a ladder pokes into the lake, allowing one to easily enjoy a refreshing swim. We hadn’t actually realized it was a lake (thinking it another arm of the ocean) until Bjarne spotted lily pads (not a salt-water thing). The other giveaway at the water edge was many small, bog-loving carnivorous round-leaf sundew plants; they lure insects into a sticky trap with their sweet-smelling nectar. Unfortunately, these insect-devouring plants didn’t seem to be reducing the supply of horse flies!

Sundew carnivorous plants (Drosera rotundifolia) at Huaskin Lake.

Avian

Ducks. On another evening in the cockpit, while enjoying the lingering light, we espied a common merganser paddling near shore. To our delight, she had several ducklings, some of which were riding piggy-back. The little fuzz-balls were either taking turns or shoving each other off for the prime spot, but either way, the rides seemed to be at least somewhat distributed amongst the off-spring. Although we found this to be great entertainment, it was a little too dark for good photos.

Kingfisher. We were stern-tied in Laura Cove on Broughton Island with some noisy kingfishers flying about. As one of them settled on a branch, dangling a fish from its beak, we naturally expected the fish to be eaten. Well, apparently some meal preparation was needed first. Keeping a firm grip on its slippery dinner, the bird proceeded to whack that fish on the branch repeatedly and with vigor. Only after being tenderized to satisfaction was the meal consumed.

This kingfisher repeatedly smacked the fish against the branch before finally consuming dinner

Red-throated Loon. Another thing we learned this summer is that there are different kinds of loons (let’s not get into politics, here). In Tugboat Harbour, a lovely waterfowl caught our attention and had us puzzling about it. While it did exhibit a loon-like appearance (reminding us of a common loon), we’d never seen one sporting a red patch on its throat. Well, as you might guess, it was called a red-throated loon. According to Wikipedia, that red patch is just there during breeding season.

Red-throated loon cruising around Turnbull Cove

Bald-headed Eagles. We had just navigated Yuculta Rapids and were tied up at Stuart Island’s Big Bay pubic dock. Our last time passing this way we’d been super excited to see dozens of eagles feeding on the shore just before the rapids. This time through we weren’t so lucky. The friendly manager and person-of-all-trades at the marina commented that we were coming near the tail-end of the season when eagles gathered in the area to fish for hake. Most of the eagles were elsewhere. While we enjoyed an ice-cream, she informed us of a short hike we could take while waiting for the current to change. The approximately 2.5 km walk through the woods took us to the very small aptly-named Eagle Lake. We have never seen so many baldies in one place! It was an awe-inspiring experience to swim and be able to see eagles in every direction you looked (except down, where we spotted orange newts). We counted 23 eagles within sight at one time – no doubt more were hiding in the trees.

Left: eagles everywhere you look! We counted 7 in this one photo. Top right: beautiful baldy looking over the well-named Eagle Lake; Bottom right: bath time for these avians.

As we noted, Eagle Lake was also full of adorable Pacific newts – OK, so that adjective might not be the best for a species that is particularly toxic, but really, they are quite cute. Alas, we had not brought our underwater camera with us so just have the memory of these orange salamanders floating spread-eagled (no pun intended), or swimming away with powerful strokes of their thick tails.

Home Again

We arrived home after 6 weeks on the water with many wonderful memories of unexpected, educational and delightful encounters with wildlife, leading us to marvel yet again that you just never know what you are going to see!

Comments


  1. John says:

    Love this story! We spent 6 weeks farther north and had one very close (inches) encounter with a Humpack!

  2. Rita says:

    Fabulous photos and video, and lovely stories to accompany them. I always learn so much from your posts.
    Thank you Bjarn and Barb.

  3. Diane Milne says:

    Looks amazing Barb & Bjarn! Thanks for the great article & stories of BC cruising 😄

  4. Mary Robb says:

    A fabulous article and terrific pictures. Thanks for the journey.

    1. Thanks – we had fun taking the photos.

  5. Chris Stask says:

    Love the way you approached your article on wildlife encounters. Makes one want to spend more time in the areas you visited. You two are a great inspiration.

    1. Well, you were making noises about retiring, Chris, so that seems a good step for getting out there 🙂

  6. Edie says:

    Kudos on a great article – I really appreciated the focus on wild life (water- and land-based) c/w photos. Reminded me of our visits to the Broughtons over the years. Thanks for the memories

  7. Glen says:

    Loved to read your tale of adventures.

    1. Barb Peck says:

      Thanks Glen. We’ll look forward to a rendezvous out there another time.

  8. Donna+Sassaman says:

    Great stories, amazing photographs, and wow! a video, too! Your article brought back wonderful memories of Bill and me cruising the Broughtons years ago, and inspires me to go again. Thanks, Barb and Bjarne!

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *