orcalab blog

Rubbing Beach Hydrophone Battery Haul

Heading for the furthest tree at the end of the slippery rocks.


Across the ladder, one battery at a time.


3 freshly charged 12V batteries tucked away.


Main Rubbing Beach! Where the A5s and I11 small group rubbed earlier.


The transport. Back to 'The Car' with dead batteries. (looking west in Johnstone Strait)


Leaving the Main Rubbing Beach. (looking east in Johnstone Strait)

Maintenance and Generosity


SE storm

35-45kt SE winds with gusts of 50kts


So far this winter the storms have been relentless. The SE winds have blown up everything from strong wind to gale warnings including storm and hurricane force warnings. On average it seems that these systems will move in for 5-7 days with less than 24 hours of reprieve in between. On top of the wind we’ve seen a lot of rain and overcast days, making it difficult for the solar panels to do their job. Between the lack of sun and the choppy seas it has been difficult to make it out to perform maintenance on the hydrophone stations. In late fall, we were able to swap out Flower Island’s 2, 12V batteries a couple of times as well as install a new voltage regulator. Luckily, on New Years Eve the wind dropped and a number of helping hands allowed us to swap out the batteries at Critical Point as they had been dying in the evenings. As I write, it is the only functioning hydrophone and the wind is gusting around 35kts SE. Flower Island makes it through the day, but quits at ‘sunset’.

Testing batteries at Critical Pt. Photo; Paul Setzermann


View from CRPT hydrophone. Photo; Paul Setzermann

Looking towards the Tsitika River in Robson Bight. Photo; Paul Setzermann


Thankfully, we were able to purchase 2 new 135W solar panels and 4 new 12V batteries, thanks to donated funds, for the Parson Island radios. This is one of four hubs that allows us to stream the sights and sounds we experience to Internet users around the world. Many Orca-Live listeners have been privy to the previous physical struggle we have had to endure while hiking 12V batteries up and down the Parson hill, as they died and were replaced. We are extremely grateful for the new set up, and think it will last through the winter (fingers crossed).

Steve Lapp and his two kids, Jenny & Tim, were also of GREAT help this past summer, (and previously). They donated and installed 5, 60W solar panels, which have helped reduce our gasoline generator running times. They also worked on streamlining the power loads to make the entire system more efficient. We now also have a solar panel designated for charging batteries that we swap out for dead ones at hydrophone stations and radio hubs.

Steve and Jenny; 2007


Jenny, Steve and Tim Lapp; July 2012


We are so thankful for all of the help and donations we have received for maintaining and upgrading our systems.

On a personal note, I feel that I have morphed into a solar panel out here on Hanson because I am really looking forward to the sun!!

Update:  This was written 2 days ago and since then the wind has dropped and after lugging 10, 12V batteries to and from various locations, Parson Island and CP hydrophones and the radio hubs are all a go!!

Hudson Bay orcas – no action needed for the moment

We woke up this morning to the great news that the Hudson bay orcas we wrote about just a few hours earlier are gone from the hole in the ice they were trapped in. There is no sign of them this morning. Apparently, winds blew overnight and shifted the ice, enabling the orcas to move. Whether they have made it to open ocean is unknown at this point. In any event, the terrible situation we wrote about appears to have been resolved.

There is no longer any need for anyone to take action at this time. Many thanks to everyone who did as we asked.

Posted with hope and much relief, along with deep respect and thanks to the people of Inukjuak.

Paul & Helena & Leah

Urgent Action Needed to Rescue Orcas Trapped in Ice

Many of you will have heard about the desperate situation faced by a group of orcas trapped in ice in Hudson Bay, Canada. They are in a tiny hole in ice about 35km from the small community of Inukjuak. The community has mobilised to help the orcas, but urgently need major outside help in the form of an icebreaker that can cut a path to the open ocean and freedom, along with equipment and supplies that will enable them to keep the hole open until the icebreaker arrives.

The nearest icebreaker is perhaps a week away, and it will be costly to send it. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans is investigating the situation, but investigation takes time and there is very little time left for these whales. The orcas’ only chance is for the government of Canada to make a decision to rescue them NOW and immediately dispatch an icebreaker to the scene.
Only the Prime Minister and Minister of Fisheries have the authority to order the rescue. Please help convince them that they should act now. Here are their contact details:

Right Hon. Stephen Harper,
Prime Minister of Canada
Telephone: 1-613-992-4211
Fax: 1-613-941-6900
Email: pm@pm.gc.ca
Twitter: @pmharper

Hon. Keith Ashfield
Minister of Fisheries & Oceans Canada
Telephone: 1-613-992-1067
Fax: 1-613-996-9955
Email: keith.ashfield@parl.gc.ca
Email: <min@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Here is the message we have sent them:

Please rescue the Hudson Bay orcas. Send icebreaker, keep the hole open. Thank you.

Until the icebreaker gets to the scene, the hole in the ice must be kept open. Canada’s military has the ability to help the people of Inukjuak with this vital task. Canada’s Defense Minister can order the needed assistance. Here are his contact details:

Hon. Peter Mackay
Minister of National Defense
Telephone: 1-613-996-3100
Fax: 1-613-995-8189
Email: dnd_mdn@forces.gc.ca
Twitter: @MacKayCPC

Here is the message we are sending to him:

Please assist the rescue of the Hudson Bay orcas. Help keep the hole open. Thank you.

Here is a link to a story that includes a video of the scene with comments from Inukjuak’s Mayor, Peter Inukpuk:http://bit.ly/ZtgPAp

Please spread this sad news and call for action as widely as possible. Write, call and tweet.

Thank you very much, and heartfelt thanks to the people of Inukjuak,

Paul & Helena & Leah

HAPPY NEW YEAR! from OrcaLab

Hello everyone,

Here’s hoping you’re enjoying the beginning of a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Hoping too, that 2013 will be a much better year for our precious world.

Please take good care of yourselves, and each other…

Our love and every good wish to you all,

Paul & Helena & Leah





OrcaLab 2012

Another year has passed at OrcaLab and we are thankful for all of the people and creatures who helped to make it another year to remember.

Happy Holidays

Winter Solstice 2012

The dawn of a new era of Peace and Love…

Forty three years too long


Incredible as it may seem, Corky has now been captive 43 years.  How she has managed to withstand the stress of confinement in a concrete tank is impossible to know. Deprived of her lifelong family, the ocean she was born into, familiar sounds, and even the ability to communicate with kin, she has nonetheless survived year after year after year.  Our dream for her, that she will one day return to the ocean and meet her family again also lives on.  Like Corky, we are not deterred by the passage of time.  Today, we will once again light a candle for Corky, keeping our dream and hers alive.  We invite you to join us.


Thanks to Lori Freiburger for Corky’s rainbow photo, and Hazel Seymour for Corky’s Freedom Banner patch!

And thanks to Jeff Friedman for these recent photos of Corky:

Blackney Pass Tidal Energy Dispute Resolved

'Scimitar' & 'Stripe' at the entrance to Blackney Pass

'Scimitar' & 'Stripe' at the entrance to Blackney Pass


Less than 2 weeks ago, thanks to Angela Smith who saw a public notice posted in the North island Gazette, we became aware of a proposal by SRM Projects of Nanaimo, B.C. to conduct an investigation of the tidal energy potential of Blackney Pass at the entrance to Johnstone Strait. Leah Robinson began a dialogue with the project leader, Scot Merriam, and learned that the technology to be used in the investigation was not yet known, nor was the type of turbine installation that would ultimately be used.

Our concerns focused on the fact that the area in question is a key component of Critical Habitat for the Northern resident orca community, a designation which recognises the population’s threatened status under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). This legislation imposes a heavy responsibility on governments and users to protect and act in the best interests of the orcas. Clearly, there was a problem and potential threat in the proposal.

There was another problem too, in that the deadline for submitting comments on the proposal to the government agency involved was just a week away. Our colleague Jackie Hildering, whose blog The Marine Detective is a wonderful source of information and inspiration, sprang into action and posted the news with the headline “Tidal Turbines in Whale Epicentre? Hell No!” It was an arousing and to the point commentary that provided links to the government agencies involved in assessing the application. Almost immediately and to his credit, Scot began a dialogue with Jackie.

We passed the urgent news and a link to Jackie’s blog on to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) in the UK and Germany, and also to the Born Free Foundation in the UK. Within 2 days, WDC had sent an Action Alert to its members, with links for comments. Additionally, we sent an email message to our “issues” list and posted links to Jackie’s blog on the OrcaLab 100 and OrcaLive FaceBook pages. One of the people on our list is Times Colonist reporter Judy Lavoie, another is CBC Radio Victoria. Interviews with both were arranged, with stories appearing on November 14th, the comment deadline day.

We saw some but by no means all of the comments that resulted from the publicity and various efforts, but they clearly demonstrated the depth of feeling for orcas and protection of their habitat that exists around the world.

Perhaps coincidentally, the BC Environment web site went down on the comment deadline day. Many people who tried to submit comments were frustrated. Quite possibly as a result, the next day the comment deadline was extended to December 2nd. This extension provided a breathing space that allowed more comments to be made, and also provided an opportunity for dialogue with the proponent.

The past several days have seen several rounds of communication between ourselves and Scot. It quickly became apparent that he did not realise that the area he was interested in exploring was part of orca Critical Habitat, and very soon generously expressed a willingness to drop his application. We have spent the last couple of days working on a press release to be issued jointly, at this time. It follows this, and is self explanatory.

We only wish to add that we are deeply appreciative of Scot’s willingness to compromise and work with us in settling the issue and solving the problem. As he said in an email today, commenting on us having found common ground: “In this process, we are demonstrating to others what is possible by working together.”

Please feel free, and encouraged, to distribute this good news widely!


November 19, 2012

News Release

Tidal Energy Dispute Resolved

OrcaLab, a whale research station on Hanson Island, B.C., and SRM Projects Ltd., a renewable energy engineering firm from Nanaimo, B.C., jointly announced today that they have found common ground after SRM Project’s tidal energy investigative license application for Blackney Passage raised concerns with OrcaLab and others because the site is located within Critical Habitat for whales. The parties agree that minimizing threats to species at risk and clean energy generation are both important for B.C.

In recognition of this, SRM Projects is withdrawing the investigative license application. OrcaLab commended SRM for this move and reiterated their support for ocean energy initiatives, provided all proposed projects go through a transparent and rigorous environmental and regulatory review process that includes First Nations and stakeholders.

Dr. Paul Spong, founder of OrcaLab states “We see this as a win-win situation.” and adds “We are very pleased with how receptive SRM Projects was to the concerns we raised.”

Whale researcher and marine educator, Jackie Hildering of Port McNeill who is the author of “The Marine Detective” blog, which drew public attention to the proposed project, agreed. “With SRM Projects withdrawing the Blackney Pass application, they have shown a true dedication to sustainability.”

Scot Merriam, principal of SRM Projects, says “Tidal energy is a new and relatively unknown source of clean electrical power in BC. While preliminary research and demonstration studies from Europe indicate the promise of the technology, we need to introduce it here in small steps, outside of important habitat areas, to gain local knowledge and social acceptance.”

Reflecting on the initial dispute resulting from the investigative license application, Paul Spong says “One thing is clear – there is a crucial disconnect in our land acquisition process if Critical Habitat areas don’t show up on the BC GIS mapping database used by proponents to search for suitable development opportunities.”

SRM Projects and OrcaLab intend to maintain a dialogue going forward to share knowledge as new information becomes available about marine mammals and ocean energy. Scot Merriam concludes “Ultimately, our common goal is to look for ways we can coexist with nature and minimize our footprint.”


Dr. Paul Spong – OrcaLab: 250-974-2880 or orcalab@island.net

Scot Merriam – SRM Projects: 250-758-5352 or smerriam@srmprojects.ca