Posts Tagged 'John K.B. Ford’s Marine Mammals of British Columbia'

Sea Otters: Devastatingly adorable

Sea otters are adorable!

Is there any other creature on earth for which that adjective is more apt? Their faces are adorable. Their mannerisms are adorable. And then there is the mutuality of the adoration. When you glide past sea otters they invariably face you, their big eyes looking up at you adoringly. They paddle up on their backs then relax, their long feet sticking up humanlike and just stare, pleasantly. Holding their meal on their bellies with one front paw, they appear to wave with the other. Or they engage more enthusiastically, treading water furiously until they are head, shoulders and mid section above the surface straining to look into your boat. Adoring. Adorable.

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Sea Otters pay attention to passersby.

Without the blubber that protects other marine mammals, sea otters have to eat all the time. They  never leave the water, spending long hours foraging about a quarter of their weight daily. They relish a highly varied diet that includes Dungeness crabs, sea urchins and sea cucumbers.

 

The otters’ preferred foods are among the cash harvests pf the Prince of Wales fishing industry. The produce flies fresh on ice to hungry mouths in China and Japan. Perhaps we should think of it as the Silk Route of artisanal commercial fishing. Sea otters seem to be taking their revenge. They were exterminated in the fur trade of an earlier Northwest economic boom that was followed by an absolute  bust.

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What other marine mammal treads water to emerge waist level from the surface?

Luxurious fur with 125,000 hairs per square centimeter also helps sea otters manage without blubber. I’ve twice felt an otter’s pelt. First at the museum in Wrangell, where we stroked skins of beaver, fox, mink, ermine, and otter to understand why the species disappeared in the fur trade. The other time was at the old Icy Bay Cannery in Hoonah, an interpretive center run by the Native Corporation. There was one simple square pillow in the shop. $300. I’ve since thought of this an the ultimate luxury gift and one that might doom the otter anew if experienced too widely by too many people.

 

Later in the Tlingit village Klawock on the west coast of Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island, I ask if anyone is harvesting otters. I learn about a man – Native people can get harvest rights – who lives in the blue house on stilts at the head of the dock. I look for him to no avail. A week later at Cowpuccino’s in Prince Rupert I hear two fishermen commiserating over the demise of their livelihoods. “Nothing to do. People love the otters.”

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Excuse this anthropomorphic slant, but don’t they act like humans?

I consult Marine Mammals of British Columbia by John K. B. Ford that is always at hand on the boat, at home or when I’m docenting at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Sea otters, a single species, is in the Mustelide family along with the weasels but the only one considered a marine mammal because they rarely if ever leave the water.

Canada has kept a pretty good population counts. Between 1785 and 1809 55,000 pelts were sold in BC, although a portion of these hunted in Washington, then Oregon Territory, and Alaska. The Sea Otter was commercially extinct by 1850 and apart from a handful of pelts and live sightings, did not reappear until 89 individuals from Alaska were reintroduced along the northern part of the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1967. By 1995, reports Ford, aerial surveys showed a population of 1500, representing a remarkable growth rate of 18 or 19 per cent per year. Today, Sea Otters off this coast are reproducing at 8 percent owing to less abundant food. Unlike marine mammals that store calories in blubber, Sea Otters must keep moving, foraging a quarter of their body weight daily.

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They are social and hang out in water but don’t haul out on land.

Ford explains that the Sea Otter’s “large hindlimbs are oriented backwards and flattened into flippers for swimming” while its “forelimbs are short with highly dexterous paws.” With the help of a paddle-like tail, it can dive down 50 meters to fetch food from the bottom. “Sea Otters capture prey with their forepaws and can carry it along with rocks or other hard objects – which are used as tools to break open shelled prey – in loose folds of skin under their forearms as they swim,” writes Ford.

 

We glide past in awe as these furry, whiskered, round-headed, sub nosed marine mammals use their chests tables at which to fix and eat their meals. Adorable. At the same time they are altering the dynamics of the food web, decimating the many invertebrate species on which they feed. Once devastated,they are now devastating.
Wednesday 22 June Klawock 55º33.4’N 133º05.9′ W

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The default view  of a relaxed, momentarily satiated sea otter.  No critters or tools on the abdominal butcher block. Mariners may initially confuse them with floating logs until they see notice the eyes in their direction.

More whales and Sea Otters. Perhaps they leave us tired when we enter the proterws bay at Klawock on a lowish tide and entry to public docks confuses us. So we tie up in an empty space at the Tribal docks next to the cannery. I call on the good ladies inside who are cooking lunch for tribal members and organizing a food bank. They say, no, the boat in the place where you are will be back later today and there should certainly be space at the public harbour.

 

There is indeed. After not getting the Harbour Master on VHF we tie up at an empty space. Nice view of Klawock’s deservedly famous totem park. A fisherman says call Rose and gives me her cell phone. Find this strong little wisp of a woman near on the street. She’s ben Harbour Master for 17 years. Part time no benefits. Her house is across the street. I pay moorage in cash – 11.45 for boats of any size – and thank her for the well designed and maintained restrooms and showers on the ground floor of her office perch with view of skips coming and going.

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For Kinza: Books

If there is anyone who has documented her travels, it’s my friend Kinza. As I’ve had the good fortune to take trips with her, or at least follow in her recommended footsteps around Manhattan, Morocco and Yemen, her accounts are treasures. I have files of her writing, both electronic and paper. New hard copy acquisitions come every year with her expressions of gratitude, compassion and encouragement, notes written in her tiny, regular hand.

Kinza doesn’t blog, which is unfortunate as her passion is immigration and refugee rights, vital issues about which few know anything. And she doesn’t normally read blogs, which is understandable as she works with people up against unbelievable challenges and shows no sign of ever stopping. But Kinza says she appreciates knowing what books I am reading. So this list is for her.

For the onboard library that helps us understand what we’re experiencing along the Inside Passage, I take four new books from Port Townsend add three more en route.

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Toward the peaceful solitude of Desolation Sound

A beautiful book that should be welcome on every boat and coffee table in our region is Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest by Audrey DeLella Benedict and Joseph K. Gaydos. I heard Joe speak at the annual meeting of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) this spring and all the excitement he generated in the room comes across in these pages. This is recent science in colorful, jaw-dropping prose and photography.

Whelks to Whales: Coastal Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest by Rick Harbo (Harbour Publishing, Maderia Park, 2011). This inexpensive, fully color illustrated, easy to use handbook lists species phylum by phylum. I’ll have it in hand to answer visitors’ questions at the PTMSC and whenever cruising on the boat. The only thing missing are the birds that join the seals and cetaceans as marvelously efficient deep sea divers.

John K.B. Ford’s Marine Mammals of British Columbia is a 460-page handbook published by the Royal BC Museum in 2014 that brings up to date this exploding field of mammalian research. Readable, heavily illustrated,and referenced with a 20 page bibliography this is a much needed addition to our onboard library. I pick it up for $28 Canadian at the wonderful general store in Lund so we could read about elephant seals. We learn that elephants dive deeper and stay down longer than other seals or sea lions, surfacing for very short periods of time, floating snouts in the air, motionless. “Mariners often mistake elephant seals for floating logs.” Ah ha!

Spirited Water: Soloing South Through the Inside Passage by Bellingham kayak outfitter Jennifer Hahn is a mixed bag. The author thrives on the solitude of nature but feels weirdly vulnerable to stranger danger. While there is little to learn here about tides, currents, chart reading or navigation, the author’s insights on river otters and on forging are brilliant. There’s lots on catching and eating sea urchins though the approach of French cuisine is not covered. I remember our daughters digging into a platter of two dozen served by Papillon, the ancient, diminutive waiter at Chalet de la Plage in Essaouria. The kids were still aged in the single digits and fascinated by eating live food. The urchins had been cleaned, however, although they were raw and the wriggling spikes of the upside shells moved them across our plates. I wonder. Are there Pacific Northwest foodies who prepare urchins this way? As for eating salmon, Hahn is reluctant. On pp. 242-243 she puts to prose the sentiments expressed by  Matt, the former fisherman at Homfray Lodge.

From this week’s volunteer “lighthouse keepers” on Stuart Island I buy a copy of  The History of Stuart Island (2012) The stories, photos and documents are the source material for the two museums on this northernmost of the San Juan Islands. Resident author James Berquist has done a good job putting everything together in this 183-page volume he considers a “work in progress”.

Finally, another book to shuttle between house and boat is Aldona Jonaitis’ Art of the Northwest Coast, which catches my eye on the shelf at the U’Mista Cultural Center. The volume is smartly laid out with hundreds of large colored well captioned plates and text by Native and non-native experts which captures the historical and geographic sweep of the subject. Finally I’m getting a grasp on the various linguistic groups and their interactions. Published by the University of Washington, the work does rare justice to the southernmost tribes and even to their textile arts; I remember trying my hand at Salish band braiding as a ten-year old. Good to learn mainstream museums are moving more and more pieces into their permanent exhibits. Even better that Kawkwaka’wakw, especially, have revived the potlatch and continue to design new masks, coppers and regalia.

Anyone who cruises the Inside Passage and knows anything about George Vancouver’s 1792 expedition is awestruck by its accomplishments: enormous swatches of the coast – both the Inside Passage and the west coast of Vancouver Island – documented in startlingly accurate maps in one season! How did they do it? Add expeditionary zeal to a skillful crew of highly specialized members managed in a tight hierarchy, with teams rowing long boats into every nook and cranny of the coast. Somehow many of these crew members found the time and wherewithal to write. Editor Richard Blumenthal has brought together these various eyes on the situation. With Vancouver in Inland Washington Waters contains excerpts from the journals of 12 crewmen written from April to June 1792. Jack reads all of them and sends me to the writings of Peter Puget. Why? Because Puget describes, with delicious delight, discovering under the sands of a drying lagoon on the southeast corner of Indian Island, “our” rich, dependable vein of native littleneck clams!

Of the remaining books I’ve piled onto the boat, I sadly do not get to Paul Stammets’ Mycelium Running nor to rereading Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language, which I now own, having first read Paul’s copy, probably some thirty odd years after he did. These are high on my list and I welcome anyone who wants to join me in a mini online book club.

I thought Rob Hopkins was going to talk patterns in The Transition Companion: Making your community more resilient in uncertain times, an un-cracked volume  mislaid in our move from Portland. Published in 2011, it’s a bit disappointing and I don’t see patterns. I soldier through, however, unearthing some ingenious techniques and unearthing references to “my” groups, Transition PDX and Local 20/20.

Now two books I really like which I’m not going into here because I will elsewhere. The Origin of Feces is by David Waltner-Toews, the founder of Canada’s Veternarians without Borders. This is his big picture book – free of unnecessary footnotes and citations. After all Waltner-Toews has published extensively on everything from natural selection to cattle feeding operations to the recent rash of food-borne – make that shit-borne – epidemics.  The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us About Evolution, Ecology and a Sustainable Society lives up to its subtitle. Everyone will love this book. The other book is Bathroom by Barbara Penner, so titled as one of a series that includes Bridge, Chair, Computer, Dam, etc.  But it’s a sweeping history of hygiene and the material culture and architecture that make it possible. And Penner is especially good on all the discomfort and contradictions that come into play once flush toilets go mainstream in the early 20th century.

View from a favorite reading spot: Shoal Bay

View from a favorite reading spot: Shoal Bay

By now you may be asking, “You’re on summer vacation and you’re not reading fiction? What’s up?” Well, I’m listening to it. Listening nicely complements the many small responsibilities that go with cruising yet without the distractions of being online or having a phone or being at home.

My top favorites remain the two works of historical fiction I mentioned earlier: The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which I read on Jack’s recommendation and Kamel Daoud’s Mersault Investigation – Camus’ L‘Etranger reinterpreted from the point of view of the brother of “the Arab” – which Jack reads on my recommendation. I’d preordered the latter along with The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu, so got to “read” them hot off the press.

Looking though my audible library I see that the rest of the books I’ve finished are all Audible Daily Deals that cost from 99c to $3.99. Such pricing makes it easier to set them aside should they not live up to expectations.  In April and May I added some great titles to my library, unlike the “summer reading” titles offered this month.

I end up with some great non fiction that works well without the footnotes. Alex Kotiowitz’ There are no Children follows two African American brothers and their intrepid mother who live in packed household in a Chicago housing project. It’s that same powerful blend of anthropology, journalism, and memoire of Oscar Lewis’ Children of Sanchez.  And I loved Heinrich Harrer’s straightforward telling of the story of his Seven Years in Tibet as well as the short message from the Dalai Lama that precedes it.

How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life is based on interviews by McKinsey consultants Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston relies with women from all over the world, from Christine LaGarde to NGO leaders in Africa. The five elements of what the authors call Centered Leadership – meaning, framing, connecting, engaging, and energizing–to work – reveal universal aspects of leadership that studies of male leaders have missed. The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our problems…and create more by Fast Company writer Luke Dormehl really keeps my attention. The algorithimization of life fascinates the researcher in me while the specter of formulas creating reality creeps me out.

Finally the odd books: I think that Asif Mandvi’s reading of his genuinely funny essays tell far more about the complex culture-crossings of Muslim South Asians than any academic analysis. No Man’s Land is a great listen. As for Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, I thought I had read it but instead must have gotten mixed up in the onslaught of literary reviews in 1962, when I paid attention to such things. Marc Vietor’s narration is brilliant and now I’m ordering a hard copy so I can read the poem, giggle along with all those erudite citations, and learn some new stuff.  Without looking everything up on line. On our next unplugged cruise, it’ll stowed away.  Pale Fire is still very hot.


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