Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pipeline (Hypocrisy)

Kinder Morgan pipeline protesters along Vancouver's Cambie Street
Watching the pipeline protesters walking down the street waving placards and chanting, I couldn't believe the ignorance, hypocrisy, and lack of logic they were really demonstrating when it came to debating the transport of oil. Hypocrisy, because most of them drive an SUV, ignorance because just about everything in their consumer driven lifestyle is dependant on the petrochemical industry, and their lack of logic when it comes to understanding the alternatives.
In addition to gasoline there are thousands of products we consume on a daily basis that are all made from refined oil. Unless we are willing to give these things up, which I doubt is possible even if we wanted to, we need to give our views of the oil and gas industry a bit of a reality check. Are we really prepared to give up our cars, stop buying processed foods and over packaged goods including bottled beverages, and wear clothing that is only made from natural fibres? In other words if we aren't prepared to reduce our own personal footprint we can't really blame companies for giving us what we seem to want.

One way out of this moral dilemma is to start taxing carbon (which is what the oil & gas industry is all about) and there are currently two models to choose from. The first is a simple per tonne price that is currently set at $30.00/tonne in B.C. or $0.07 cents per litre of gas and will soon to be copied by most of the other provinces. The second is a cap and trade plan that is dependant on a complicated emissions trading market full of regulations and loopholes. Not surprisingly this is the system favoured by Ontario and Quebec. In theory both could work but in practise nobody wants to pay and, regardless, oil from Alberta still needs to get to market which it will by either rail or pipeline.

Persistent (crude) oil vs non-persistent (refined) oil
By rejecting the Northern Gateway proposal and bringing in a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic in B.C.'s north coast, part of the problem with oil tankers goes away. Crude oil is indeed a serious hazard if it spills because it will spread everywhere and cover everything in sight. But if it's refined then this becomes something much easier to deal with as it will rapidly dissipate. This is why David Black's proposal to build a refinery in Kitimat to process crude oil, before it is loaded onto tankers, makes so much more sense. It won't be affected by the crude oil tanker ban and it will also provide thousands of high paying jobs.

Chevron refinery in Burnaby
Why they aren't building a massive refinery somewhere in the Lower Mainland to process the oil from the Kinder Morgan pipeline and keeping jobs here instead of sending unprocessed crude oil somewhere else should be the real discussion. We used to have four of them but now we are down to just one 55,000 barrel per day facility in Burnaby that can only provide 30% of our gasoline and 40% of our jet fuel requirements. The rest is being purchased from a Washington State refinery and being transported back to us by truck. Somehow the illogic of this has gotten lost in all the banner waving, not to mention the fact crude oil is still being transported here by rail which is much riskier than pipelines.

There are those who would like to see a tanker ban along the entire north coast from the top of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border which would make it impossible for tankers to leave Prince Rupert or Kitimat. Not very practical for the various LNG proposals under discussion, as well as David Black's refinery plan, which then puts even more pressure on Vancouver. As anyone can see, the route from Vancouver to the open ocean is pretty straightforward (unlike the Douglas Channel route from Kitimat) and, when you combine that with a tug escort the entire way, it's basically impossible for anything to go wrong and why there won't ever be a tanker ban here.

Freighters in English Bay - photo by Junie Quiroga
Meanwhile sitting at anchor in English Bay are all the freighters and container ships carrying all sorts of things, other than oil, to fulfil our consumer requirements, and all the while quietly posing a considerable environmental hazard. If they have a bilge or fuel leak, like what happened a year ago, the whole bay is at risk and that means I can't go for my daily ocean swim. Also, according to Environment Canada, these oceangoing vessels are the largest contributors of sulphur oxides in the Lower Mainland, surpassing even that of all the cars. In the end it's all about compromise and, if we don't want to save our whales and ocean by building a refinery on our own doorstep, but we still want all our creature comforts, then we need to quit worrying about tankers and embrace the pipeline.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hello, Goodbye

Aurora and Qila
Aurora, Vancouver's beloved 30 year old beluga has died and this marks the end of a tragic era for the captive belugas in the Vancouver Aquarium. Less than two weeks earlier Qila, Aurora's first born, and the first beluga ever born in captivity, also died and she was only 21. In 2010 another of Aurora's children born in captivity, Nala, died at the age of one. There was another of Qila's siblings born in captivity named Tuvaq but he died in 1995 at the age of three and Qila's own daughter Tiqa, granddaughter of Aurora, also born in captivity, died in 2011 at the age of three.

Other Vancouver Aquarium belugas include; Kavna, who died in 2012 at the age of 46 after being here since 1976. Already pregnant when she arrived, she gave birth to a calf named Tuaq who only lived for a few months. There was also Nanuq, the father of Qila, who died in 2015 at the age of 31 while on a breeding loan to the infamous SeaWorld. Nanuq also fathered three other belugas, Grayson, Qinu, and Atla who are on loan to other American aquariums. Imaq, the father of Tuvaq and Nala is still alive but is on a breeding loan to SeaWorld.  Finally there is Allua, who was never able to conceive while living in Vancouver, and who is now also on a breeding loan to SeaWorld. I'm sure some of these five remaining belugas will be returning to Vancouver to take up residence in the now empty beluga pool.

Beluga pool at Vancouver Aquarium
In 1976 Kavna was captured in the waters near Churchill Manitoba as was Allua in 1985 and Aurora in 1990 but after 1996 this practise was stopped and the Vancouver Aquarium has since embarked on a captive breeding program to supply it with whales for what it euphemistically calls "research & education" programs. While the belugas undoubtedly delight audiences with their antics and beguiling facial expressions, and are the love of their trainers and handlers, it's all to easy to ignore the fact these poor creatures are being held prisoner. Watching the whales "pacing" about in their repetitious swimming patterns clearly illustrates that no matter how ambitious the Aquarium's plans are for bigger whale pools they will never be big enough to give the animals enough room to freely swim about. I have more room when I swim in the Aquatic Centre or Kits Pool never mind out in English Bay and I'm certainly no whale.

Belugas in Churchill
There's a disturbing pattern emerging here that clearly illustrates beluga whales (or any other whales for that matter) do not last long in aquariums and we should be putting an end to these breeding programs. It's one thing to look after an injured cetacean and keep them in captivity if they can't be rehabilitated but it's not okay to deliberately bring them into the world and keep them in captivity just for our own amusement.  These are extremely intelligent, sociable creatures, and they belong in the wild.  If we really care about them we would concentrate on preserving their natural habitat not creating an artificial one. It's time we said hello to them in the wild and goodbye to them in captivity.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hot Fun In The Summertime

Crystal Serenity 
Whether or not you believe the earth is warming and whether or not that's a good or a bad thing, there's no denying the ice has been melting enough lately to allow ships to transit the Northwest Passage and this summer saw the largest ship yet to make the journey. Following a route that would have made Sir John Franklin green with envy, not to mention this writer, the Crystal Serenity took 900 passengers from Seward, Alaska all the way to New York City with stops along the way in Greenland and Baffin Island and other Canadian outposts. Though the price started at $20,000.00 per person it was by all accounts a stunning success with unbelievable scenery, wildlife encounters and a cultural experience all rolled into the 32 day cruise.

Of course as any dinosaur fan would know the earth was much warmer in the old days (colder as well) and, during the Jurassic period, some 150 million years ago, most of the earth was covered in a lush rain forest. Times were certainly changing in those days with the single land mass known as Pangaea splitting into Laurasia in the north and Gondwana in the south. There were no polar ice caps at either end and ships would have been free to transit the north without worrying about encountering any icebergs. Of course the passengers wouldn't have seen any polar bears either.

Continental formations prior to the Jurassic period

Nelson & the dinosaurs at the ROM
Whether the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid hitting the earth, or the volcanic eruptions that were creating havoc everywhere, they certainly wouldn't have survived either the ice age that preceded them or the last one that came along afterwards and only ended 11,000 years ago. The earth's climate has been undergoing some very severe fluctuations over the ages and, as the sun continues to brighten, it will probably continue to do so.

Since the last ice age the planet has gone through half a dozen periods of warming and cooling and, if Franklin would have timed things better, he too might have been able to get through. During the.Medieval "warm period" Vikings under Eric the Red came to Greenland and established settlements that lasted until the 15th century and the onset of the "little ice age". Trees and various herbaceous plants flourished there and the Norsemen were even able to grow barley.and raise livestock. They shared the land with the Dorset who were the original inhabitants and then later the Thule Inuit who settled all of what is now Alaska and Northern Canada.

Norse ruins in Greenland
Until the start of the "little ice age" the waters of the high arctic were free of pack ice in the summer months which made it possible to hunt whales, particularly the bowhead whale, a slow swimming animal that sleeps near the water's surface. Fish, other sea mammals and caribou were also important food sources for the Thule but it was the bowhead whale whose summer range expanded from the Bering Sea to the Beaufort Sea and the Canadian Archipelago that really provided the most bang for the buck. With global cooling this all changed and the Thule communities were broken up as people were forced further south and had to rely on other hunting strategies.

Revival of the bowhead whale hunt for Inuit people
Commercial whaling in the 19th century nearly wiped out the bowhead whale population but, since 1972 when all commercial whaling was outlawed, the species has since recovered and the Inuit are now permitted to have a limited hunt as part of their traditional culture. Melting ice may or may not make things more difficult for the polar bear but it might also help revive the Inuit way of life and improve things for other creatures that cruise the arctic waters. Slightly warmer waters may also improve fish stocks such as cod and herring.

Polar bear on an ice flow off Baffin Island
The dead dinosaurs and vegetation lying buried in the Canadian soil are what formed our oil sands, and have since been identified as one of the world's largest petroleum reserves. With the retreat of the glaciers and the end of the ice age, these oil sands are now able to be exploited and they form the basis of our oil & gas industry. In addition to being able to navigate our northern waters there's another potential upside to global warming for Canadians as this could make more of the country available for agriculture and habitation. As the world's second largest country but also having one of the lowest population densities, we certainly have plenty of room for all those fleeing the tropics.

Air & sea temperatures in Cambridge Bay
For all the talk about global warming we need to remember that for 9 months of the year the area around the Northwest Passage is frozen solid. Birds fly south, bears hibernate and everyone else does their best to just try and keep warm. It's dark all day and night and the only way to get around is by ski-do, snowshoe or airplane. But come summertime things change radically as things heat up, the ice starts to melt and it becomes the land of the midnight sun. With the open water beckoning it's hot fun in the summertime once again and a chance for others to check out life in the true north.

Canadian icebreaker

Sunday, October 2, 2016

I'm Your Captain/Closer To Home

They say the two happiest days in a boat owner's life are the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it.  While there's certainly some truth to that saying, as I so vividly remember when I took possession of "Contessa" I was also more than a little sad when I said goodbye to "Crown Jewel" after 15 years of boating. Boats are an expensive, time consuming mistress and, while they are certainly pleasurable, there's a sense of relief once they have left and you can return to a simpler, less complicated, lifestyle.

Contessa on the Sunshine Coast
Our first boat was a Monk designed, 24 foot teak and mahogany beauty named "Contessa". The time spent sanding, varnishing and painting her was truly a labour of love but, in return, she introduced us to the B.C. coastline where we spent countless hours discovering the magic of the Salish Sea. Whales and dolphins, picturesque anchorages and glorious sunsets seemed to accompany us everywhere we went.

Contessa in Desolation Sound
After 6 seasons we decided it was time to trade "Contessa" in for something that offered a little more comfort. "Crown Jewel" was in need of considerable care and attention when we found her but, once we got started, she polished up quite nicely and our cruising took on a new level. Our boat now had all the conveniences of home with plenty of room for our other toys. It also had more systems and components to maintain and of course it burned more fuel.

Crown Jewel
Inside Crown Jewel

Boating is all about compromises. Sometimes it's about balancing cost with the desired speed, comfort, sea worthiness, or gadgets that an owner wants. It can also be about deciding whether or not to proceed with a planned cruise after listening to the marine weather report. But perhaps the most important balancing act is riding the emotional high of a particularly exciting nautical experience with the lows of a mechanical breakdown.
Changing Crown Jewel's prop
In spite of us both taking the Power Squadron course we still managed to hit our share of submerged logs and rocks with both boats, had to deal with engine and transmission failures, snagged anchors, and a host of other annoyances and, in each case, foolishly thinking surely this was the last time anything would happen. But, as depressing as these events were, they never came close to counteracting the joy we had after spotting a breaching humpback, surviving a nasty crossing of the Strait, or spending a relaxing weekend on the hook.

Crown Jewel in the Gulf Islands

Crown Jewel in Howe Sound
The ocean is relentless in its determination to destroy all boats. Either by corrosion, rot, or weather it is constantly attacking the wood, canvas, electronics and fibreglass of a boat, not to mention your nerves when sea conditions deteriorate. You can choose to never leave the dock (which is what most boaters do) or you keep up with your maintenance and get out and take the good with the bad. We used our boat every weekend in the spring and summer months and even went out once a month in the fall and winter. In the process we covered every inlet from Vancouver to Desolation Sound, the entire east coast of Vancouver Island, all the Gulf Islands and even Barkley Sound on the west coast.

Crown Jewel en route to Port Alberni Inlet

Crown Jewel in Barkley Sound
While I enjoyed an active and fun filled boating career I also came to realize there are so many other places still waiting to be explored, and time was running out. We will always have the stories and memories of our boating adventures to share but, as much as we loved being on our boat, it's now time to step down from the bridge and base our travels on other modes of transportation. It was great to be captain of my own boat and have the pleasure of experiencing things most folks will never get to see. Thank you "Contessa" and farewell "Crown Jewel".

Nelson and Crown Jewel waving goodbye

Saturday, August 27, 2016

New Kid In Town

Big Bopper the hybrid goose - photo by Junie Quiroga
Every day there's something new to see and learn, if we just keep our eyes open and aren't always in such a rush to get someplace else.  It's so easy to overlook the obvious or what's right in front of our noses. A recent example is when I was on my way to the beach for my morning swim and encountered an unusual looking bird who was honking at me as if to say "this is the Big Bopper speaking what are you doing here my good man?." It looked a bit like a Canada Goose but it was much bigger and had a very different coloured head and neck.

Canada Goose
After doing a little research I discovered he was a hybrid goose and probably a cross between a Canada goose and the slightly larger snow goose. How this happens is open to some speculation (i.e. mix ups in the nest and/or forced sex by the male of one species with the female of another) but the fact remains it is biologically possible for geese of two different species to successfully mate and produce offspring that are also capable of re-producing. This is quite different from crossing a horse and a donkey which produces an infertile mule.

Snow Goose
Big Bopper as I liked to call him was quite friendly and eager to greet all the joggers and pose for any camera bugs along the seawall. If you had a scrap of bread even better. He was definitely new to the area and very sociable. He was also the biggest bird around by far.

Standoffish Canada geese - photo by Junie Quiroga
In spite of singing very nicely "Chantilly lace and a pretty face, pony tail hanging down, wiggle and a walk, giggle and a talk, make the world go round"  the other geese completely ignored him. Perhaps sensing he was a little different, or else jealous of the attention he was getting from everyone else, the Canada geese in the area seemed to shun him and he was left all alone to amuse himself.

Nelson & the Big Bopper at English Bay - photo by Junie Quiroga
It's not easy to fit in when you aren't the same as everyone else. The world seems to demand conformity rather than differentiation even though the only way we ever make any progress is by questioning the status quo. While most of the females will probably stick with what they know perhaps one will decide to take flight with the new kid in town and start something new. I hope so for the Big Bopper's sake.

Big Bopper & Friends
A few days later it appeared the Big Bopper had indeed made some friends with the other geese and they were all happily working the Parks Board lawn circuit. In fact it would appear the others had elected him their spokesperson because he was doing all the talking, handshaking, and baby kissing while they all went about their business. It's campaign season after all and what could be more important than getting one of these gals to vote for him.

Big Bopper & his latest date

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Low Tide Of High And Dry Boys

Beached Big Skate on Spanish Banks - photo by Junie Quiroga
Walking along Spanish Banks at low tide the other day I came across a strange sight, a Big Skate that had somehow ended up high and dry on the beach and died. At first I thought it was some kind of ray until I did a little research and found out what differentiates one from the other, in particular the two dorsal fins in the tail. The bigger mystery was how the hapless creature had ended up there in the first place.

The Big Skate is found along the Pacific coastline from Alaska to California and typically lives in water 80 - 400 feet in depth. It has some commercial importance in the California fishery, mostly as bottom trawler bycatch, where the pectoral fins are sold as skate wings but, because of its slow reproductive rate, it is now rated as a near threatened species. If they are caught by a recreational fisherman they are typically released or discarded and that's probably what happened to this skate and another one I found not to far away as well.

Nelson and beached Big Skate on Spanish Banks - photo by Junie Quiroga

Beached fishing boat on Spanish Banks - photo by Junie Quiroga
Since they spend most of their time buried in the sand it's not inconceivable the two Big Skates were caught out by a rapidly ebbing tide, similar to what happened to this embarrassed fisherman a little further along the same beach on the same day. How a boat could end up on the wrong side of gigantic low tide marker is no doubt part of the "fish that got away" story he will be sharing with friends and family but it's a pity the two skates weren't aware of the markers themselves.

Spanish Banks low tide marker - photo by Junie Quiroga
Getting caught out by low tides isn't something likely to happen to my seal swimming companions though. At worst it would mean a little extra suntanning time though they prefer to be on rocks as opposed to lying on the sand. Whether it's the heat or too many beers, the summer season can always be counted on to provide them with an amusing story to share with their friends and family; in this case the low tide of high and dry boys.

Curious harbour seal - photo by Junie Quiroga

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Room To Move

Female Orca & calves - photo by Michael Mehta
So there I am after a weekend of scuba diving around Gabriola Island with my buddy Mike and on our last dive we surface to find ourselves surrounded by whale watching boats and a pod of around a dozen Orcas!!! Wow is all we could say as we quickly scrambled into our dinghy, pulled up anchor, and started to take in the show. A couple of large males were scouting things out a little further away but the females were teaching the youngsters all sorts of things like spy hopping, tail & fin slapping, and breaching which they were enthusiastically practising much to the delight of everyone in the area.

Given that these whales were so close to us (just a few hundred yards away) we were a little surprised that we hadn't heard them vocalizing while we were diving, as sound travels extremely well under water. But it never occurred to us these killer whales may in fact be transient killer whales or Bigg's killers whales as they are now referred to and that's why we hadn't heard them.  Recognised as a distinct species of killer whale from the exclusively salmon eating resident killer whales, these killer whales feed primarily on seals and they purposely do not make any noise under water so as not to alert their prey. With the abundant population of harbour seals now inhabiting the Salish Sea these Bigg's Orcas are becoming less and less transient and even more regularly sighted than the local resident Orca pods.

Nelson & Mike Dinghy Diving - photo by Junie Quiroga
While there have not yet been any documented cases of transient killer whales attacking a human, and hopefully we wouldn't be mistaken for a seal or some other edible mammal while under water, it's a little disconcerting to imagine any closer of an encounter. We later confirmed they were in fact a pod of transient whales and it was a thrilling priviledge to have seen such a healthy group of Orcas enjoying themselves. There are apparently more than 250 Bigg's Orcas patrolling our waters and next time we see them we'll be sure to give them even more room to move.