Into the Great Bear Rainforest

Some may know that many years ago we worked as commercial fishermen on vessels based in Seattle that made the yearly voyage to western Alaska via the incomparable “Inside Passage”, a magnificent coastline stretching north from Seattle that connects almost 850 miles of wild fiords mostly in British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. This area is almost entirely devoid of human development with the exception of a few small ports and legacy villages from the per-European contact days. In 1997 a significant portion of this region was recognized and protected in British Columbia by a collaboration between First Nations tribes, Conservation NGO’s and the BC Provincial government in an area branded The Great Bear Rainforest and now covers an area of approximately 12,000 square miles.

The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the largest remaining tracts of unspoiled temperate rainforest left in the world. The area is home to species such as cougars, wolves, grizzly bears, salmon and the rarely seen Kermode bear, known by First Nation people as the “Spirit Bear”. a unique subspecies of the black bear, in which one in ten cubs displays a recessive white colored coat. On our many trips through this area on fishing boats we had never taken time to explore the BC wilderness and observe its unique and abundant charismatic wildlife. Therefore when we had the chance to team up with our friends at Apex Expeditions ( to organize a trip we were keen to go. An intrepid group gathered in Bella Bella, BC to board the 68 ft. Island Odyssey for the first portion of our expedition into the wilds of The Great Bear Rainforest. One primary target of the expedition was to track and photograph one of the rarest bears in the world, the “Spirit Bear”. In September the salmon runs are active spawning in most of the rivers on the coast; an activity which brings all bears  to the BC rivers to feast on the abundant fish to stock up on fat reserves for their long winter hibernation naps. Connected to an excellent local guide we were still believing we had only a 1 in 5 chance to see the spirit bear since there are so few and their home terrain is rugged and remote. But as luck would have it in driving rains and gale force winds we were finally rewarded with a sighting of this living legend and there was so much more. Check out the following images of cratures large and small and the dramatic landscapes of British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest.

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The Spirit bear totem inside the Long House at Hartley Bay

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Sailing vessel Island Odyssey

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Stellar sea lions hauled out

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Humpback whales “bubble netting” which is a feeding strategy that is incredible to watch.

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Black turnstones and at least one Surf bird in the mix (see lowest bird)

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Rare and amazingly lucky look at a Canis lupus (wolf) family one early morning. They too were in the area to feed on the spawning salmon.

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Surf scoters

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Young Bald Eagle hanging out with Raven

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Harlequin duck (drakes)

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Pam catching the small bits of the rain forest on camera

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Two fish on one hook as this “monster” ling cod bit into a good sized rock fish while it was being reeled up. Quick reflexes resulted in dinner for everyone!

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The prize – a beautiful male spirit bear makes an appearance

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Brown grizzly bear saunters on the shore looking for salmon

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The shy and very elusive Pine Marten

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Our Expedition leader and great friend Kevin Clement from Apex Expeditions with his Spirit Bear stole for luck on the occasion of his birthday!

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A pair of Common mergansers

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An American Dipper – note the eyelid which when closed protects the bird as it forages underwater

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The route of our expedition. Map courtesy of Apex Expeditions.

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LArge male grizzly shows his prowess catching this large chum salmon right out of the Nekite River. Note the battle scars on his flank

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Read more.. Thursday, October 1st, 2015

Hakai Pass: Food for the Soul

Took a couple of weeks off from our white shark research activity on Cape Cod to head out to the Pacific Northwest. Great to visit family, old friends and to venture into the beautiful and wild coast of British Columbia to do some fishing. For many years, as we have reported before, the “Inside Passage”  was a yearly trek for us in bringing fishing boats north and west to the Alaska Peninsula and points north to work. The striking wild beauty of British Columbia and Southeast Alaska were barely acknowledged in those days as we were focused seasonal openings out west in Dutch Harbor and therefore passed most of the natural beauty at night in our 7 – 10 days trek to the fishing grounds. We vowed that one day we would spend more time exploring this beautiful coastline.

So in modern times (over the past 15 years) we have taken a few trips into the area and more regularly some time to visit a special marine park in along the wild coast called Hakai Pass to fish whenever time and schedule permits. This trip included son Spencer, and a couple of great friends to share the experience for 5 days!

Hakai Pass is a water passage located on the Canadian Pacific Northwest Coast.  This beautiful coastal area is inaccessible by road therefore the only way in is by boat or seaplane.  It’s waters are abundant with record size wild salmon, monster halibut, huge ling cod, yellow eye, prawns, mussels and more. Pods of orca whales, humpback whales, gray whales, numerous seals, dolphins, sea lions, and eagles to name a few species live in and make there way to and from this pristine land.

The weather was typically mercurial – mostly wet and a bit breezy at times but when the sun shone it was spectacular. We explored some new fishing spots saw some amazing humpbacks who stalked us in a tight spot while we re-stocked our freezers for another year with more than 275 lbs of king salmon, coho salmon, halibut and ling cod. Wow what a great time!







Spencer & Gabe take in the last bite at sunset around 9:40PM !


Joe’s 46 pound halibut!!


A nice day’s catch for Spencer & Gabe



Stellar sea lion stalks some salmon


Read more.. Friday, July 31st, 2015

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Spring on the Water

On the outer Cape as most Cape Codders know, spring comes later than on the mainland. Sea temperatures are cool from the long winter and warming comes very slowly. Notice the deep blue color on the image below indicating water temps in the 40s F. This “tongue” of cold water has occurred each of the past three years that we have been looking and others have told us they have seen it regularly here in the spring. As you can see the northern tip of it touches the area just south of Chatham, Massachusetts and the Monomoy NWR. As of this date – there are absolutely no data that suggest white sharks have returned to the area. But they are expected very soon. Last year the first white shark was detected by an acoustic receiver off Monomoy on June 14, 2014.

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Recently we have traveled offshore to see what kind of marine life has returned to the area. We were pleased to find the return of Gulf of Maine humpback whales along with quite a few fin whales feeding on large schools of sand lances about 10 to 15 miles out. Further friends have reported schools of basking sharks also in the area although we have not seen them this year yet.

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Humpbacks off Truro

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Lots of seabirds as well Here is  nice look at a Sooty shearwater.

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And a bit of a surprise – literally hundreds of North Atlantic Grey seals foraging completely unconcerned about any mammal eating predators that might be in the area. We observed the seals in large groups “porpoising” along in the late afternoon clearly headed out presumably to feed. We even saw a small school of dolphins on the surface but they were a bit shy and we did not got an image of them.

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We were very fortunate to catch a ride with our friend Wayne Davis to fly the outer Cape several days ago. Absolutely a thrill to observe our region from the air.

Pleasant Bay inside North Chatham Inlet


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North Chatham Inlet (looking east)


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Main Chatham Harbor entrance - June 14

Chatham Harbor Main entrance

Shark Alley June 14

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Handkerchief Shoal Rips

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Read more.. Friday, June 19th, 2015

North Atlantic Humpbacks in Winter

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For the 4th consecutive year we made our way south out of the frigid New England winter to spend time with our friends at Aquatic Adventures who run expeditions from the Dominican Republic to the Silver Bank to observe North Atlantic humpback whales in their winter habitat. As many of you are aware 2015 is showing the northeast portion of the US and Canada some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded in addition to record amounts of snowfall. The Boston area, near where we live on Cape Cod, had already recorded more than 2 meters of snowfall by the time of our departure (in mid February) and more was on the way.  And we were also very excited to join whale researcher Jenn Tackaberry from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA for our week on the Silver Bank. Jenn has studied Gulf of Maine whales for a decade but this was her first chance to observe humpback whale mothers and young calves (3 – 5 weeks old) as they learn the ways of the ocean in safe Caribbean waters without predators.

We made the 10 hour passage (80 miles off shore) from Puerto Plata out to the Silver Bank in relatively calm waters. However for the following five days we had strong winds and choppy seas to deal with making underwater photography a challenge. And the weather did not dampen the excitement of the expedition team as we observed these beautiful mammals conducting the child rearing and mating rituals that they have been doing here for 100’s of millennia.

Here are just a few images from the experience and once again it was unforgettable. For more information about these expeditions and to learn more about the partnership between Aquatic Adventures and the Center for Coastal Studies AND how you can help – please check this site.

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Check out this short video we have just posted. It was inspired by one of our fellow travelers.

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Read more.. Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Cetaceans on the Outer Cape

The month of May is fast moving to a close and the spring migration continues to be an adventure. Launching our boat , Aleutian Dream into the water this past weekend finally enabled us to get out in the Atlantic and off shore to investigate reports of massive schools of sand eels and voraciously feeding Humpback Whales. We were joined by friend Ted Cheeseman a Conservation Biologist and whale naturalist visiting from California and scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute who were all “off duty” and keen to see some cetacean action. And action we found!

Leaving Chatham Harbor in the slate grey of a cool spring morning to calm seas we ventured south a few miles to examine the condition of the South Beach cuts of 2013 & 2014 and to assess the haulouts of Gray seals gathered along the Monomoy side of these inlets. An ocean swell from the previous days Northeast winds was causing a significant line of breakers across both inlets even at high tide. This does not bode well for navigating this short cut to Nantucket Sound for mariners this summer season. We observed seals well off the beach about a mile and in numbers suggesting that as yet the apex predator white sharks may not yet have arrived. We understand that the listening buoys are to be deployed in the next days so real data may soon be available on the presence of white sharks.

But since our target for the day was whales we quickly assessed that there were no Humpbacks feeding in the immediate Chatham Harbor area out 3 miles so we decided to head north to check out the action reported heavily in the vicinity of Race Point near Provincetown. We were rewarded for the long run up from Chatham with confirmed sightings of four different cetaceans!Stellwagen (35)

A Fin Whale feeding off of Race Point

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Common dolphins

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Minke Whale feeding on Stellwagen

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The spectacular behavior of Humpbacks known as Bubble netting is one of the most amazing sights to witness in natural history among whales. This is cooperative feeding among 1 – many whales working together to efficiently feed. Here are a few images we made.

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Whale watchers look on in amazement.

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Photo by Tim Vorheis – Humpback “Ventesca” bubble netting (taken offshore about 2005)

Bubble netting as mentioned is very special to see. Thanks very much to Tuna spotter pilot and photographer Tim Vorheis who nailed this image some years ago so you can see what is happening…and this is just one whale working. A helpful article describing this feeding behavior is here.

A few other shots of “bubble netting taken off of Chatham last November.

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Read more.. Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Whales Seeking Support


This beautiful humpback whale was born in 2009 down in Caribbean waters and has returned to Cape Cod in each of the last four years. Her mother is called Springboard. PIANO has survived a ship strike (2011) a disentanglement from fishing gear (2012) and likely other predatory threats in her young life. How do we know all this? Dedicated researchers at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts have been performing research on humpback whales for decades and particularly studying our population known as Gulf of Maine humpbacks. Long-term studies of individual humpback whales provide an important window into this amazing species. Whales like PIANO are not only well-loved by whale watchers but also key to their understanding of humpback whale biology, ecology and threats. Thanks to more than three decades of research by CCS and their collaborators, the Gulf of Maine humpback whale population is the most well-studied in the world. The results of their research here have been applied to studies of humpback whales world-wide, and new techniques for studying large whales are routinely developed and ground-truthed with their extensive data sets. The knowledge that they share with managers helps to guide protection measures for this endangered species.

Please consider supporting this critically important research on the Gulf of Maine population of Humpback Whales currently underway at the Center for Coastal Studies on Cape Cod.

Consider joining us in supporting this work with a donation by accessing the link below.

Read more.. Thursday, December 12th, 2013

South Georgia

This week marks the fifth anniversary of our visit to the southern ocean which included stops  in the Falkland Islands and the mythical South Georgia en route to the Antarctic Peninsula. So many beautiful memories of this epic voyage with truly amazing people who, we are proud to say, are now great life long friends. Such is the way for those who share time south of the convergence line in the South Atlantic. Will offer a few images that might give you a glimpse of the majesty and sheer wildness of the southern ocean but one memory seems to come to the front.

It may have been inspired by recent media reminders of historic events of our past. Note JFK’s tragic passing 50 years ago. And the surprisingly brief but brilliant Gettysburg Address by Lincoln of 150 years ago. Heck, some historians note that Beowulf was penned perhaps 1000 years ago this month. But for those who were present in the tight meeting area aboard M/V Le Diamant while the ship was “hove -to” and “jogging” in a fierce westerly gale gusting over 70 knots near the southern end of South Georgia, the memory is still fresh of the first telling of The Battle for Cooper Bay – by fellow traveler and guide Pepper Trail. The report of a struggle with indigenous wildlife which included tales of heroism and near tragedy, recounted brilliantly, has forever emblazoned the tale in the minds of those present for as long as we live.  In true oral tradition no formal document was published. Some say there are a couple of unauthorized copies of Pepper’s notes floating around in private collections but these are unconfirmed. The report was both epic in the telling and  even in memory  from five years ago brings tears to my eyes. Fortunately there was no loss of life in the struggle for control of the landing beach at Cooper Bay but there were significant losses of pride and a couple of sturdy oars. Quick decision making by our able Expedition Leader  – JD Massyn, ensured that only good memories remain from the encounter.

For those of you who were present….and you know who you are…this post is especially for you. For those who were not and have a lust for the spirit of adventure and feel the call of the wild – by all means make plans to visit the Southern Ocean and especially South Georgia before you leave the earth. Incredible place.

Pepper Trail points the way

King Penguin colony - Salisbury Plain - South Georgia

Southern Royal Albatross - Perhaps 2000 miles from its chick

Light Mantled Sooty Albatross on the nest - Gold Harbor

Elephant Seal bull - Mating season is over

South American fur seal "family" unit - pups just a few days old

Type "B" orca - Unique to Southern Ocean waters and very rare

Read more.. Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Transitions of the Season

Aleutian Dream at Cow Yard landing

It is that time of year when the NE Gales start to become more frequent and the temperatures drop toward the freezing mark. Our boat  Aleutian Dream has been in the water here on Cape Cod for over 6 months and the time has come to haul it for the winter season. It is always hard to give up the chance to be on the water in a moments notice. Here are some additional unforgettable images from our last adventure a week ago out with the humpbacks off Chatham Inlet.

But even as the seasons change there are still wild adventures to enjoy on land with the onset of the “off-season” quiet time on Cape Cod. Just check out these images Pam made from our porch the past few days.

Read more.. Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Offshore with the Humpbacks

The blessings of our mild and beautiful autumn weather continue to flow as we have been able to keep our boats in the water and in the past few days venture outside into the Atlantic Ocean to observe various life forms returning to our waters including rafts of common eiders and white winged scoters as well as a host of gannets and other pelagic seabirds which are in the area before returning to their winter waters in the South Atlantic. The biggest bonus of the fall season however has been getting absolutely stunning views of our Gulf of Maine humpbacks who have been seen easily within 3 miles of our coastline off of Chatham Inlet and are feeding there constantly on the massive amounts of sand eels that still bloom in our waters. We counted more than 30 different whales in the two afternoons we spent at sea. The whales are feeding cooperatively again using the “bubble-netting” technique we described in a previous blog entry (August 2013). As stated then it is still quite rare to get such large concentrations of feed at or near the surface in our waters so close to shore and seeing the humpbacks exhibiting this feeding behavior is very special.

Read more.. Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Offshore with the Humpbacks

Our good friend Denise Lawrence of Aquatic Adventures – an accomplished naturalist, diver and guide for whale encounters in the Caribbean, came to Cape Cod at our invitation to see her beloved humpbacks in their summer feeding grounds for the first time. Having been traveling in South Africa the pressure was on to quickly locate whales and hope for good weather to get out to see them. With a little bit of research and some good luck we were able to get on the whales about 22 miles SE of Chatham  actually east of Nantucket on a fine day. Our luck was even better as we realized with a flood of seabirds swarming that the small group of whales we came upon were actually using “bubble- netting” to seize their prey. Two of the whales we witnessed were later identified by researchers using the Gulf of Maine Humpback Whale Catalog curated by our friends at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown as whales that had been photographed and identified on the Silver Bank in 2012! “Angus” and “Mira”. Connecting the dots was incredible. See our posts and conversation with “fluke matchers” in Flickr

Humpback whale "Angus" off of Chatham

Humpback whale "Mira"

Humpback whale "Mira" off of Chatham

Humpback whale "pleats" has propeller scars. It is the 2007 calf of Ventisca

Read more.. Tuesday, August 20th, 2013