By Caitlin Birdsall
Twenty-five miles north of Prince Rupert stands the northernmost lightstation in British Columbia, the Green Island Light. One of only 27 lightstations still staffed today in the Canadian Pacific, it is located in the isolated and wind-battered Chatham Sound. For the past 14 years, Serge Pare has been the principal keeper, ensuring the light remains bright, recording important weather data, and maintaining the station. Twelve years ago he added another duty to his day: observer for the BC Cetacean Sightings Network. While working on the light, Serge was approached by a researcher from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and was asked to start recording the whales, dolphins and porpoises he saw. “I like to help whenever I can” says Serge, whose Sightings Network logbook pages now arrive several times a year.
Over the years, Serge has recorded 224 sightings of cetaceans around the light station, providing valuable reports of animals that would be seldom recorded otherwise. The sightings are always different, “Some days the humpbacks are 100 feet away from Green Island, and other times they are 8 miles away”, explains Serge. To date, he has observed 6 different cetacean species, from grey whales to Dall’s porpoise. While seeing any animal is exciting, Serge admits humpbacks and killer whales make up his most memorable sightings, including a breeching humpback 200 feet away from Green Island and, on two occasions, a group of over 80 killer whales passing by! After many years on the light, Serge is also beginning to see patterns in animal behavior and foraging. “About two or three times a year, in summer, a small family of three killer whales comes around Green Island and tries to catch our seals!” Serge now encourages the relief assistant lighthouse keepers to record their sightings as well and recognizes that they have a unique opportunity to help with cetacean research on the BC coast. Plus, as Serge says, “I don’t mind doing it because I am always here!”
With over 1800 coastal citizens and mariners contributing to the BC Cetacean Sightings Network, the database now contains over 41,000 sightings of whales, dolphins, porpoises and sea turtles in British Columbia. These reports from volunteer observers like Serge are invaluable, providing researchers with a more comprehensive view of the presence and distribution of cetaceans and sea turtles in our waters. The data have been used in various research projects, management plans, recovery strategies and mapping projects. The success of the program and the research it contributes to is dependent on ‘Citizen Scientists’ like Serge to act as ‘eyes’ on the water and anyone can participate! If you see a cetacean or sea turtle, please report your sighting here or calling 1.866.I.SAW.ONE. If you, like Serge, see wild cetaceans often, and live, work and recreate on the water frequently, the Sightings Network will provide you with a logbook free of charge. Get involved with this program by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org