Dr. Paul Spong

Spong shares songs of the orca

Dr. Paul Spong presents audio recordings in Speaker's Corner event.

PORT McNEILL—Guests at last week’s Speaker’s Corner event at St. John Gualbert Church may not realize it, but they were treated to one of the most impressive sound editing performances since Pink Floyd released the album Dark Side of the Moon in 1973.

That album was released a year after Spong arrived on Hanson Island to found OrcaLab, which has since catalogued more than 20,000 hours of audio recordings of orcinus orca (killer whales) in their natural habitat in the waters off Vancouver Island.

A few of those calls were shared in a slide presentation last Wednesday evening as Spong and Helena Symonds gave a presentation on OrcaLab’s worked to more than 30 guests in the monthly Speaker’s Corner series.

“I was keen to come over,” said Kate Brauer, who studies orcas on the rubbing beach near Malcolm Island’s Bere Point. “I mean, it’s Orca Royalty. He’s been doing this work for more than 30 years.”

Spong and Symonds, with the aid of slides, video and, of course, audio recordings — guided the audience through the spectrum of OrcaLab’s work, from the identification of orca matrilines (female-oriented family groups) to the return of the orphaned celebrity Springer to Blackfish Sound, to working to return orcas from captivity, to the nuts and bolts of OrcaLab’s operation, to concerns for and threats to the whales’ future.

Nearly all of it revolved around the distinctive vocalizations of the animals and OrcaLab’s efforts to learn about the species through a comprehensive record of those sounds.

“I wanted to study whales without disrupting them,” said Spong, who discovered through experimentation the importance of vocalization and socialization between whales while working with Vancouver Aquarium in the 1960s. “So we began installing hydrophones off Hanson Island to listen in.”

The network has since grown to six hydrophones that can track the progress of the orcas as they traverse Blackfish Sound past Hanson Island, through Blackney Pass and into Johnstone Strait to the famed rubbing beach in the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve.

OrcaLab’s work has proved so relevant and popular that volunteers — ranging from marine biology students to simply orca fans — have offered to spend time at OrcaLab helping to catalogue and share the research gathered at the remote facility.

In the late 1990s Spong and his ever-changing cast of assistants began placing cameras underwater, and now have a station at Cracroft Point that features video of orcas from underwater and from above the surface. Live video streams can be accessed, particularly “in-season”, at www.orcalab.org.

The presentation ended with a caution of the challenges orcas face in the region, including dwindling food sources, a marked decrease in rubbing activity in the reserve and, particularly, increased boater traffic and other noise that may disrupt the animals’ communication.

“It’s very hard for us to get sound without boat noise anymore,” said Symonds, emphasizing her point with one last audio clip, in which the orcas’ calls are completely subsumed under the roar of a passing boat engine. “They’re communicating with each other, but they have to do it through that filter.”

 

Just Posted

North Island Rising: Minority Rules – Women & Politics

Male politicians continue to out number female politicians in the North Island.

North Island Concert Society reports on a successful season

It was a successful season for the NICS in terms of increased attendance.

Bradshaw’s Photo Highlight: The Merry Widow Mountain trail

“Early morning light is best for photos of the face of the mountain”

Kwakwaka’wakw families march in Port Hardy in honour of MMIWG

Red dresses lined Market Street in honour of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.

20th Anniversary of Family Fishing Weekend coming to North Island

Choice of 14 events held on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands

10 facts about Father’s Day

Did you know that the special day for dads was first celebrated in 1910?

B.C. VIEWS: When farmland protection doesn’t protect farmers

Secondary residences aren’t mansions, families tell Lana Popham

Bombers down B.C. Lions 33-23 in season opener

Former Lion Andrew Harris leads Winnipeg with 148 rushing yards

Northern B.C. family remembers murdered Indigenous woman with memorial walk

Still no closure for Ramona Wilson’s family 25 years later

Monkey spotted on late-night jaunt in Campbell River

Conservation officers also apparently looking for cougar in the area

B.C. university to offer mentorship program for former youth in care

Students using the provincial tuition waiver program will soon be able to form a community at KPU

Cyclists competing in one of the toughest bike races on the planet pass through Fernie

Divide riders looking strong as they finish first leg of 4160 km race

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

B.C. bus driver loses case to get job back after texting while driving full bus

An arbitator ruled that Tim Wesman’s phone usage was a “a reckless disregard for public safety”

Most Read