Oops! What Happened to the Water?

A few days ago I posted an article on the lightkeepers being the eyes and ears of the BC coast. While writing it an incident was brought to my mind of my early days in 1977 on McInnes Island. We arrived on McInnes in August 1977 so this had to have happened in Spring 1978.

Every year on the British Columbia coast the herring start their spawn in early spring. We, being curious lighthouse keepers are always interested in the goings on in the sea, from the arrival of the salmon to the arrival of winter storms. We always had our eyes out for something happening.

Well, one of the things we had been warned about was pollution. One morning I awoke and the ocean around the lighthouse as far away as Price Island, two kilometers away, was a milky white as though lime had been dumped in the ocean. Nowhere could I see blue sea except distantly in front of the lighthouse.

white water – photo Flickr by poecile05

I was astounded! What had happened? I had no idea. Last night everything was normal; today, total chaos!

I phoned Coast Guard Radio in Bull Harbour and reported this accident, not knowing what it was or how to describe it. The operator said he would pass it on to the Coast Guard. 

That was it? The ocean was polluted! I could not see a foot into the water! That was all they were going to do?

You must remember, in those days our communications were limited. We had HF radios to communicate with Coast Guard, scanners were limited and too expensive, and our CB radio was useless out there. We had not heard Fisheries notices, fish boats talking or Coast Guard notices.

I had never seen herring spawn before, as most of my previous stations had not been near the spawning grounds on the open ocean. It was spring and the herring were spawning! How could such little fish turn the water so milky white in such a short time for kilometers around the island?

It was one of the biggest spawns around, and the fish boats had missed it. They didn’t the next year! They completely wiped out the area with their seine boats, and the herring, and consequently the salmon fishing, deteriorated as a result. It took years for it to come back to something like normal, but I had seen it. I will never forget it, or the embarrassment of reporting it! :-) – retlkpr

For more information see Herring Migratory Behaviour by Fisheries and Oceans.

March 19, 2014 – Please take a look at the photography of Neville Black. He has made a set of photos on the West Coast herring spawn – Herring Spawn – Vancouver Island

And here is a very short video showing the herring spawning under water – called Pacific Herring Lifecycle. Please watch the other videos on Youtube associated with this topic. Very interesting.

 

. . . and this video from Shore Films and posted on Facebook shows the herring, the water turning whitish green and the predators having a feast! 

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