Your contribution is greatly appreciated, thank you for participating!
Welcome to our pinniped observation guide and data submission page! “Pinniped” is a Latin word meaning “fin-footed,” and includes marine mammals with front and hind flippers such as seals and sea lions. Thank you for your time to help us observe pinniped activity in the Courtenay River. Please review all information prior to completing the data form. If you have any questions or need additional information please contact Stefanie.Lane@projectwatershed.ca.
Harbour seals and sea lions (pinnipeds) are known to hunt salmon in the Courtenay River near Kus-kus-sum. Seal hunting activity is common and well documented in that area, but sea lions are far less common, and their activity near Kus-kus-sum is not well understood. Anecdotal evidence suggests that seals use the steel walls at Kus-kus-sum to herd and catch salmon, thereby increasing fish predation in this important salmon migration corridor. By comparing pinniped presence and behavior at Kus-kus-sum before and after the wall is removed to nearby intact marsh habitat, the impact of the wall on their hunting success can be better understood. This will especially be important to demonstrate how restoration of Kus-kus-sum will reduce the predatory impacts of pinnipeds on salmon populations.
Before You Head Out
Project Watershed will schedule training sessions throughout the year. Training is not required to make observations, however we encourage volunteers to attend at least one session so you have a chance to ask questions and see the full protocol in person.
- Paper data sheet (link to datasheet)
- Pencils (pens ok, but pencil recommended)
- Time piece: watch, phone, etc. You need to record the exact start and stop times at each observation site
- Binoculars (not required, but highly recommended)
- A camera to photograph your datasheet (your phone is easiest; you can do this after you finish the observation exercise).
- Reflective vest (not required, but highly recommended)
- Never approach wildlife. If you observe an injured animal or suspect animal abuse, please call MARS Wildlife Rescue at (250) 337-2021 or (250) 897-2257 (after-hours).
- Follow all pedestrian and traffic laws, such as using designated crosswalks and parking in designated areas.
- Please stay on designated paths and walkways to avoid the risk of slips and falls into the river.
- Be mindful of and courteous to bicycles, joggers and pedestrians along paths and sidewalks.
- Be visible and predictable, especially on shared bike paths and bridges. Reflective, high-vis clothing is recommended for working on the bridge.
- Bring water, snacks, hats/sunscreen, or extra layers to keep yourself comfortable during your monitoring session.
- If you are making observations alone, please let someone know where you are, and what time you expect to return.
Six of the seven monitoring sites are publicly accessible; the only exception is the site at the K’ómoks First Nation campground. K’ómoks First Nation has generously agreed to let citizen scientists access the river through their property during regular business hours. Please check in at the campground to let them know when you arrive and when you leave.
Each of the observation site coordinates are listed below – please enter the GPS coordinates (“latlong”) into Google Maps or your favorite map app. If you would like to explore sites in Google Earth, a kmz file with the same site locations is linked below.
|49.696365, -125.000837||Site 1 – Condensory Bridge|
|49.699933, -124.997734||Site 2 – K’ómoks First Nation Campground / Tsolum-Puntledge Confluence|
|49.695221, -124.99492||Site 3 – Lewis Park Tennis Courts|
|49.692207, -124.995337||Site 4 – Fifth Street Bridge|
|49.685688, -124.989134||Site 5 – Seventeenth Street Bridge|
|49.68243, -124.983781||Site 6 – Airpark Marina|
|49.680825, -124.972868||Site 7 – LaFarge Pullout|
Site Access Notes
Site 1: Condensory Bridge.
Access is via Anderton Ave (not Anderton Road!), travelling north from Courtenay. There is parking on the far side (away from Courtenay) between the bridge and the entrance to the K’ómoks First Nation campground. This is the more convenient side to park as Site 2 is accessed through the KFN campground.
Site 2: KFN Campground / Puntledge-Tsolum Confluence
Note: Please check in with the campground store before continuing to the site. Just let them know you are there to do seal monitoring for Project Watershed. If no one is there, proceed to the site and check in on your way out.
Access to Site 2 is through the KFN campground. Walk in (don’t drive). The campground store is to your right when you walk in off Condensory Road. Follow the driveway to the right around the campground store building and continue on the main road between camping sites. Continue on this road past the camping area; you will have to step over a cable across the road. Follow this to the end where there is a clearing and a point overlooking the confluence of the Puntledge (flowing in on the right) and the Tsolum (flowing in from the left).
There are 7 sites where pinnipeds are observed along the Courtenay River. Observations are made for exactly 10 minutes at each site. Observers should scan upstream and downstream to watch for pinnipeds, and record the number of animals observed and their activities. Reference photos of each site (with boundaries for where observations start and stop) are available in the linked Site Photos. Descriptions of different behavior types are available in the linked Behaviors dropdown section below.
Once you arrive at each site:
- Orient yourself to the observation site when you arrive. Identify landmarks where your observations will start and stop.
- Fill out your datasheet with your name(s) and date. If you are working pairs, we suggest that one person monitor facing “upstream,” and the other person monitor facing “downstream.” If you are making observations by yourself, you will have to monitor in both directions by scanning the full length of the observation area for the 10-minute period.
- Fill out the environmental data for the site before you begin the timed monitoring. Please record temperature real time from the nearest weather station.
- Note: You can look up river discharge rates and tide height information when you are back at a desktop (i.e., not in the field).
- Position yourself where you will make observations. You should observe each site for exactly 10 minutes – we suggest setting an alarm on your smartphone to keep track of the time. Make sure you and your partner(s) agree on the minute your 10-minute observation period will begin.
- Begin! As you watch the water for pinnipeds, do your best to identify:
- The number of individual pinnipeds. Our main objective is to know how many pinnipeds are active in the river, so we don’t want to count the same individual more than once. Each person facing “upstream” or “downstream” should try to assess how many pinnipeds are in their observation area, and call out to their partner if they think the same seal (or sea lion) is moving between the upstream/downstream observation areas.
- The number of seals that are engaged in hunting, catching/eating, moving across the river (swimming toward or away from your river bank), or moving upstream or downstream. Each type of behavior only needs to be recorded once per individual.
- Example #1: I see a single seal. It swam upstream and downstream several times, then across the river to the opposite riverbank. During the time I observed it, I saw it making sharp turns, splashing, and moving upside down (hunting behavior). I never saw it with a fish in its mouth, or any behavior that looked like eating. (See example data sheet, below)
- Example #2: I see three seals. One seal swam across the river, hauled out onto the riverbank and promptly took a nap. The other two seals swam upstream, making big wakes and sharply turning to chase fish while moving upstream. I saw one seal with a big fish in its mouth. The seal that did not catch a fish turned and swam downstream, then upstream, then downstream again before swimming to the opposite bank, and then swam downstream out of the observation area. (See example data sheet, below)
- Before you move on to the next site, ensure that all data fields are complete, except for discharge data.
- Repeat observations at all sites. We strongly recommend taking a photo of your data sheet (front and back!) after you finish monitoring the last site and have entered your discharge data – you will need this for your data upload to Project Watershed.
- When you return to Wi-Fi or desktop, please search for the river discharge rates and tide heights, then enter all your data into Project Watershed’s online submission portal here.
- The form will ask you to upload the photos of your datasheet for Site #1
- You can recycle your paper data sheet once your data are successfully submitted.
- Thanks for your contributions to citizen science!
Pinniped hunting behaviors & techniques include:
- Fast movements through the water
- Abrupt changes of direction
- Upside-down behavior (swimming, scanning, or otherwise moving)
- Quick, consistent surfacing events
- Forming lines across the Courtenay River
- Herding fish against the river bank or steel walls at Kus-kus-sum
- Generating a wake by moving quickly through the water
- Positioning itself upside down while scanning the surface of the water
- Partially leaving the water to capture a fish near the surface
- Staying in one spot waiting for prey to come closer
- “Successful” catches are observations of a pinniped with a fish in its mouth, or actively eating a fish
Non-hunting behaviors include:
- Swimming slowly or floating, generally just the head is visible (milling)
- Resting on the riverbank
- Playing with other pinnipeds (two or more pinnipeds are moving, but don’t exhibit hunting techniques or you don’t see them catching/eating fish)
Why are you monitoring the seals and sea lions?
Seals and sea lions (pinnipeds) are predators at the top of the food chain, so they can have an impact on salmon populations. We want to understand how pinniped hunting in the Courtenay River might be affecting salmon populations throughout the year, especially while we’re completing a large restoration project.
Do I have to survey all 7 sites and/or do they have to be on the same day?
No, but: we strongly prefer all 7 sites to be surveyed, and we strongly prefer that they are all surveyed on the same day. This will ensure we have the most complete and accurate data. Please make every effort to survey all 7 sites, and visit all 7 on the same day.
However, we understand folks have different constraints and time limitations. We’ll be glad to use any observations you make! Please get in touch if you have concerns.
Do I have to survey the sites in site order (1-7)?
No. But: please record the environmental data for each site during the timeframe you were there!
How long does it take to survey all 7 sites?
Each site must be observed for 10 minutes, plus the time to get between sites and ensure your datasheet is complete at each site. We suggest allowing 2-2.5 hours to complete the entire monitoring protocol (more time for beginners or folks who like to take their time).
Where do I get the observation data sheet?
Please download a copy from here. If you cannot download or print, please contact Virginia East at Virginia.East@projectwatershed.ca
Should I use the paper data sheet or the webform when making observations?
You should use whichever method is most comfortable for you while you’re “in the field.” We strongly recommend using the paper data sheet until you are familiar with the webform submission. The biggest need is to submit the data to the webform within 48 hours of your observations so we can ensure your hard work is counted!
Do you need the paper data sheet after I’m done?
When you submit your data through the webform, you should be prompted to upload photos of your datasheet. Once you have confirmation that your data were submitted, please recycle your paper data sheet.
If you cannot send your photo or data through the webform, please photograph the data sheet and email it to Stefanie.Lane@projectwatershed.ca
What will happen to the data? Will my name or information be made public?
We will use the data to assess changes in pinniped presence, abundance, and hunting success during the Kus-kus-sum restoration project. We will share the data with K’omoks First Nation to help support their cultural practices and objectives.
Each observation record that you submit receives a serial number ID. All personally identifying information (PII) like your name or email address is used only for Project Watershed volunteer communication purposes, and is not shared with the pinniped observation data.