Glimmering in the sunlight, bobbing like an otter

B.C. biodiversity reporter Ainslie Cruickshank and photojournalist Shane Gross took a deep dive off the coast of Vancouver Island, where they entered the magical world of kelp forests

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Photo of reporter Ainslie Cruickshank underwater.
Do kelp forests offer sensitive sea creatures refuge from ocean noise?

That’s the question marine ecologist Kieran Cox and his fellow researchers are on a quest to answer off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Time is of the essence: warming waters spurred by climate change are contributing to the destruction of kelp forests — which means the race is on to find out just how valuable these ecosystems are, before they’re gone.

When our B.C. biodiversity reporter Ainslie Cruickshank heard about the work of Cox and his colleagues, she jumped at the chance to get a first-hand look. And so, in early September, she caught a 6:30 a.m. ferry to the island and made her way to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre to meet the team.

“I’d only been snorkeling a handful of times before this assignment, and never in a kelp forest, so I couldn’t wait to get in the water,” Ainslie recalled. “Wriggling into the wetsuit, hood and gloves was probably the most exhausting part of the whole day, but I finally managed it — with some help.”

Next, it was time to enter the magical world of the kelp forest, where Cox and co. have been running noise experiments with waterproof speakers — and using waterproof paper to jot down each fish they spot: tubesnouts and rockfish and striped surfperch and kelp greenling.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so buoyant and I vaguely remember one of the researchers telling me I looked a bit like an otter bobbing in the water on my back as I got my bearings,” Ainslie said.
Photo of kelp underwater.

As for the task of visually capturing all the amazing sea life and the researchers trying to make sense of this oasis?

“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the kelp story shoot for The Narwhal is … luck,” photojournalist Shane Gross told me. 

“So many things can go wrong when trying to shoot underwater,” Shane, who specializes in marine conservation photography, said.

“We were incredibly lucky to have calm weather and decent visibility during our two-day shoot — but it was far from perfect. This meant I had to get very close to subjects and use an extreme wide-angle lens called a fisheye, which makes the water appear a lot more clear than it actually was.”

Ainslie also relished in the underwater sights of Barkley Sound — when she wasn’t working to get herself untangled from the kelp, that is.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” she said. “All the sediment in the water was glimmering in the sunlight and the kelp were just gently swaying in the water.”

Cox and his fellow researchers plan to be back out on the water this year, gathering more data on their hypothesis that, if proven true, could prompt action to protect and restore kelp forests. With Canada working on a strategy to reduce the harms of ocean noise, the timing couldn’t be better.

Take care and bob in the water like no otter,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience

A collage of photos of Emma McIntosh and Julia-Simone Rutgers side-by-side

NNArwhal nominations

We’re so humbled to share that some of The Narwhal’s stellar reporting was recognized with four nominations at the National Newspaper Awards!

Ontario reporter Emma McIntosh has been nominated with our friends at the Toronto Star in the investigations category for coverage of the province’s decision to open up parcels of Greenbelt land and the developers who stood to benefit from the move.

For the design on this sprawling feature about Indigenous guardians reinforcing sovereignty and science on their lands, freelance journalist Jimmy Thomson, executive editor Carol Linnitt, art director Shawn Parkinson, director of audience Arik Ligeti and web developer Ashley Tam have earned a nod.

Our Manitoba reporter Julia-Simone Rutgers was recognized with the Winnipeg Free Press in the special topic category for her stories on the everyday impact of climate change on Manitobans and, in particular, Winnipeggers.

We’re also grateful to be nominated in the same category for our coverage of climate change and solutions being explored by Indigenous communities — like Indigenous guardians programs.

And last but certainly not least, our incredible co-founder and editor-in-chief was nominated in the long feature category for a very personal and courageous account in The Globe and Mail on the heartbreaking reality of terminating a pregnancy for medical reasons.

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A very Narwhal 40th

Marco Pimentel of the tech company Redbrick has been one of our biggest supporters these last few years. Recently, he took it up a notch by asking attendees at his 40th birthday party to donate to The Narwhal in lieu of gifts. Happy birthday Marco, and thank you for all of your support! 

Do you believe in the value of non-profit, independent journalism? Help keep the party going by becoming a member of The Narwhal today.


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Real, accurate footage of Ainslie bobbing in the water. Tell your friends to sign up for our newsletter — so they can bob along too.
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