The dark ocean is where the real life is, Vancouver Island ‘Marine Detective’ teaches

“Oh my god that thing is beautiful, what the hell is that?”

Jackie Hildering is a self-described “marine detective” on northern Vancouver Island.

She’s a humpback whale researcher, biologist and co-founder of Marine Education and Research Society.

This week for World Ocean’s Day, she gave an online video presentation to students about the life in the dark oceans, about which much remains unknown. A few hundred students tuned in, from as far away as Bangkok, and as close as Tri-Port elementary schools.

Through her research, diving and photography, Hildering’s goal is to engage curiosity and wonder about what’s going on in the ocean. She starts with showcasing creatures living in B.C. waters, that even the most ocean-loving people may not be aware of.

RELATED: VIDEO: Rare tropical sea turtle rescued on Vancouver Island

Take the alabaster nudibranch — basically a whispy white slug — for example. Hildering took the above photo at the Bear Cove boat launch in Port Hardy, about three metres below the surface.

A few kilometres south in Port McNeill, she found a new species of jelly fish, that hasn’t yet been named by scientists. “Oh my god, that thing is beautiful, what the hell is that?”

An as yet unnamed species stalked jelly, living just three metres below the surface in Port McNeill. (Jackie Hildering)

Via its beautiful and strange ‘pom-poms,’ the jelly collects crustaceans to eat. It also uses the little tufts as tentacles to hold on to the eelgrass, where it prefers to live — very different behaviour from its floating jellyfish cousins. But yes, it’s still a stinger.

Hildering is passionate about the dark ocean: diving in it, photographing it, teaching about it and learning about it. She’s been diving around the north Island for 21 years, and has come to know individual fish as her neighbours.

There’s a general human bias against dark, cloudy oceans, she says.

“The problem with adults, is that we think it’s better in Hawaii,” she joked to the students in the virtual presentation.

The perception comes largely from the types of resources that are available for educators. It’s easier to dive and film in clear water, so documentaries – even children’s books – tend to focus on tropical places rather than B.C.’s bountiful, plankton-laden cold water seas.

“Ocean blindness” comes as the result of a tendency to teach about oceans far away. It reinforces an assumption that there is more and better life in warm water.

RELATED: Moonsnails’ collar-shaped egg casings not for beachcombers

And that’s absolutely wrong, Hindering says.

“If you can see through the water, there’s no food there.”

Dark, sometimes murky waters are rich with plankton food for the entire oceanic food web, which starts microscopically small until it explodes into view with the giants we know: big salmon, huge halibut, humpback and orcas.

Our colourful neighbours: a candy-stripe shrimp on a crimson anemone in Telegraph Cove (Jackie Hildering)

“Nobody on Earth knows how baleen whales like humpbacks find their food. That’s how little we know about the ocean. Nobody has figured that out.

“We underestimate how diverse marine life is here [in B.C.] There are animals in the shallows that haven’t even been given a name by science.

“How can we be the teachers, parents and voters we need to be if we have no idea of the incredible life at our doorstep?”

You can find more of HIldering’s dark ocean findings at her blog.

For more news from the Island and beyond delivered directly to your email inbox, click here.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email:

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

EnvironmentOcean Protection


Jackie Hildering in her natural habitat. (Andrew Topham photo, made possible by Melanie Wood)

Just Posted

Public welcomed back to Sidney Spit ferry and camping ground

Service opens July 20 with new ferry contractor and other pandemic-related changes

Sudden death leaves Vancouver Island family of five children without a father

GoFundMe campaign set up by Lake Cowichan widow’s friend

Couple opts for plan B for wedding in Courtenay

Pandemic restrictions prompt April Powell and Hayden Eely to change plans for the big day

As Charleigh turns 5, Lake Cowichan family says thank you

Girl celebrates her fifth birthday, as support helps her fight against very rare CLN2 Batten disease

Study suggests 8 times more people in B.C. infected with virus than confirmed

The study looked at anonymous blood samples collected for reasons unrelated to COVID-19

Construction begins soon on one-lane stretch of Highway 14 near Port Renfrew

Roadway has been narrowed since heavy rainfall caused slope to fail in 2018

‘We’re not busting ghosts’: Northern B.C. paranormal investigators check out bistro

Paranormal North Coast British Columbia recently checked out PF Bistro at City Centre Mall.

VicPD searching for three men in connection to random assault that put two in hospital

If you see these men you’re asked to call VicPD’s non-emergency line

Protest calls attention to opioid ‘pandemic’ in Cowichan

Four reported overdoses and two deaths of Cowichan Tribes members over the weekend helped spur rally

Russian hackers seeking to steal COVID-19 vaccine data: intel agencies

It is believed APT29, also known as ‘the Dukes’ or ‘Cozy Bear’ was responsible

Parksville woman reaches quarter-finals of ‘Maxim’ magazine cover girl contest

Boldo advances through wildcard round; voting ends July 16

Twitter racing to unravel mystery cyberattack

Some of the world’s most prominent names had their Twitter accounts post invitations for an apparent Bitcoin scam

B.C. announces funding to support post-secondary students with disabilities

The province is investing $275,000 in the new BCcampus website

Most Read