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‘Get the balance back’: Amid seal and sea lion boom, group calls for hunt on B.C. coast

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For the first time in decades, a small-scale seal hunt is taking place on Canada’s West Coast — all in the hopes that it leads to the establishment of a commercial industry to help control booming seal and sea lion populations and protect the region’s fish stocks.

In early November, a group called the Pacific Balance Pinnipeds Society (PBPS) started using First Nations hunting rights as part of a plan to harvest 30 seals. The society plans to test the meat and blubber to see if it’s fit for human consumption and other uses.

“We can look at opening up harvesting and starting a new industry,” said Tom Sewid, the society’s director and a commercial fisherman. “Since the [West Coast] seal cull ended in the 1970s, the population has exploded.”

Sewid, who is a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation, points out that Indigenous people have hunted the animals for thousands of years. Recent decades with little or no hunting have been an anomaly, he said, pointing to research that shows seal numbers are even higher now than in the 1800s.

Out go the nets, in come the sea lions

What’s become an ongoing battle between humans and sea lions played out on a recent nighttime fishing expedition, when Sewid and a crew of commercial fishermen set out in a 24-metre seine boat to fish for herring off the coast of Parksville, B.C.

The crew’s goal was to catch about 100 tonnes of herring, which rise to the surface to feed after dark. But the faint barking of sea lions was soon heard over the thrum of the boat’s diesel engine.

“All them sea lions out there are all happy — [they’re] all yelling, ‘Yahoo, it’s dinner time!'” Sewid said.

Once the crew spotted the herring, they let out hundreds of metres of net, while a smaller boat helped to circle it around the huge mass of fish. The crew then closed the bottom of the net, capturing the herring.

Watch sea lions pillage fishermen’s nets:

Many Sea Lions are caught in fishing nets, as they try to feed. 0:27

But the catch also provided some uninvited visitors with a captive dinner: Dozens of sea lions jumped over the floats holding up the net and started to gorge.

“These guys, it’s just a buffet for them,” said Sewid, as the bodies of the sea lions glistened in the boat’s floodlights. “Just like pigs at a trough.”

Sewid said the sea lions have learned there’s an easy meal to be had whenever they see or hear the fishing boats.

“They’re not afraid of us. They’ve habituated themselves to seeing that humans and fishing equates easy access to food, which is not right,” he said. “The animal kingdom is not supposed to be like that.”

Restarting a banned hunt

The hunting of seals and sea lions — which are collectively known as pinnipeds — has been banned on the West Coast for more than 40 years. It’s one reason their numbers have exploded along the entire Pacific coastline of North America.

According to one study, the harbour seal population in the Salish Sea is estimated at 80,000 today, up from 8,600 in 1975. The study also says seals and sea lions now eat six times as many chinook salmon as are caught in the region’s commercial and sports fisheries combined.

That adds up to millions of tonnes of commercially valuable fish.

Sewid’s group is proposing to cull current populations of harbour seals and sea lions by half, which would see thousands of the animals killed each year.

Tom Sewid is leading the effort to secure what he calls a sustainable harvest of seals and sea lions along the B.C. coast. (Greg Rasmussen/CBC)

The society’s small-scale “test” harvest is taking place between B.C.’s southern Gulf Islands and as far north as Campbell River, on Vancouver Island. It’s being carried out under the provisions of the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy, which gives some First Nations harvesting and management rights for food and ceremonial purposes.

Testing the meat to see if it’s safe for human consumption is a first step in a plan to eventually gain permission for what the PBPS envisions as a sustainable, humane commercial hunt, which would largely be carried out by coastal First Nations.

“All the meat that’s in there, you’re looking at the high-end restaurants [that would sell it],” Sewid said. “The hides can also be used.”

Seal blubber is particularly valuable, he said, because it can be rendered down into an oil that’s in demand because of its high Omega-3 fatty acid content.

Watch fishing crew struggle to free sea lions entangled in their nets:

Watch as fishing crew struggles to free sea lions trapped in their nets. 0:49

One of the biggest hurdles facing the group is convincing the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to open a commercial hunt on the West Coast. 

The seal hunt that takes place in the Atlantic and Arctic is controversial, and has long been subject to protests and fierce opposition from animal rights groups. The group expects a West Coast harvest to also face fierce confrontations.

Canadian Inuit have been waging a counter-campaign, highlighting the importance of the animal and the longstanding tradition of their hunt. 

Most Canadian seal products are also banned in Europe and a handful of other countries, but the society says demand is strong in Asia.

Supporters and opponents

The PBPS does have a growing list of supporters, including 110 First Nations groups, a number of commercial fishing organizations, and some sectors of B.C.’s economically important sport fishing sector.

However, one key player, the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C., opposes a large commercial hunt, fearing it would generate public outrage and might not achieve the goal of enhancing fish stocks.

The institute’s director, Martin Paish, says the group sees some value in targeting some seals and other fish predators at specific times of year in a number of key river systems; he believes a limited hunt would help protect salmon stocks and boost the billion-dollar-a-year B.C. sport fishing industry.

“Our goal is to use predator control in a careful manner to improve chinook [salmon] production where it is needed,” said Paish.

Carl Walters is a fish biologist and UBC professor who supports cutting B.C.’s population of seals and sea lions by half. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

Fisheries scientist Carl Walters, a professor emeritus with UBC, believes culling the regions sea lions and seals could dramatically boost salmon stocks. He points to numerous studies showing how pinniped populations have been increasing, while salmon numbers have been plummeting.

“They’re killing a really high percentage of the small salmon shortly after they go into the ocean, about half of the coho smolts and a third of the chinooks,” he said.

Advocates of a hunt are also pitching it as a way to help B.C.’s endangered southern resident killer whales, which feed mainly on salmon. 

“The thing that would benefit southern resident killer whales is to see improved survival of small chinook salmon — and I think the only way we can achieve that is by reducing seal numbers,” Walters said.

Peter Ross, from the Coastal Ocean Research Institute, says there would be little benefit to salmon from a seal and sea lion cull. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

Others disagree, including Peter Ross, the vice-president of research and executive director of the Coastal Ocean Research Institute.

“Killing of seals and sea lions is not going to have any positive impact for any salmon populations in coastal British Columbia,” he said.

While a few localized populations of salmon might benefit from a cull, Ross said climate change, habitat destruction and overfishing are all bigger factors in the overall decline of stocks.

Other subspecies of orcas, however, feed mainly on seals, so a hunt would reduce their access to prey.

Back on the boat, Sewid concedes a hunt would be controversial — but he firmly believes it’s necessary.

“All the indicators are there,” he said. “It’s time to get the balance back.”

The fishing crew from the Western Investor are shown harvesting herring in November. But they say they are being hampered by dozens of sea lions in their nets almost every night. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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