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Krystal Bachen: Technician Turned Raven Rescuer - Hakai Institute

Krystal Bachen: Technician Turned Raven Rescuer

You learn all sorts of skills growing up on the BC Central Coast.

The coastal waters off Calvert Island—the Hakai Institute’s home base on British Columbia’s Central Coast—teem with marine life, so seeing an animal splash at the surface is rarely cause for alarm. But as Krystal Bachen was walking along the pier before dinner recently, a pair of screeching adult ravens alerted her to commotion below. A juvenile raven was floundering in the water beside a visitor’s skiff tied to the dock, and as the young technician watched, she realized it was in distress.

With coworkers Grant Callegari, Josh Silberg, and Andrew McCurdy close behind, she rushed to help. The bird, likely attracted to some shiny hooks, had gotten tangled in a fishing line at the back of the boat.

When it had tried to fly away, it flopped into the water instead. It had one hook through its beak, another through its wing. As Callegari held the raven, Bachen eased the hooks out and cut the line away from its wings and legs.

Dawsons Landing, one of our neighbors to the east where summer Hakai Institute research technician Krystal Bachen grew up. Map by Keith Holmes

Though she has never tended to a raven in peril before, Bachen has always had an affinity for coastal critters. She grew up in the single-family settlement of Dawsons Landing in Rivers Inlet—an hour’s boat ride southeast of the Institute—where her family of four runs a general store/liquor store/post office, fuel dock, and rental cabins.

Bachen and her younger sister spent hours catching fish or combing the intertidal and learned the common names of plants and animals from her father, who also grew up in Dawsons Landing, or from the stacks of guidebooks her parents kept in ready supply. Family friends occasionally brought the Bachens interesting critters from their commercial prawn traps, which they placed into an old rowboat converted into an aquarium. “We would keep things for a time, and eventually put them back in the ocean,” Bachen says.

Bachen’s father also taught her how to drive a boat before she was in grade three. As he was driving a tug, he’d send her out in a skiff with instructions to drive in a straight line beside him. Those skills were put to good use in 2003 when, fortuitously, the Tula Foundation, partnering with the Nature Conservancy of Canada—years before the Calvert Island base was established—began work cleaning up a polluted estuary at the end of Rivers Inlet, and hired Bachen, then 15, to drive a boat.

Hakai research technician Krystal Bachen processes a sample of seaweed. Photo by Grant Callegari

For three years, from April through June, she shuttled and assisted scientists as they investigated the area’s ecology. By then, Bachen had already decided she wanted to pursue marine biology, but having access to these researchers, who encouraged and guided her, cemented her resolve.

Bachen, who finds anything marine related in the natural world fascinating, has been studying at Vancouver Island University for the past several years, taking a wide variety of courses, from ornithology to botany to entomology and biology.

“I haven’t been able to focus in on anything in particular because I just find so many things interesting,” she says. Her new job at the Hakai Institute this summer, partly the result of a personal recommendation from one of her teachers, has equally fueled her passion to learn broadly. Since May, she has tagged Dolly Varden trout, monitored seagrass growth, counted animals in marine mud, seined in the intertidal, and, of course, driven boats.

“Everything she’s done, she’s done really, really well,” says Eric Peterson, co-founder and director of the Hakai Institute. “She’s detail oriented. She likes working in the lab. And she’s a pleasure to be around.”

Now, adding to her list of accomplishments: raven rescue. Once Bachen and the other rescuers had freed the bird—and the angry, screeching adults swooped past—she left a friendly note on the boat explaining why she had needed to cut the owner’s fishing line.

The young raven? “We saw him later sitting on a rock drying himself out,” Bachen says. “So hopefully he’s learned not to play with hooks anymore.”

Shanna Baker is an editor at Hakai Magazine, which is also funded by the Tula Foundation. She was visiting the Calvert Island Field Station to learn more about Hakai Institute research. Hakai Magazine is an editorially independent publication covering science and society on the world’s coasts.