Unloading stacks of heavy totes from their research ship onto Nanaimo’s dock Wednesday, scientists who had been at sea for five weeks felt relief and excitement about what they now could share.

“We have new science that has not been done before,” said Chrys Neville of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“Some of the most important discoveries that I am aware of ever being made on this coast,” said Dr. Richard Beamish, emeritus scientist at the Pacific Biological Station.

The latest data was all gathered aboard a Russian research ship over the past five weeks in a first-ever international expedition into the Gulf of Alaska.

The goal was to observe the salmon out in that area.

“It was the first time we’d been out there in the winter time in the Gulf of Alaska looking at what salmon are doing,” said Neville.

Five Canadian scientists were aboard the expedition that also included researchers from Russia, Japan, Korea and the U.S.

They found an abundance of Coho salmon that were earlier believed to stay closer to the Gulf of Alaska Shelf.

“The stuff that we were seeing, we were seeing for the very first time,” said Svetlana Esenkulova, a biologist with the Pacific Salmon Foundation.

“And we were quite surprised to see what was going on there.

For the first time ever scientists got what they consider a dependable count of salmon stocks as well, 54.5 million fish.

“It’s never been done before,” said Dr. Beamish.

“We’ve never had an estimate of how many salmon are in the Pacific that would return to say British Columbia rivers or to rivers on the west coast.”

Scientists say none of the discoveries would have been made had they not raised over $1-million in private funds for the expedition.

“Harmac and Levi (Sampson) are the reason that this ship is tied up to the dock,” said Beamish.

“They supported bringing this ship to Nanaimo as well as supporting the whole expedition.”

Employee-owned Harmac Pacific was among the donors along with individuals, the Pacific Salmon Foundation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

 

Skye Ryan