Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Salmon Run

We've had a very successful day here in Victoria despite not getting much sleep due to people wandering in and out of the twenty-bed dorm, the girl in the next bed who wore her gloves to bed because it was cold in here getting up noisily at 4.00 a.m. (dread to think how she survived the cold when she got outside) and our own alarm clock going off at 5.50a.m.

Since my last try at viewing the salmon run was unsuccessful it was time for attempt No.2. The early start was so that we could get the bus to the southern end of Goldstream Provincial Park and walk to the estuary while the tide was still low. In addition to the salmon run we were hoping to see hundreds of bald eagles which gather during the winter months to feed off the dead salmon at high tide (sadly we were too early for this).

In the autumn chum salmon of approx. 4 years old return from the Bering Sea to the Goldstream river. They spawn in the river in which they themselves were born. Females make nests known as redds, which protect the eggs until they hatch. Just days after the spawning, male and female salmon die. Today it was estimated that there were 14,490 chum salmon in the river, 94 coho salmon and 19 chinook salmon (these seem to be disappearing almost entirely from the river).

The salmon run is an impressive spectacle and it's great to have experienced it. Although it's hard not to feel guilty at delighting in the utter carnage of all these dying salmon. When we started walking along the river there weren't any salmon, but as we got about halfway to the estuary we started seeing rows and rows of salmon in the water facing upstream. Lining the river's edge and parts of the riverbed were dead salmon and salmon gasping their final breaths. A great many gulls were feasting upon the fish glut, sitting on the riverbanks or on dead fish, eating the dead ones, but also ripping chunks of flesh out of the still living ones. Some gulls would paddle their feet in the water to bring any lose fish-bits to the surface. One gull was attacking live salmon by continually flying into the air and diving into the water. No gull would be swooping down on ice creams in Lyme Regis if they had this feast in front of them!

But what really made our day was the otter family that we discovered playing with and gorging upon the salmon. Every autumn the all you can eat restaurant pulls up right outside their den. The mother otter and her two (or three) adolescent pups didn't seem too concerned about our presence on the riverbank and approached us curiously. We returned to them in the afternoon after our walk to the estuary and through the forest above the river. Just as we'd given up on seeing them again they poked their heads out briefly, hauled some salmon out of the water and took a few bites. They were either not very active or more scared than they had been in the morning. The pictures didn't come out too well, because it was a dark and damp day. At Campbell River I'd wanted to see the salmon run and saw orcas, and this time I wanted to see the eagles but instead saw otters.

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