On Seals, Salmon and Garbage
Last week I went on a migration count around the Courtenay River Estuary with other members of the Comox Valley Naturalist’s Society. This is an annual project with counts being done every Monday and Thursday from mid August through to early November. Because the counts have been done now for a number of years the data is providing some useful information on the status of bird migration through the valley. Perhaps I will talk more about this in a future blog.
During the walk last Monday we observed a large adult Harbour Seal in the Courtenay River that had caught a rather large Chinook Salmon. It was playing with it as much as eating it. It would come to the surface with the salmon and shake it, drag it under, and at times fling pieces up into the air. There were two smaller seals close at hand as well as a Glaucous-winged Gull, all three of which were probably getting any tidbits that broke of the salmon and were not eaten by the big seal. I watched for quite a while and took a series of photos, some of which are posted below. At this time the salmon are running in the river and I suspect that seals regularly patrol the lower stretch of the river looking for an easy feast.
Seals are not the only creatures that hunt for salmon in the rivers around Courtenay at this time of year. Black bears will often come to the river searching for salmon and both Bald Eagles and Turkey Vultures hang around looking for a free meal. Of course there are also the fishermen. My next door neighbor’s boyfriend, Shawn Brown, is a fisherman and spends a lot of time fishing the various rivers as well as coastal areas in the valley and beyond. Although not a birder, he is a keen observer of wildlife of all types, and a very conscientious environmentalist.
Yesterday Shawn took me to a place on the Puntledge River that he fishes regularly and where he often sees Dippers, a bird that I still do not have a good photo of. The place is essentially a small gravel bar along the edge of the river that is frequented by fishermen and dippers alike. While I set myself up in a good place to wait for a dipper to come in, Shawn decided to clean up some of the garbage on the spit. Just to fill in my side of the story, although I did see two dippers, they were flying by and never stopped to give me a chance for a photo.
The real story here though is the garbage that Shawn collected. As well as the usual paper and tin can garbage there was a large amount of fishing line and four barbed hooks. Now the usual paper and tin can garbage is a visual eyesore that spoils the pristine beauty of the place, but the fishing line and hooks, well, they are another matter.
Fishing line is a hazard to wildlife and humans alike. I am sure everyone has heard stories of animals becoming tangled in fishing line and having to be extricated by humans or not being so lucky and dying. During the dragonfly workshop that I wrote about recently one of the participants, a wonderful lady in her eighty’s, got tangled up in fishing line and almost fell. Fishing hooks can be just as dangerous. First, it is illegal to fish with barbed hooks along any river in B.C., so the people who were doing so were breaking the law.
Barbed hooks pose a real threat because once they pierce the skin it is almost impossible to pull them back out, they have to be pushed through or cut out. Some larger hooks could potentially pierce through thin soled shoes, but all hooks would certainly pose a real threat to anyone walking the gravel bar in bare feet. These gravel bars are also frequented by animals like bears, martins and otters to name a few, animals that would have no way of extracting barbed hooks. A festering wound could compromise an animal’s mobility and might eventually result in death from the infection.
I am sure that most fishermen are much like my friend Shawn and would never leave either fishing line or hooks behind, but those few fishermen who are responsible for this sort of garbage give the rest of the fishermen a bad name and, in my opinion, deserve no respect whatsoever. Unfortunately these people are very seldom caught or fined for doing this.