The Wet West Coast: Reflections of an Ontarian

By Anna Donevan

The “wet coast,” or west coast, is truly a unique place. Coastal BC has a diverse landscape—tall coniferous forests surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the basaltic Olympic Mountains. To an Ontarian, this landscape is large, dramatic and dynamic. I recently moved to Victoria from Eastern Ontario and notice many differences, most centring on the landscape and wildlife found here: the weather (rain), the laid-back way of life here on the island, the trees that seem like they are out of Jurassic Park, and the Pacific salmon. Chum salmon to be exact.

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Of the five types of Pacific salmon, chum salmon are the most common in Goldstream River, and they have an interesting life cycle: they return to the river they were born in after 4 years of being in the ocean to spawn. Working as a Park Naturalist at Goldstream Provincial Park during the salmon run beginning this past October, I realized that the salmon run is an extraordinary feat.

They embark on this two-and-a-half-week journey over thousands of kilometres, from the cold region ecosystem of the Bering Sea near Alaska to the temperate rainforest ecosystem where Goldstream River is located. The salmon have to avoid larger predators like orcas and sea lions and nets from fishermen. Talk about an epic journey! The salmon have to fight and work so hard to get here, then they spawn, and then they die. But their bodies feed black bears and bald eagles, two of the creatures I have seen in the past few weeks enjoying a salmon feast. The life cycle of the chum salmon continues in the spring with the hatching of eggs, as it has for centuries.

At the beginning of the salmon run there had been several fish left with their heads ripped off, indicating a bear had been active in the area. Bears enjoy the brains of salmon the most, as it is full of nutrients that will keep it healthy during hibernation.

A few weeks ago, I was standing by the Goldstream River with a class, and we were about to do a salmon dissection when someone shouted, “there’s a bear!”

A young male black bear had indeed come down to the opposite side of the river in the afternoon to enjoy a salmon feast. It was magnificent to see the life cycle of the salmon in action: strong, healthy chum salmon fighting and splashing in the river, with a black bear directly opposite fishing for a dead salmon to bring into the forest for an afternoon snack. Being able to watch this fascinating event has been one of my most memorable BC experiences so far.

The totality of life is seen in the salmon spawning and then dying. Through the dying, new life begins. Observing this cycle in action, I have learned to have a greater appreciation for the true struggle that most species endure-just to pass on their genes. It is a humbling realization that despite everything that is thrown at them, animals persevere.

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I have moved from one body of water (Lake Ontario) to a larger and more mysterious body of water—the Pacific Ocean. There is so much that we still do not understand about the ocean, yet it continues to flow and surge, to rise and fall with the tides, and to inspire. The benthic zone of the ocean is perhaps the most mysterious of all. Looking down from the surface of the ocean, the water appears as a giant mirror, yet the bottom depths of the ocean have things unseen and unimagined. It is a world open to exploration and imagination, a place I want to learn more about.

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