Migrations

by Ian Jansma, Field Station Coordinator

Denny Island, July 2008

A new season has begun at our field research station on remote Denny Island in the Great Bear Rainforest. This part of the world gets up late from its misty winter slumber and rolls slowly over through spring rain toward the summer sun. The days grow longer, the air gets warmer, and many creatures answer the call of migration.

Humpback whales, making their long oceanic journeys from their Hawaiian breeding grounds, have come to feed in cold local waters opaque with nutrients and blood-red krill. Grizzly bears are also on the move: one large male, having woken from his hibernation high in the snowy mainland mountains, swam to the island and appeared on our beach to feed on the first sedges of the season. Sandhill cranes have traveled the length and breadth of sky to reunite with lifelong mates on nests tucked away on tiny islets in shallow bogs. And juvenile salmon, swimming with the weight of the coastal ecosystems that depend on them, are migrating from their natal streams to their ocean feeding grounds.

Our research teams have also answered the call. They have converged at the field station from across the bay and across the continent. The wolf crew is scouring the landscape for signs of elusive coastal wolves; collecting scat and hair samples that helps them understand this remarkable and unique population. Our crane biologist is identifying critical sandhill crane nesting habitat. The salmon crew is monitoring sea lice levels; working to ensure that juvenile salmon will have a chance to complete their migration without encountering abnormally high concentrations of deadly sea lice created by open net fish farms. Other research partners are also here, working toward our shared goal of conservation through better understanding.

The world rolls on and the migration continues. Many of the humpback whales have continued north to Alaska. The crane chicks have fledged and are gaining the strength needed to follow their parents south to warmer climes. Five species of pacific salmon are retuning to the coast and are making their way to the streams of their birth. This in turn will precipitate the return of resident killer whales to the area and spark the movement of bears and wolves to the salmon streams.

Animals and plants all along the coast are responding to the bounty of summer while we at the field station toast another successful spring season. One by one the research teams will migrate back to their various laboratories to analyze their samples and data. But soon they will be back. And though the weather is capricious and the seasons are fleeting, the Raincoast field station continues to serve as a home for scientists and conservationists working together for the protection of this vital and vulnerable corner of the world.

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