30 October 2011

Salmon run on the Canadian West Coast

It's the fall season here on the Canadian West Coast; time to look forward to the salmon run in the local Goldstream River. The forest here is predominantly coniferous, Douglas Fir, Hemlock, and Western Red Cedar, but there are a few stands of Maple trees among the overall carpet of green. The leaves of the Maples are falling, adding colour to the banks of the river.
This may evoke visions of peace, calm, and beauty but there are other additions to the river never seen before... These are the small white oil and solvent booms stretched across the surface of the water; the result of a fuel tanker accident on the road immediately alongside the river some months ago. The initial spill was a disaster, pouring thousands of litres of fuel into the water, but hope is alive the salmon run will not be affected.
The main spawning run will peak in a few weeks but the initial arrivals are few and far between. When I visited the river a week ago I saw only a few salmon making their way upstream. Speaking to a conservation officer confirmed the fact; only fifty fish had been counted so far, and this follows a very disappointing fish count from 2010 when only twenty-five percent of the expected spawning run actually arrived at the river.
Meanwhile, we shall remain hopeful. The bald eagles and the seagulls are gathering in the estuary waiting for the decaying carcases of the salmon to be washed downstream after spawning. Many of the dead fish become washed up on the gravel bars and are pecked clean to the skeleton by crows and other scavengers. A big salmon run is good for the whole wildlife community..... More details in a month's time.

5 October 2011

Tasmanian Devils - the cull's not working

Many readers of this blog may have enjoyed the BBC's Miracle Babies presented by Martin Hughes-Games. He was filmed visiting captive breeding programmes of some of the world's most endangered species. One was a visit to Tasmanian to find out more about the Tasmanian Devil. Numbers of this marsupial have declined for the usual reasons - habitat loss, hunting and predation by the introduced red fox. In 1996 a new threat emerged - devil facial tumour disease, a highly contagious cancer that causes growths around the mouth that interfere with feeding. In 2004 a trial cull was started. Martin visited the trial site where devils are trapped and examined for presence of tumours, and any found with the disease are culled. The theory was that the removal of the diseased individuals would reduce the risk to the others. It was tough for Martin as they found an infected female with young in her pouch. The disease was so advanced that they could not keep her alive long enough for  her babies to grow large enough to be fostered, so she was put down.

New research reported in the Journal of Applied Ecology  has found that that the cull is not stopping the spread of the disease. Although animals were being trapped, a computer model designed to assess the cull found that approximately  one-fifth of the population  would never be trapped so there was a potential reservoir of diseased animals remaining in the population. The cull has now been stopped and research is looking for other ways of saving the devils. This includes the establishment of captive breeding groups and the introduction of healthy individuals into new areas. However, the best hope for the wild devils is a vaccine.

4 October 2011


The little village of Schoenmakerskop where I live lies along the Indian Ocean and the shores were blessed with a large population of Abalone (Haliotis midae). The Abalone can be dived fairly easily and taste good when prepared properly. When prepared badly they have all the characteristics of a car tyre - hard, rubbery and difficult to chew.

Unfortunately the mysterious East decided that the poor Abalone had miraculous aphrodisiacal properties and the Abalone poachers moved in. I no longer dive for Abalone because the population has been reduced by poachers to the extent that they are rapidly becoming endangered. The poaching has become big business and the poachers are polite but get very aggressive if you threaten their activities and the threats go from swearing to threats to your dogs, family, house and person.

Yesterday when I returned home the village was full of police and a police helicopter was parked at the end of the road. I walked a short distance along a coastal trail and came across a sad scene. The body of a young alleged poacher was lying on the rocks and in the vicinity were vehicles belonging to the police, coastal rescue services, nature conservation and a van from the mortuary services. It appears that 6 poachers entered the water at sunrise, three decided the sea was too rough and returned to shore. The others carried out their dive but one drowned. The sea whipped up by a strong wind was unsuitable for diving.

While I was waiting for the helicopter to lift the body the wife of the alleged poacher arrived. I was proud of the police who prevented her from clambering over the rocks and a police woman comforted the poor woman along the shore. This was a painful moment.

The rewards for poaching and the poachers are high if things go well but the price is even higher for the poacher when things go wrong.