2014 was a bittersweet year for nature in the Fraser delta. While some species fared well, others struggled desperately for survival. Our wealth of migratory wildlife is unique in Canada and needs proactive attention. Let’s make it a priority for the new year.
Bird counts were high. More raptor and owl species hunted Delta fields in winter than anywhere else in the country, though snowy owls stayed north. Trumpeter swans and snow geese joined flocks of ducks on flooded farmland, and waterfowl filled Boundary Bay. April brought clouds of shorebirds heading north to breed – 78,000 sandpipers were counted in just one day at Roberts Bank.
Local eulachon, the once abundant little candlefish, had a disastrous year as their spawning areas are gone. In contrast, over 20 million sockeye salmon headed upriver last summer, the returning cohort of the exceptional 2010 spawning run. Canadian and U.S. fishermen had a bonanza, as did the bald eagles. Sadly, many seabirds and even a harbour porpoise or two were killed as by-catch in fishing nets.
Warming ocean waters and a densovirus disease were blamed for a mysterious sea star wasting disease affecting the northeast Pacific coast. Divers in B.C. were shocked to find mounds of dead and dissolving starfish on the ocean floor. Scientists studying the outbreak hope that young sea stars are surviving and that populations will rebound. It is scary to think how quickly a common creature like the purple ochre star can disappear.
Wildlife habitats in the delta are being destroyed and it is difficult to create new ones. For example, Port Metro Vancouver removed a large number of logs from Boundary Bay’s shoreline, as compensation for developments such as Deltaport Terminal 2 on Roberts Bank. In the fickle way of nature, December high tides and storm surges, just a year later, pushed in a fresh wave of logs that covered the cleared sites. The snowy owls will be happy, next time they visit.
A surge in sightings of pacific white-sided dolphins in the Salish Sea delighted naturalists in 2014, but endangered southern resident orcas were struggling. At the tail end of the year, a pregnant female was found dead, sending the population to its lowest numbers since 1985. Calves have been few, and only 77 whales remained. Yet a gleam of hope came in the first days of 2015, with the birth of a new baby orca: J50.
Anne Murray is a local naturalist and writer. Her books on Delta’s natural and ecological history, A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay and Tracing Our Past, a Heritage Guide to Boundary Bay, are available in local stores or from www.natureguidesbc.com. She blogs at www.natureguidesbc.wordpress.com.