31. Discovery Island
August 31, 2017, 48.4236, -123.2326
I’m sitting beneath a small Douglas-fir tree. Its branches are laden with cones hanging down and the scent is sweet and welcoming. Out from the beach, past my blue kayak and just offshore, a seal is asleep on a small reef. If I were a wolf, I’d be thinking dinner. That’s just what has been happening.
About 6 years ago Chief Robert Sam of the Songhee Wolf Clan, died. Soon after, a lone adult male wolf appeared on this and the adjoining Chatham islands. The shortest distance from Vancouver Island is across Baynes Channel (which is one and one quarter kilometers.) The currents that flow around the south end of Vancouver Island are very strong. Maximum flow rates during ebb and flood across this channel run to 6 knots. The wolf may have timed his crossing perfectly between ebb and flood, either due to luck or clever observation. You would think that his would be a lonely life, but perhaps the memory of that desperate swim keeps him on the islands. Or maybe he is just meant to be living here.
The Songhee people see the wolf’s current residence as very significant. Maybe they put him here? There are no wild wolves anywhere near Victoria. For the first few years there were no problems, even though half of Discovery Island is a park. But last summer the wolf started tailing a family with children and a dog — for mating? For food? Just curious? In any event, the family felt cornered, called for help, and was chaperoned out. After that the park was closed over the winter months.
Authorities said that they wanted to assess how the wolf interacted with people. How they did that I don’t know. Whenever I ventured over here, I was the only one on the island. Now the park is open again, but just for day use, and there are signs warning about the big, bad wolf.
I’ve heard the wolf, somewhere between a yelp and a howl, but have never seen it. Its scat has been analyzed — 80% seal meat. This makes sense. If you paddle through the reefs on the way over, you will probably see over a hundred seals. Near here there is some recent wolf scat. It is dark- black and very dense. Some of the older, drier stuff has some vegetation in it, including a few berries. It looks as if recently the wolf has been successful and is dining well on seal.
Now the tide has come up to the seal’s snout. Oh- it snorted and allowed itself to be floated away.
I am lucky. This is a beautiful and wild island. I can get here from my new home in Victoria by rolling my kayak through a cemetery to the beach and paddling over in under 2 hours if I plan the currents correctly. If the wind kicks up, of course, that’s another matter. Sometimes three hours to return. On my way I may see seals, otters, geese, cormorants, too many gulls, and a number of duck species. My favorites are the harlequins. Beautiful colours and friendly chirps. The mallards are beautiful, too, but they quack like Donald Duck. It’s hard to take them seriously.
This island has Douglas firs and pine trees as well as healthy arbutus-which need to be near the sea, for the salt air. On many of the Gulf Islands near here the deer population has exploded. They eat the young arbutus trees, which are becoming harder to find. Here there are no deer (too bad for the wolf) and young arbutus shoots are sprouting up all over the place. There are very few Garry oak, though, which surprises me, as they are native to this place. There are invasives: Himalayan blackberry, broom and ivy are the obvious. I don’t like to see ivy swarming up the trunks of beautiful trees, weakening them. This morning, in some dense bush I pulled a bunch off of some of the more handsome trees. To do more, though, I need long pants, gloves, shoes, clippers and saw. I left some skin in there. I ask myself: “Is this all you’ve got to do, just pick apart poo, pull vines off trees and scribble notes?” And well, I guess the answer is yes.
Food for Takaya near Discovery Island
Note: In mid-April 2019 as I was pulling in to the same beach on Discovery Island I heard a loud grunt. There was Takaya, the wolf, in plain view. Grey, tall, majestic. It’s deep “woof woof” sounded like a dog. I decided to paddle along shore a bit and then came back to the same place. As I was headed to shore, the wolf, unseen, barked twice and then howled. He repeated this as I sat just offshore in my kayak. O.K. he didn’t want me to come ashore. Perhaps he had pulled a seal carcass up into the bush and was protecting it. I paddled on to another beach. I saw the wolf again in early July and he howled even more emphatically, this time in plain sight. His fur is a lustrous grey and black, he stands tall and looks formidable, especially when howling. A couple of months later I came back to the same place and there he was again, barking and howling, defending his turf.
Note: In January 2020, Takaya managed to swim across the channels separating Discovery Island from Vancouver Island, and was seen scurrying through the Victoria neighborhood of James Bay in the early morning. He may have gone right by our home. Later he was tranquilized by conservation officers and then moved to the outer coast near Port Renfrew and set free. The officials thought that the environment was similar to Discovery Island and that the wolf would have a good chance at survival and maybe even finally find a mate. But tragedy struck for Takaya, and for our increasingly desperate need for
wilderness, as he was shot by a hunter just a couple of months later.
Painting of Takaya on automated lighthouse, by local artist Paul Archer