by Allison De Jong
Living in a landlocked (through very lovely) state, I especially enjoy visiting the coast when I have a chance. This spring, my husband and I took a trip out to the west side of Vancouver Island, to the little town of Tofino. Exploring new places through the eyes of a naturalist is always thrilling. On the drive across the island, we encountered snow on the pass–a mere 240 meters in elevation. Some of the Douglas-firs and western red cedars were enormous. And when we reached the coast, the wildlife was diverse and beautiful.
Some friendly naturalists at a lookout pointed out several grey whales, blowing spray and swimming half a mile offshore. We lost count of the Bald Eagles we saw soaring above us. One afternoon, we encountered two or three dozen sea lions frolicking amongst the waves, right below where we stood on a high rocky cliff. They dove, they splashed, they swam in a group of five, or eight, then dove and regrouped, their bodies dark against the pale green sea. There were cormorants and Bufflehead Ducks and Surf Scoters. And, most exciting for us, we saw a group of Harlequin Ducks swimming in the surf.
We learned that Vancouver Island, while home to wolves, mountain lions, Roosevelt elk, and black bears (and, of course, marine life like sea lions and sea otters), has no grizzlies, moose, coyotes, mountain goats, or skunks. Some of the places we explored seemed like such ideal moose habitat, yet the swim from the mainland has thus far kept moose and a number of other creatures away. That distance has also allowed Vancouver Island to be home to two species that are not found anywhere else: the Vancouver Island marmot and the Vancouver Island wolf.
As naturalists, my husband and I are always fascinated by different ecosystems. Vancouver Island’s western coast was a splendid combination of familiar (Douglas-firs, Bald Eagles, Bufflehead Ducks) and unfamiliar (sea lions, anemones, starfish, grey whales). And I am always inspired by the beauty and diversity of other places, seeing how the flora and fauna have adapted differently to each climate and landscape. I am grateful that there are so many lovely and varied places to explore.