What happens when salmon, famous for their ability to return to their spawning grounds years after birth, go somewhere they aren’t supposed to go? They get sick and die. This is exactly what is happening this year. Due to the snow drought in BC, salmon have made a last ditch effort to escape the warm Columbia River. They prefer it colder, and have found colder waters in Washington in the Little White Salmon River. However, it is too late for them. Fish immune systems are harmed by warm water, and huge numbers of them have contracted bacterial and fungal infections. All the Pacific salmon in the Little White Salmon River are expected to die, well short of their spawning ground.
Salmon are a keystone species in the Pacific Northwest. Black bears and brown bears (grizzlies) prey on spawning salmon, but they are picky eaters. Contrary to popular belief, the bears do not consume the entire fish, nor always guard their salmon kills. Both species of bears are primarily herbivorous, but eat meat when there are not a lot of berries and other edible plants available, or the meat is convenient to obtain. In the case of salmon spawning, the meat takes virtually no effort to obtain and is abundant. Bears will usually just take a big bite out of a salmon and leave it on the forest floor. There, other animals will eat what the bear has left. Bears then excrete nitrogen rich waste into the forest, which plants and fungi uptake and other animals in turn eat. There are two sizeable problems with dramatically poor spawning. One is the ecosystem problem that exists when other forest creatures do not receive their expected bounties from the bears. The other is that bears partially depend on salmon spawning to gain fat for the winter. They must gain about 400 pounds or 181 kg in order to survive hibernation.
Hungry bears search for food far and wide and often find themselves in human territory, and these bears can become habituated. Predatory attacks are not unheard of for one thing, but for another, bears are intelligent, agile, and have been known to invade cars, homes and tents. A bear surprising a sleeping person is particularly dangerous. When confronted with a bear, one might be tempted to scream, but this will cause the victim to show their teeth, which enrages bears and often leads to mauling. They take exploratory bites randomly and in so doing obliterate what they break into. This also puts bears at risk, as wildlife officers may euthanize bears that get too close to humans. If you encounter a bear, there are a few things to do that can save your life. These tips, published by the Government of Canada, can be found here.
Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world. If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.