Life on the Edge


As one of Canada’s premier tourism destinations, we are partly dependent on wildlife. Wolves are no doubt a highlight of a visitor’s wildlife experience in Clayoquot Sound. Not only do wolves hold deep ecological and intrinsic value, but for a community like Tofino, they also hold economic value. We as community members and business owners have a responsibility to ensure their survival. Wolves are revered by First Nations and are emblematic of kinship, and the “wild”. The howl of a wolf below a full, west coast moon, is as unforgettable as the call of a lion in Africa; yet, for decades, wolves have been persecuted from every angle. It is time to adapt our behaviors and perspectives in order to coexist with wolves.

This year we have had 16 days with wolf sightings, so far. We have seen wolves swim the channel, scout the shoreline, call for their mates, eat a bear carcass and confront a sow with her cubs. This is as it should be – rare and spectacular!

Clayoquot Sound has had its fair share of human-wildlife conflicts and the summer of 2016 was no exception. These are most often “human problems” as we increase pressures on animal habitat. Human-food habituated wolves living on Vargas Island, just north of Tofino, had learned to break into kayak hatches in search of food. While it had been an accepted practice to store food in hatches, it was apparent this had to change.

A coastal wolf on Vargas Island, just north of Tofino, BC

The Vargas Island wolf pack had been destroyed once already and we were determined not to let this happen again. We can no longer regard the extermination of wildlife as an appropriate solution to what is ultimately a people problem. Education is key to co-existing with wildlife. Along with friends Paul Nicklen (National Geographic), Cristina Mittermeier (Sea Legacy), and Dan Harrison (Raincoast Education Society), we worked together to write letters, start a petition and educate the public. Local kayak guides jumped on board to adapt their practices. While, we continue to hound the Provincial Park for more food caches; Liam McNiel from Tofino Sea Kayaking organized the private funding and purchase of two caches, set for installation this week on the public side of Vargas Island. The Provincial Park simply can not invite the world to camp on Vargas without having the necessary infrastructure to protect wildlife. Our coastal wolves rely on the shoreline for food. We are camping directly on top of their food highway. Because of the sheer number of visitors to Vargas Island, there is bound to be contact. Who should be liable? Surely not wolves, the natural inhabitants of this place.

It is time to ask… How will we care for this place and it’s creatures? What values and principles should guide our decisions? It is a time to recognize the foundation truth that ultimately what we do to the land, in essence, we do to ourselves. With education, and with tolerance, not only can we learn to co-exist with wolves, we can cultivate a culture of respect and guardianship, and we can become known as people who preserved this elemental spirit.

Globally it seems this is a time for deep reflection. Currently, world events bring us face to face with necessary self-contemplation because of people different from ourselves. There are so many cultures, beliefs, and ideologies that we do not share. Animals who share the same planet with us are also individuals. Fundamentally this is about our personal relationship with the world and it’s not bad to review our own perceptions and ethics. Is there really a “them” and an “us”? If there is, then we know “they”, love their lives equally as much as we do ours. Field researchers have observed across many species a consciousness not much unlike our own. A myriad of emotions, bravery, selflessness, frustrations, contemplation, choice making and moods have been witnessed among the animal kingdom.

With our devotion to human-centric values and our insane neediness, it is so easy to destroy, to reduce, exploit, separate, and make extinct. We believe there are far deeper and longer lasting values in an eco-centric nature based ethic system that seeks commonality and connection, one where we conduct ourselves with respect. Ethics not just for ourselves, but the governing bodies who manage our wild places.
Our coastal wolves aren’t dangerous animals we need to fear, but rather clever family groups carving out a living in the midst of highly recreated areas. They need a little space. With space, these wolves are already unlearning habituated behaviour.
If you have not already signed our petition to protect the Vargas wolf pack, please do!
If you are interested in reading more about coastal Wolves in BC, check out this wonderful story by Cristina Mittermeier.

By Ocean Simone Shine
All Images: Guide Kyler Vos