(This is the first in a four-part series of related columns)
A protective seal. An itchy whale. A famished grizzly. Competitive eagles. It's a mini-series on the Sheriff's Adventures with wildlife.
After reading the Making Tracks columns during the next four weeks, some may conclude that these were more like misadventures. However, the Sheriff has always believed (since he was a youngster) that adventures begin by going out your back door. He didn't go looking for adventure but it always seemed to happen in the outdoors, and it only got better when the Sheriff met Constant Companion Carmen.
The first adventure with wildlife was during a multi-day kayaking trip to the Broughton Archipelago which is northeast of Telegraph Cove, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. When five Kelowna women and a Summerland buddy asked the Sheriff to act as their leader in exploring Broughton Archipelago Marine Provincial Park, he joked: "We won't have to go looking for critters, they're going to come to us."
That silly promise came back to haunt the Sheriff on Canada Day as the group was going through a narrow channel between two small islands in the Canoe Islets.
Drifting through the channel, the Sheriff brought up the rear so he could keep an eye on everyone when a large seal head popped out of the water, followed by a smaller seal head. After the "Oh, aren't they cute?" comments, paddling buddy Holly held her right hand over the right side of her kayak and said with a laugh: "I want the seal to come up right here."
Within a few seconds, she was staring down into big brown eyes. Then, the momma seal disappeared underwater again.
"Be careful what you wish for," the Sheriff advised her, as everyone laughed about the close encounter. "We are looking for whales, after all."
Less than a minute later, with a loud bang, the seal smashed into the right side of the Sheriff's kayak just behind his cockpit. As he turned toward the sound, he saw the thick body of the seal halfway out of the water and felt its jaws clamp onto the jacket he wore that cool day. Fortunately, the Sheriff was wearing a PFD under the jacket so there was extra padding.
"I was just attacked by that seal," he told everyone. When several expressed disbelief, the Sheriff turned and showed them the rip in the back of his jacket, a jagged hole which was, no doubt, the result of considerable force.
"Time to get going, quickly," he advised everyone. Without hesitation, they all paddled out of the channel, but paused a short distance away and saw the same two seal heads pop out of the water. They wasted no time continuing their quick departure.
Later, several paddlers noted the Sheriff has the widest and most stable of the seven kayaks. If the seal had attacked anyone else, their kayak might have capsized, leaving the paddler at the mercy of an aggressive and experienced swimmer.
During many years of paddling on the B.C. coast, that was the first time anyone in our group experienced, or heard of, such an attack. Other paddlers they met along the way were shocked and surprised as well.
However, the next day when visiting Village Island, they met Brad, an experienced guide from North Island Kayak in Telegraph Cove. After relating hearing about frightening seal experience, he said a similar encounter happened to his buddy, Joel, in the same area the previous summer. Joel was paddling through the same narrow channel in a kayak with his spare paddle tied, as usual, to the deck behind him. Without warning, a seal jumped onto his rear deck and "was thrashing about" on top of the paddle, perhaps trying to get at him.
An experienced paddler, Joel immediately braced his kayak (using his paddle flat in the water to keep him upright) so he wouldn't end up face-to-face with the seal in the seal's watery territory.
A little jiggle and the seal slid off. Joel immediately paddled out of the channel—rather quickly one can imagine. The paddle with bite marks was then displayed in the North Island Kayak shop as a warning.
The group laughed at the story, somewhat nervously, suggesting B.C. Parks erect signs at the channel entrances warning of an aggressive seal, much like its bear warning signs at trailheads. They speculated it was a mother protecting her offspring or guarding her turf.
The Sheriff also thought his wooden Greenland paddle may have resurrected a seal memory that Greenlanders in kayaks hunt seals. It was yet another reminder all these creatures are wild animals and we venture into their homes. Caution is always advised. Later, as a joke, a seal flack jacket was assembled by the other kayakers using Mason jar lids and duct tape.
Fast forward a year when a kayaking buddy in Nanaimo who heard about the attack sent a copy of a news release.
“B.C. Marine Trails received a serious report yesterday (not directly from party that was attacked). On July 9, a harbour seal attacked a group of four experienced kayakers in the Canoe Islets area of the Broughton Archipelago. The group was paddling through a narrow channel in the Canoe Islets when the seal jumped on the deck of one of their kayaks. The individual knocked the seal off the boat, and then it circled around from behind and jumped out of the water biting one paddler on their side just below the arm, puncturing the dry suit and capsizing the individual.
"Two members of the group came to rescue their friend. One was bitten on the arm by the seal, the bite puncturing their skin. Another member suddenly noticed the seal lunging up toward the face of another paddler but was able to yell in time so that the individual it was coming towards could hit the seal with their paddle. It finally left them alone."
There have been two other reports of attacks in this exact same area, in 2013 and 2014, said the news release.
"The circumstances that led to the attack are unclear; there was no evidence of pups in the area. Those recreating or paddling in this area should remain cautious. Never approach marine wildlife and report any incidents to the appropriate regulatory body," said the BCMT, which works on behalf of the public - from reporting incidents, monitoring recreation and reserve sites to participating with government, stakeholders and First Nations.
Next week: What the Sheriff did in response to the second attack.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.