The effect the climate crisis will have on the food chain are already playing out in British Columbia. Low fish stocks this summer have caused southern resident killer whales to starve. And now, with winter fast approaching, a photographer captured images of an emaciated family of grizzly bears desperately searching for salmon where there are none, as CNN reported.
While the bears should be plump after gorging on salmon, the area around Knight Inlet, where the photographs were taken has suffered one of its worst salmon runs ever.
“We’re really concerned about the bears,” said Jake Smith, Guardian Watchman Manager for the Mamalilikulla First Nation, as CTV News reported. “The bears have been starving because there’s a lack of salmon return in Hoeya Sound and Lull Bay.”
Smith and other volunteers from the First Nation took the fish to estuary areas where the bears are known to feed. The bears were there and hungry, said Smith.
“We were about 30 feet away from them,” he said to CNN. “A little grizzly looked up at us and the mother bear came out to get the fish.”
While it is unusual to help bears, Smith and others have started to notice that the bears are wandering away from their traditional feeding grounds to search for food.
Richard Sumner, chief councilor of the Mamalilikulla First Nation, said grizzlies are starting to venture to all the small islands in the area and are even making their way over to Vancouver Island in search of fish, something that rarely happened in the past, as the CBC reported. Hungry bears will often be aggressive.
Sumner added that he understands that people should not interfere with wild animals, but he argues that what is happening to the bears is not a byproduct of a natural occurrence.
— Rolf Hicker Photo (@rolfhickerphoto) October 3, 2019
“The lack of salmon is not a natural thing,” he said to the CBC. “I’m hoping it’s not too little too late.”
He added that he and his tribe have a duty to the bears since the Mamalilikulla First Nation are the stewards of the land and it would be unethical to watch the grizzlies perish.
“We just hope we can get enough bulk on them to last the winter,” said Sumner to the CBC.
It’s not just the bears that do not have fish. Sumner pointed out that his tribe members, who rely on frozen and canned fish in the winter, have empty freezers this year.
A report released earlier this summer pointed out that the salmon’s ecosystem was changing rapidly since Canada is experiencing warming twice as fast as the global average, as CNN reported. The report also noted other factors like marine heatwaves, flooding, and droughts that are stressing Canada’s fish stocks.
The same is true in Alaska, where this summer’s heat waves killed hundreds of salmon.
And last month, the commercial fishing lobby asked the government for disaster relief to help the industry since the fishing had been so poor.
“The impacts of this climate change disaster has been coast wide,” said Joy Thorkelson, president of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union, at a press conference in September, as CNN reported.
Canada’s natural resources ministry told CNN they will meet with First Nations later today to discuss the salmon and the bears.