August 23, 2015

The Future of Wild Things


One of my favourite books as a little boy and as a father was Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. Max travels to the land of the Wild Things and becomes the King.

Whether we like it or not, the future of wild things on Earth today depends on humanity’s ethics and actions. Fortunately, there are many indications that we are evolving in the right direction. When we stop killing animals, poisoning them, or destroying the habitat that is critical to their survival, wild things will generally flourish.

Where I live, on Pender Island between Vancouver and Victoria, the Salish Sea is bristling with life. I jump in my kayak a few times each week and am always awestruck with wonder at the beauty, diversity, and abundance of wildlife that I observe. Literally every time I am out on the ocean I witness something that makes my heart pound and my spirit sing.

Young otters playing “king of the castle” on a rock exposed by low tide. Upside down rain–concentric ripples on the sea’s surface caused by thousands of small fish (herring maybe?) rising to where the water meets the air. A bald eagle doing the butterfly stroke–swimming 200 metres to shore with a chunky salmon locked in its talons. The powerful whoosh of a humpback whale exhaling, a sound like a waterlogged tuba.

Humpback whales are making a marvellous recovery on the West coast after their numbers were eviscerated by human hunters. Likewise the sea otter, gray whale, Stellar sea lion, harbour seal, and Northern elephant seal. There were only about 100 Northern elephant seals left in the 1880s, but Mexico’s foresight in establishing a sanctuary at Guadelupe Island in 1922 spurred a miraculous recovery and there are now more than 100,000 of these seals on the Pacific Coast of North America.

Northern Elephant Seal

Of course some species are still struggling. The Southern resident killer whales have four new calves but face multiple threats, including vehicle noise, toxic chemicals, and not enough Chinook salmon, the mainstay of their diet. We need to do more to help these critically endangered whales including allocating them a share of the Chinook (with apologies to sport and commercial fishermen), greater restrictions on whale watching boats (both private and commercial), and kiboshing proposed pipeline projects that would increase oil tanker traffic throughout their habitat.

We know what needs to be done to protect and restore populations of wild things. By taking these steps, we nurture the flame of wildness that burns within all of us. We will benefit, in ways both tangible and intangible, by restoring the wild in a world that has become too tame.