Tens of thousands of wild salmon have been found strewn dead along a streambed – the latest casualty of the drought that has hit the British Columbia province for more than a month.
In a video posted on social media, dead salmon can be seen piled up near the community of Bella Bella.
“It’s just devastating to see it happen. River levels are low everywhere right now – not just in the Heiltsuk area. The drought is all over the coast at the moment,” William Housty, Heiltsuk’s conservation manager, told the Guardian. “We see pre-hatch mortality on an annual basis. But never to this extent.”
The video was taken by German researcher Sarah Mund, who took part in a tour of a river to record the health and size of salmon populations returning to spawn.
This is Neekas, Heiltsuk Territory. All of these salmon went into the creek, the creek dried up b/c of no rain so far this fall, and just died, and this is just one reach! Global warming is killing everything. This is such a sad scene. Video credit, Sarah Mund pic.twitter.com/vYhEKwD5mN
— William Housty (@WilliamHousty) October 4, 2022
Wild salmon usually wait for rains as a signal to travel to streams and rivers – an indication that water levels will rise and provide easier passage to their natal streams.
Housty says a brief afternoon rain 10 days ago, combined with a high tide, gave the salmon the wrong signal to start.
No more rain came and the stream dried up, leaving the fish stranded.
“We’ve only had one afternoon of rain in over a month,” he said. “Without the rain and the tide, I suspect many of these salmon would probably be on hold [στον ωκεανό]. They haven’t had enough time to adjust to the reality of this drought.”
One biologist estimated that there were 65,000 dead salmon in the streambed – more than 70% of which failed to reproduce.
This was so very sad for our field crew to to witness. About ~65,000 dead pink salmon were in this creek, and more than 70% of them hadn’t had the opportunity to spawn before the creek water dropped.
Thank you for sharing @WilliamHousty. https://t.co/MqtR6ryOqs
— Allison Dennert (@allisonmdennert) October 4, 2022
The life cycle of wild Pacific salmon means they inevitably die after traveling through winding streams. But their remains, consumed and redistributed by bears, wolves and birds, provide valuable nutrients for the forest.
Housty says the deaths come at a time when the community was optimistic about the recovery of the salmon population.
“It’s heartbreaking to see. We really felt like we had turned the page on their recovery,” says Housty.
The west coast of British Columbia has seen little rain over the past five weeks and several areas are in drought level four, which is likely to lead to socio-economic and ecosystem impacts.
“It’s something we have to continue to monitor. I hope it’s a rare event,” Housty said. “But we must be prepared to help the salmon in any way we can to avoid this happening again.”
With information from the Guardian
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