Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sea kayaking, bears that swim in the Salish Sea, and lines of defence...

Practising a  high-speed egress from 
a simulated encounter with a bear - on the Salish Sea.
OK, first off, I apologize if you have begun to read this post, assuming it is about an actual encounter with a bear, on the Salish Sea. Truthfully (and thankfully), it hasn't happened...yet. The operative word here is, yet.

Here's the thing. There is now a bear on idyllic Gabriola Island. So what's the big deal, you ask? After all this is Canada - there are bears everywhere in this vast and untamed country. Sure, that's true, but not on idyllic Gabriola Island. You see, it's an "idyllic" Gulf Island for a plethora of reasons, one of which is that there are no predators - no bears, no cougars, no anything that can chase after you and eat you. Islanders can go trail running and hiking without ever having to look over their shoulders. You never have to stop and wonder about the source of the growl that came from behind the giant ferns. You can meditate under a massive old growth tree for as long as you want, with an aromatic lunch in full view. Nothing, of significance, will threaten the contemplative and peace-filled moments.

The fact is, Joan and I knew that there was a bear here, long before it hit the local media. About a month ago, We were trail running on a marvellous single track that parallels the ocean. Just as the endorphins were beginning to kick in and the pain in my achilles was finally beginning to subside...we were stopped in our tracks. There it was, in the middle of our trail...scat, BEAR scat! Incredulous, we wondered how could this possibly be. This was, after all, idyllic, predator-free Gabriola Island.

So, how did it get here? I can tell you, it didn't take the ferry! It swam. Probably in search of a new territory or a fresh food source. It must have discerned that Gabriola would be the place where it could easily position itself as the apex predator. So what do we do if it decides to take to the water again, when we're out paddling. We need strategy.

Personally, I figure my first line of defence is situation awareness. It is important, therefore, to constantly scan the water ahead, and to the side, for any sign of a bruin, bear-paddling with any proximity at all to my sleek and fragile (relatively speaking) kayak.

The second line of defence is speed. Clearly, I can maintain a fairly quick cadence for long enough to distance myself from the bear. The only problem is that the bear might decide to forego the chase and opt to return to the launch spot where an ambush on the unsuspecting paddler would have a higher chance of success. Hmm. With regards to speed again, I am certain that I can paddle faster than Joan and as much as I would feel badly about leaving her behind and vulnerable, she has such finely tuned skills in conflict resolution and as a mediator, I'm confident that she could come to some mutually acceptable solution with the bear. She could then radio me on the VHF, with the news that the "coast is clear", so to speak. I could then, safely, return to her location.

The third line of defence is my Greenland paddle. And some folks think they're "trendy" - HA! I figure the bear would take note of that ancient paddle style and assume I was, therefore, a hunter, with sufficient traditional weaponry to make his life very miserable. Upon identifying the paddle, he would most certainly retreat.

My fourth line of defence would be bear spray. Hmm, that just doesn't seem like fair play when the bear is swimming. No, that's out.

The last line of defence is avoidance of any potential encounter - just stay off the water. No, that's not an option either.

We will, therefore, take our chances with swimming bears on the Salish Sea and report to you any bear-related incidents - if we're able, that is.



  1. I can see it all now...you frantically paddling away while Joan turns and faces the bear, ready to take care of you once again. :)
    Hopefully it will soon leave your beautiful peaceful island for other places.

  2. Hey L, just kidding about paddling away. I'd never really do that...I don't think. But you're right, Joan would take care of it. :) D.

  3. I too was just kidding, I know you would never leave your soul mate in danger, although she is very capable and hey maybe even could out paddle you if motivated. Let's just pray that you never encounter the fellow.

  4. Hi Duncan - this all reminds me when, long ago, the cougars started swimming from Maple Bay across Samsun Narrows to Saltspring - all a bit unnerving, and no, they don't ever "just decide to go back home", hmmmm - Be safe, Sheila

  5. Thanks for that, Sheila. This was just written "tongue in cheek" but I'm thinking some folks may figure this is no laughing matter! Something I don't know? :) Hmm...

  6. Duncan, given some of the places you've lived, ONE bear is pretty sparse representation! ;) Michael.