News and views on conservation in Canada, and updates from CPAWS chapters across the country.
Last week, I had the great pleasure of joining Canada’s greatest Olympian, Clara Hughes – the only athlete in the world to win multiple medals in both summer and winter Olympic Games – on a very special trip to the Northwest Territories, along with my CPAWS-NWT chapter colleague Erica Janes. We were hosted by the warm and welcoming members of the Lustel K’e Dene First Nation in their home community at the East Arm of Great Slave Lake – 240 km east of Yellowknife, and accessible only by air, snowmobile or boat. In our case, we arrived by single-prop Cessna Caravan, after skimming low over countless frozen lakes and forests and part of the East Arm itself.
A few years ago, I bought a t-shirt with an owl on it that said “Give a hoot, don’t pollute!” because I’m an environmentalist AND a sucker for silly jokes. I would say I was hitting two birds with one stone when I bought it but, you know...that might be a little weird. More than one type of owl in Canada is on the federal endangered species list, and I feel for them. And man, do I ever love owls.
Species like great horned owls and snowy owls tend to be the crowd favourites, but I love, love, love burrowing owls. They’re the goofiest little things you’ll ever see, and their expressions and behaviour are just priceless.
The year was 1993. There I was, little 7-year-old me who, after having seen the movie Free Willy more times than 26-year-old me would like to admit, was quite certain I was an expert on killer whales. I knew they were an endangered species in both the U.S. and in Canada, I knew how intelligent they could be, I knew that they traveled in groups called pods, and I knew that (spoiler alert) if you were in the right place at the right time and Michael Jackson’s “Will you be there” was playing in the background, you could look really, really cool if a captured killer whale jumped over your head to his freedom.
Turns out I’m not actually an expert on killer whales, and that epic scene of Willy jumping to his freedom was really just a little bit of CGI...no surprises there, I guess, but I’ll admit I was a little disappointed.
As it happens, killer whales are just as interesting to me now as they were twenty years ago. Most of Canada’s killer whale populations are listed under the federal Species at Risk Act as either threatened or endangered, and one population in particular – the southern resident population – is having a tough time recovering from the decline it’s been experiencing over the last fifty or so years.