Digest>Archives> June 1997

Camera Hounds Are Killers, Too

By Judith Lavoie


Guardian of Race Rocks wildlife dreads growth of animal watching tours.

by Judith Lavoie - Courtesy of the Time Colonist, Victoriva, BC, Canada

Trophy hunting with camera can be as deadly as using a gun, said Carol Slater gloomily, as she watched two sea lions grunting contentedly and sunning themselves in front of her home.

A short distance beyond the tiny island of Race Rock, where Mike and Carol Slater are the lighthouse keepers, the rocks are covered with sprawling sea lions, harbor seals and cormorants.

Carol regards protection of the animals and the environment as her primary task, but the job is becoming more complicated with the booming business of wildlife watching tours.

"I see the tour boats going over there, bothering my animals. The boats rush up to the rocks and sea lions will trample over each other. We have picked up quite a few dead ones. Their chests get split open on the rocks," she said.

"I don't know what people get out of it. Maybe they have a great picture of a wild animal, but they don't know anything about the animal. They are just trophy hunters."

The Slaters will be looking after the Race Rocks marine ecological reserve on behalf of Lester B. Pearson College and BC Parks after the lighthouse was automated in March by the Canadian Coast Guard.

For Carol Slater, the changeover will formalize her passion for protecting wildlife.

There is growing awareness of the rich marine life around Vancouver Island, but there seems to be a massive gap in understanding the birds and animals, Slater said.

During seal pupping season, the rubber-neckers display astounding ignorance by racing up to areas where seals are giving birth, she said.

"A lot of them are stillborn. It's like a madman racing into a maternity ward. If we can, we try to explain to them. Sometimes people are very co-operative, but sometimes they just give us a finger."

At other times fishermen argue that the seals and sea lions are eating salmon and cutting into profit.

Others cannot understand why they are not allowed to scoop up bottom fish in the 280-hectare reserve.

But Slater does not waver in her conviction that it is vital to protect the habitat and the creatures living in it.

"We are invading their territory and these animals have to be protected. People say it's just a seal or just a seagull, but each animal is important as the whole," she said.

Slater feels a kinship with the animals, but is careful never to make pets of them.

"I don't want them to trust anything on two legs," she said.

Feeling an interaction with nature is the key to people taking care of the environment, but even those who take the time to visit Race Rocks, sometimes display remarkable thoughtlessness, Slater said.

"In nesting season, you have to be extremely careful. The oyster catchers are particularly vulnerable. They're not very smart. They just build their nests is hollowed out little areas," she said.

A recent visit by a family during nesting season reduced her to tears.

The children stepped on two nests. They killed one baby and destroyed the eggs of the other. I just went into the kitchen and bawled."

Adam Hellicar, owner of Ocean Explorations, said new people enter the wildlife tour business every year.

"Some don't exactly know how to act around animals. It tends to be people learning from their mistakes. I do find it annoying," he said. "Every year there's going to be new people driving boats and it's up to the owners of the companies to stress how important this is."

Sightseers and private boaters must realize that they are privileged to look into an animal's life and they must tiptoe lightly around them, Hellicar said.

"If you approach a sea lion on a rock, and he lifts his head and looks at you, you have affected his life. If he jumps into the water, that's a real problem and someone could get hurt."

This story appeared in the June 1997 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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