When humpback whales are sighted in Gwaii Haanas, you know it’s really spring. Both gray and humpback whale spring migration routes pass through the waters of Haida Gwaii on British Columbia’s north coast, on the way to summer feeding grounds further north.
And this is just one sign of the exuberant reawakening in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site at the southern tip of the Haida Gwaii.
Picture hundreds of Pacific white-sided dolphins splashing through Juan Perez Sound. Or the milky blue water left by thousands of dancing herring after they spawn. When the herring return, everyone comes to feast on the bounty – sea gulls, sea stars, black bears, sea lions, whales and eagles.
The herring lay their eggs in the kelp and eelgrass beds in bays and inlets of Gwaii Haanas every spring. “K’aaw,” in Haida, or herring spawn on kelp is a staple Haida food. In the old days, Haida families would travel down to areas like Skincuttle Inlet and Burnaby Narrows to fish for spring salmon and gather shell fish while waiting for the herring to arrive.
“It was common to us, just to see . . . thousands and thousands of tonnes of herring – big spawns as far as the eye can see . . . When they start moving to Burnaby Narrows it just sounded like a big rainfall or something, at night time, going through the narrows. And then the sea lions and the killer whales . . . right with them too.” -Gidaansda, Percy Williams in the Haida Marine Traditional Knowledge Study
Seaweed also starts to grow again in spring. The most favoured on Haida Gwaii is SGyuu, or black seaweed, which is picked off the rocks in the intertidal zones. According to Haida chef Roberta Olson of Keenawii’s Kitchen in Skidegate, you wait for a cold sunny day when the tide is out during daylight hours to pick the delicious and nutritious snack.
On the Haida calendar, April is the laughing goose month when geese migrate north and the berries begin forming. Flocks of Brandt geese race along the horizon line as they head north and the hermit thrush starts to sing.
The seabirds return to stage and breed as well. More than half the world’s population of species of ancient murrelets and significant numbers of Cassin’s auklets breed on Haida Gwaii.
Ancient murrelets or SGin Xaana (Haida for Night Bird) return from their offshore lives to small islands in Gwaii Haanas to lay eggs in burrows on the forest floor. When their chicks are just two days old, they tumble out and scramble through the forest to meet their parents and start their new life at sea. These birds are vulnerable to predators, especially introduced rats that came to these remote islands via ships starting in the 18th century when the maritime fur trade flourished in the area.
This threat led Gwaii Haanas staff to initiate the SGin Xaana Sdiihltl’lxa: Night Birds Returning project to restore seabird habitat.
The abundance of Gwaii Haanas is glorious to behold at all times of the year, but the fresh, new life of spring is especially spectacular.
To find out more about Gwaii Haanas, visit Parks Canada’s website and download the 2014 Trip Planner. Also keep up with Gwaii Haanas news and images by liking and sharing the Gwaii Haanas Facebook page.
Guest blog post written by Heather Ramsay, Public Relations and Communications officer, Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site.