Where the land and the Salish Sea meet, one of the south Island’s most notorious animals stands watch over what are regarded as some of the most biologically diverse and important waters in the world.
Takaya, also known as the Discovery Island Wolf, has been inhabiting the Discovery/Chatham Islands – just off the shores of Oak Bay – for the last five years or so. Not only is he an anomaly in his choice to remain a lone wolf, but also in his choice of habitat – a rocky shoreline rather than the forested habitat of choice for many B.C. wolves.
“Takaya is an amazing and incredibly unique representation of the relationship between the terrestrial and the aquatic,” explains Cheryl Alexander, an environmental consultant and former lecturer in the Environmental Studies program at the University of Victoria.
Through her photography, Alexander documents Takaya’s (the Coast Salish word for wolf) life on the islands. Now, she embarks on a mission to help the Salish Sea become a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site – with the help of the wolf.
“Three-and-a-half million people live around the Salish Sea. We rely on the health of the environment and the sea as humans, and so does Takaya. He’s really quite symbolic of the need to maintain the integrity of the ocean and the surrounding land, and he’s become incredibly well known for his presence in this unique area,” Alexander said.
Once every decade, the Federal Government opens applications for UNESCO World Heritage Site designations in Canada. A short list is developed and sent in for consideration to the United Nations before any final decisions are made. The process is currently in the public engagement phase.
She says one of the most unique things about Takaya is his diet and how he’s adapted to living in this region.
“He feeds on seal, river otter, mink and goose eggs. If you look at photos of him compared to other wolves from around B.C., he looks incredibly healthy. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact he’s eating so many healthy fats in his diet,” Alexander laughed.
She says his presence in the area can teach us all a thing or two about the biodiversity our local ecosystem offers.
“He’s lived there for five years very successfully. He’s habituated to the presence of people in his territory – it’s not remote from human contact – but he’s figured out how to co-exist in proximity to people,” she explained, adding that he generally avoids them. The island was closed in 2016 after a family and their dog encountered him, without issue.
She believes spreading the word about Takaya will help the bid to have the Salish Sea added to the UNESCO Heritage Site list, and she hopes he becomes the poster child for the project.
“We’ll never know how he came to be, that’s part of the mystery, but perhaps, as some of the Songhees believe, Takaya is the embodiment of their Chief Robert Sam who died around the same time as he appeared in the islands. He was an advocate for maintaining the ecological integrity of the Salish Sea.”
“I view Takaya as a sort of sentinel, positioned at the gateway to the Salish Sea, reminding us that our very existence is irrefutably bound up with the health of the ecosystem. Either way, the main point is that if he can survive here, so can we. If he can’t, we might not either.”
For more information on the UNESCO application, see wearethesalishsea.eco.