British Columbia

An otter-ly incredible tale and other animal yarns that grabbed headlines in 2018

A koi-eating otter stole the show this past year when it came to animal stories in B.C., but there were others of a far more serious nature.

Koi-eating otter in Vancouver steals the show while sad whale and caribou stories also resonated

An otter moved into the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver in November attracted by its resident koi. (Vancouver Park Board)

A koi-eating otter stole the show this past year when it came to animal stories in B.C., but there were others of a far more serious nature.

Exotic animals went missing in unexpected places, a virus threatened rabbits, crows dive-bombed Vancouver residents, and a female killer whale took her dead baby on a tour of grief for an estimated 1,600 kilometres.

Still, gripping interest in stories involving the natural world around us is heartening for people like Nick Page, the Vancouver Park Board's biologist.

"This kind of idea that we're more disconnected from nature than we were in the past seems not to be borne out by our fascination for wildlife in our daily lives," he said.

Grand Theft Otter

Surely, this proved to be true when in late November a river otter showed up at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in downtown Vancouver and began eating koi — symbols of fortune and prosperity.

The mammal managed to devour 11 of the fish before the remainder were relocated to the Vancouver Aquarium. With the food source gone, the otter appears to have moved on.

A worker collects koi from the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen garden to move them to the Vancouver Aquarium. (Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden/Twitter)

The story created distinct camps between the fish and the otter, while Page says the outcome ultimately benefited both animals.

"From the otter's point of view it's a very urbanized area. There's a lot of road traffic," he said.  "Over the long term, it would probably be hit by a car."

Whale wails

Not all stories involving animals in 2018 ended as well, however.

The plight of the southern resident killer whales was further highlighted with two heart-wrenching stories involving young whales that died.

Orca mother J35, balancing her dead baby on her nose trying to keep it afloat on July 25, 2018. (Kelley Balcomb-Bartok)

In August, a female killer whale known as J-35 put on what scientists call an unprecedented show of grief with her calf that died soon after it was born in July.

For 17 days, the mother refused to it let go, pushing the carcass along or holding its tail in her teeth in waters off the West Coast.

Meanwhile, in September another killer whale calf known as J-50 was declared dead after weeks of concern from scientists and the public in both the U.S. and Canada.

Hendrik Nollens, SeaWorld's lead veterinarian came to Washington State to try and save J50, pictured here, a southern resident orca who was emaciated and eventually died. (NOAA/Twitter)

Images had shown the female whale had lost body weight and was ailing. Attempts to treat the whale with antibiotics were unsuccessful.

The two deaths, both from the same family group, are a stark reminder that southern resident killer whales, which swim through busy shipping lanes in Canadian and U.S. waters are endangered and down to 75 animals.

There have been no successful births since 2015.

Threatened caribou

Scientists also took desperate steps in 2018 to prevent caribou from B.C.'s most southerly herds from disappearing completely.

The South Selkirk caribou are being killed off by climate change, habitat destruction, logging, highways and especially, predators.

Woodland caribou are struggling to survive across Canada. (Garry Beaudry/B.C. Forest Service/Associated Press)

Biologists captured the six remaining animals near Nelson and relocated them to a rearing pen near Revelstoke in an effort to increase their numbers.

Despite the bleak outlook for some species, biologist Nick Page wants people to be encouraged that biodiversity is flourishing in other areas, including cities.

For example, some whales are being seen in places where they haven't been seen for decades.

"It sort of shows to me that, you know, biodiversity is very resilient," he said.

Park Board biologist Nick Page says despite being heavily developed, Vancouver still has many places to observe wildlife and biodiversity. (CBC)

Page says the best way to advocate for animals is to go outside and observe them and learn about them.

Just don't get in between a doe and her fawn.

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