Year in Review: Whales, seals, bears, dogs and chickens

What would a Year in Review be without a look at some of the best animal stories of 2015?

What would a Year in Review be without a look at some of the best animal stories of 2015?

We had our fair share of sad stories, such as the wolf in Mill Bay that conservation officers euthanized in April because it had become habituated to humans, or Coco the miniature yorkie that was attacked while out for a walk with its owners and took off never to be seen again, or Henry, the dog that was shot by a farmer in September and ultimately had to have his front leg and shoulder amputated. Its owners had to risk losing the dog forever in order to get it the help it needed. (That story ended positively, as the dog was patched up and was able to remain at home with its family.)

But we’ve also had some other epic, inspiring and heart-warming animals stories as well.

In late May, Cowichan Lake’s Rod Mizak captured an epic battle between a cougar and a wolf on video.

He and some friends were driving the backroads towards the San Juan area at 3 a.m. when they came across the desperate encounter in the middle of the roadway.

“They knew we were there, no ifs, ands, or buts about it, but they couldn’t care less if we were there,” he said. “When that cougar pounced, it was just like when you see on National Geographic when they jump up and they hit the hole. Well, this cougar just leapt and hit the wolf with such accuracy, I was stunned.”

Mizak profited from his unique encounter, signing over rights to the video and images to a British media content provider.

During the first week of August, a baby harbour seal abandoned by its mother in Cowichan Bay was rescued by beach-goers and area residents and was taken to Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre where it remains, recovering.

Dubbed Queen Mary by aquarium staff, the seal was just two thirds of the normal birth weight when it arrived. With the help of aquarium staff, the orphan quickly began to put on weight but hasn’t yet reached the 20 kilograms required to be released back into the wild.

Had it not been for her rescue, Queen Mary would likely not have survived.

During the last week of August, a couple of Lake Cowichan boys got the scare of a lifetime and a story for the ages after a hungry black bear wandered into the garage where they were busy skinning a deer.

“A bear actually entered the garage and took the deer that was hanging there right off the hook and beetled off out of the garage,” Lake Cowichan RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Wes Olsen said. “When the bear came into the garage, the boys actually climbed up into the rafters of the garage to get out of the way. The bear absconded with deer and headed off into the bush.”

The boys, ages 13 and 18, weren’t hurt in the incident, but the twice-hunted deer was going to be dinner, one way or another.

In late October, Paldi resident Joan Mayo noticed her usually quiet, rural neighbourhood had suddenly acquired new residents. Some 35 “live big brown chickens” had been dumped near her house. Hungry and cold, some of the birds didn’t survive the two nights they were believed to be outdoors.

While that in itself is a terrible story, what happened next was heart-warming.

After a quick visit from SPCA animal control officer Colin Owen-Flood, local hobby farmer Izak Eskelson arrived with his wife and kids to round up the chickens and the eggs they had laid in the bushes. They did their best, making several trips to get the animals to their new home, where the eventual goal was for them to join his own flock, along with his ducks and a few other animals at the farm.

Finally, humpback whales returned to Mill Bay in 2015, giving visitors and residents of the area, particularly those at Mill Bay Marina and Bridgeman’s Bistro, quite a thrill.

“It has become quite a phenomenon for the boating crowd,” said Mill Bay Marina manager Josh McKamey. “I understand whales use to be common in the [Saanich] Inlet many years ago, but nobody I’ve talked to has heard of this much activity in recent years — and nobody I’ve talked to has ever heard of Humpbacks hanging out so close to the marina.”

Mariner Jen MacPherson said one of her favourite encounters was their first experience of the year with the giant mammals, on Sept. 4, with a particularly friendly whale.

“It came right up beside the boat. My husband and son laughed at me so hard because it scared me so bad,” she related. “But when you’ve got a 52-foot whale beside you it’s a pretty exhilarating feeling.”

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