Robert’s column

Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: Close encounters with wild animals can be scary

I noticed what I first thought to be a black sail coming around the bend of the bay

I thought it hilarious when Tristan Clausen, a music teacher at St. John’s Academy in Shawnigan Lake, told me about chasing a black bear away from the school while loudly playing his trombone last month.

The bear had visited the school several times before Clausen’s encounter with it in unsuccessful attempts to access the school’s trash cans, which were locked up in a wooden structure.

Concerned about the safety of students and staff, Clausen grabbed the loudest instrument in his music room, the trombone, and played it while walking toward the bear.

A video of the incident shows that the bear was startled by the noise of the trombone, and then it looked scared as it charged back into the woods.

“I was thinking at the time that I should have learned the A&W theme song beforehand,” Clausen jokingly told me afterwards.

“Apparently, the bear didn’t care for my playing because he ran into the woods and I haven’t seen it since.”

It was a brave thing for him to do, and it likely wouldn’t be such an amusing tale if the bear had acted differently and decided that it would run at Clausen instead of away from him.

But Clausen felt something had to be done to get the animal away from the school, and he told me that he never went far away from the door of his school room in case he had to make a quick retreat.

Close encounters with wild animals on Vancouver Island are becoming increasingly frequent as humans continue to encroach on their territory.

I used to spend a lot of time hiking through the woods on the Island with my ever-faithful Labrador retriever in my first years here, and don’t recall even carrying a stick for protection, much less something like bear spray or an air horn.

I was fortunate that I never encountered a fearsome predator.

In fact, the only close encounter with a large wild meat eater while living on Vancouver Island that I’ve ever had wasn’t even in the woods, but on a small island off of Lantzville, just north of Nanaimo.

A group of friends joined me in a quick kayak trip to Maude Island, a short distance from where I lived at the time

The island has a small bay with a beach and we immediately went swimming in our black wet suits when we got ashore.

I remember one of my friends, a visiting American, asked me as we sat on the water’s edge after our swim if I had ever seen a killer whale in the area.

I said that, up to this time, I had not, but it was a fact that the waters of the strait are full of orcas.

No sooner had I said this when I noticed what I first thought to be a black sail coming around the bend of the bay and heading towards the beach.

My friends were initially as bewildered by what we were seeing as I was, but then it became frighteningly apparent what was happening when the large orca, which was much larger than anything I had ever seen in a marine park, started to rush the beach where we were sitting.

We jumped up and ran for the hills in the off chance that the huge creature would grow legs and start chasing us around the small island.

But the whale suddenly stopped its charge, seemed to stare at us and then backed up, slipped around the bend and disappeared.

I told the story to John Ford, a marine mammal specialist at Nanaimo’s Pacific Biological Station, a few days later and he said it’s likely that the whale saw a bunch of black-coated animals on the beach from a distance and assumed we were seals.

Ford said that when the whale realized what we were, or weren’t, it broke off the attack.

That’s when I first learned that there has never been a documented case of an orca killing a human in the wild.

We’re surrounded by some incredible creatures here on the Island, so we must be prepared to encounter them at all times when in the wild.

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