National Geographic : 2003 Feb
huckleberry bushes), and 25 to 50 percent of the carbon and nitrogen in aquatic insects and salmon fry. Like a fallen rain forest tree, a spawning salmon doesn't die so much as begin serving the ecosystem in different ways. From that perspective, some of Clayoquot's monu mental evergreens embody hundreds of gener ations of big, sea-grown fish and of the bears, eagles, wolves, and other animals that transport them. Likewise, young salmon embody the forests' roots, leaves, lichens, and grazing slugs that feed organic wealth back into streams and their estuaries. A separate pulse of nutrients comes from the ocean to the far reaches of Clayoquot's bays each spring when the herring spawn. As re cently as the middle of the past century, the schools that swept through left much of the in tertidal zone silver with their eggs, pasted to rocks and seaweed. Overfishing seriously thinned herring num bers. Yet Vera Little, a Nuu-chah-nulth elder I met on Flores Island, told me that family members still place boughs along the shore and haul them up coated with roe. Sold to Japan as a delicacy, eggs are the main product of British Columbia's commercial herring industry today. The gutted fish are used for bait or animal feed. The sound also supports salmon farming. Farmed salmon are now British Columbia's larg est agricultural export, amounting to about 45,000 tons annually, twice the weight of wild salmon caught in the province in 2001. Not that everyone regards having nearly two dozen large pen-rearing operations in Clayoquot as some thing to be proud of. Critics worry about the buildup of wastes and possible spread of dis eases to wild fish stocks. the area's silver shoals of herring. The little fish are also a mainstay for the largest predators in the ecosystem, humpback whales. Once hunted by native crews in long canoes, the humpbacks in turn helped sustain the Nuu-chah-nulth, who savored the meat and traded the giants' rich oil for goods from other tribes. But industrial whaling by whites took over and depleted populations of humpbacks until late in the 1960s. On the increase today, these whales once again plunge through the outer waters of the sound, joined 126 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * FEBRUARY 2003 in the fish-chase by tufted puffins, rhinoceros auklets, and other seabirds from breeding colo nies on the rocky isles scattered offshore. Gray whales are more common, having recovered earlier from the commercial slaugh ter, and they tend to stick closer to the coast. Jim Darling, who has a home in Tofino, is a leading authority on Pacific grays. "The other day,' he told me, "I ran across Two Dot Star, a whale I first saw here in 1974. I usually identify 35 to 50 grays in Clayoquot Sound through the summer. This is part of a larger Pacific Northwest popu lation." Most migrate to Mexico for the winter, but now and then a gray will stay around all year. Whale-watching brings an estimated five mil lion dollars (U.S.) annually into Tofino. For the boat operators these animals are practically spouting cash. Later, we watched the million-dollar mam mals plow cloudy trails through shallows where One of Vargas Island's habituatedwolves scavenges a tidalflat. Revered by the region's Nuu-chah-nulth people as mythic beings that could take many forms, the wolves now face the same uncertainfate as the sound. Keepers of Clayoquot must decide: What should be wild, what should be tamed, and what shape should it take in thefuture?