A green sea turtle was rescued from Tofino Beach this summer after the warm water it had followed north petered out. (file photo)

A green sea turtle was rescued from Tofino Beach this summer after the warm water it had followed north petered out. (file photo)

Warm water wildlife sightings likely tied to climate change

Weather patterns bring brown pelicans, turtles and other southern species to Vancouver Island

Bird and wildlife experts have weighed in on the story of the errant brown pelican recently spotted at the Victoria Golf Course and at Cattle Point.

It seems that the hapless bird may well have been the same brown pelican rescued in Vancouver and transported to the Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre (Wild ARC) earlier this summer.

“We nursed the bird back to health and he was released at Race Rocks on Aug. 19,” explained Ann Nightingale, a volunteer with the Rocky Point Bird Observatory.

“We can’t be certain that it’s the same bird, but it’s certainly possible.”

RELATED: Rare sighting of lone brown pelican in Oak Bay waters

The revelation does nothing to address why the brown pelican had ventured this far north in the first place as its traditional range has been associated with far warmer, more southerly climes.

The answer, it seems, may be global warming.

Jacques Sirois, the Chair of Friends of Victoria Harbour Bird Sanctuary and a representative of the Greater Victoria Naturehood, explained that the presence of non-traditional species in our waters is a bellweather of what he refers to as “planet change”.

“We’ve had brown pelicans here for decades, but the numbers seem to be increasing. We now sometimes see flocks of them arriving and in 2012 we had 25 of them in Victoria Harbour for a while. It’s a manifestation of climate change and the warming of the oceans, but that is all part of planet change. It is well proven that human activity is fueling the change, and these changes are being documented world-wide.”

Sirois went on to say that a multitude of factors result from the root cause of planet change, but not all changes are directly related to climate change.

Brown pelicans, he said, are also benefiting from what he called the DDT rebound; a recovery of certain bird species, including peregrine falcons and bald eagles, whose populations were devastated by the impacts of DDT on the environment. With the banning of the pesticide, those populations have increased dramatically.

“Pelicans are also reacting to the rebound of the herring stocks that were terribly over-fished at one time,” he said. “Still, climate change is bringing some species further north.”

But climate change has impacted more than the brown pelican populations.

“We’ve seen brown boobies at Ogden Point, common (short-beaked) dolphins at Port Angeles, more elephant seals, Mexican gulls and even Guadalupe fur seals from Mexico in the region,” said Sirois.

“In Tofino they have seen sea turtles from the southern coast … all these things are happening together.”

And while Sirois stops short of sounding an alarm at the climate change fueled changes in the eco-system, he acknowledges that there are problems associated with the phenomenon.

“Think of the salmon that rely on cold water and the impact it’s having on them, and the species that feed on those salmon,” said Sirois.

“It’s a big, unfolding story and the public will start to notice it more and more.”

 

A lone Brown pelican was sighted in the waters off Oak Bay on Tuesday. (Geoffrey Newell photo)

A lone Brown pelican was sighted in the waters off Oak Bay on Tuesday. (Geoffrey Newell photo)