Every decade or so we have a favorite word that becomes over used and I think ‘awesome’ is one of them. These days we seem to apply it to almost everything. But this year I witnessed a truly awesome natural event — the annual Pacific herring run.
Earlier this month we were hearing weather warnings about the gale from hell being on it’s way when the herring run began. Gales are occasional events that we endure every winter but April isn’t a month the normally features them. Before the gale arrived and took down the trees which in turn took out the power I watched from the high tide line as a huge gathering of sea lions in a location we never see large numbers formed.
Next came the bald eagles. I have never seen so many in one place. It seemed like every tree had at least one or two roosting in the top branches and waiting.
The wind changed direction and far off on the horizon I could sea the changes in the water color as a huge underwater river of fish schools approached. It is always an amazing event. Millions of small silver bodies schooling together in the deep green waters turn the color of the ocean to turquoise green and then aqua as the undulating schools move through the strait.
The sea lions worked together to break off and herd a smaller stream of the school of millions of fish and drive it out of the strait and then into the narrows. There the water was only between 5 to 10 feet deep and I witnessed the sea lions feast on the fish that schooled there in confusion circling and changing direction over and over again.
During the seemingly uneventful chilly winter months one of the Bay’s most spectacular wildlife events takes place — the spawning of Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasi).
The Pacific Herring is a small, silvery schooling fish. Its eggs and larvae are the preferred food of a large variety of wildlife. During the spring and summer, herring remain mostly offshore, in the open ocean and coastal waters of the northern Pacific Rim. Here, whales, sea lions, sea birds and fish are their primary predators. Herring, in turn, feast and fatten up on a variety of zooplankton such as krill, copepods and larvae from crustaceans and mollusks.
During the fall and winter it is a completely different story. At this time, Pacific Herring gather in large numbers and begin their annual migration to shallow coastal waters to spawn, depositing their eggs on vegetation, algae, rocks and other surfaces. — Juan-Carlos Solis
The eagles reaped their reward for being patient and watchful. They (12 adult Bald Eagle pairs and 10 juveniles ) swooped down over and over again with out stretched talons to snatch up the injured and dead herring that floated to the surface of the sea in the aftermath of the sea lion attack.
Yes! Awesome was the correct word for what we witnessed and nothing is more awesome than natural events like the herring run in spring and the return of the salmon to the rivers in fall.
Which awesome natural events do you witness where you live?