The News Bulletin’s annual list of the year’s most memorable animal stories. (Photos by Grant Hiebert and submitted)

The News Bulletin’s annual list of the year’s most memorable animal stories. (Photos by Grant Hiebert and submitted)

Nanaimo News Bulletin’s top 10 most-memorable animal stories of 2021

Dog rescues, biology study and a shark tale make this year’s list

10. 300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from the beach in rescue attempt, Feb. 26

This is the only story on this year’s list that didn’t have a positive outcome, so we’ll get it out of the way first.

Emergency personnel and bystanders joined with Marine Mammal Rescue Centre staff to try to save a stricken steller sea lion found on Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo last winter.

“He was definitely not exhibiting any sort of normal behaviour, so we opted to sedate him and sling him and carry him up to the road,” said Emily Johnson, assistant manager of the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

Beach access is via a set of more than 300 stairs, but the team opted to carry the sea lion – which Johnson estimated weighed between 300 and 350 kilograms – up a trail that runs alongside the stairs.

“The community really rallied…” she said. “We had some muscle to help us get all the way up the road, but … we did it. It was a huge undertaking, for sure. It was definitely the most physical rescue I’ve ever been a part of.”

Johnson said the sea lion was actually underweight. In spite of the Herculean efforts to save the animal, it died not long after it was placed in the transport carrier.

Johnson said she was impressed with the way people flexed their muscle to try to save the animal.

“I could tell everybody was very invested in helping,” she said.

9. VIU research disproves existence of Vancouver Island wolverine, Feb. 11

Next on the list is a story about an animal that technically, never really existed.

New research out of VIU suggests that the Vancouver Island wolverine, a red-listed species in B.C., is not, as it turns out, distinct from wolverines found on the mainland and therefore not at-risk after all.

Proving this wasn’t easy, as there have been no confirmed wolverine sightings on the Island since 1992.

“This is what makes it so interesting. They’re a bit of a sasquatch story for the Island,” said Jamie Gorrell, a biology professor at Vancouver Island University.

He and VIU biology grad Evan Hessels visited museums and scraped bits of dried flesh from skulls and drilled into skulls, teeth, claws and bones. They collected dust, broke it down chemically in the lab with enzymes, studied “certain spots in the genome” and compared multiple samples.

“The coolest part in my opinion was getting DNA out of close to 100-year-old museum specimens,” Hessels said. “It was definitely a happy moment when we were able to get success with that.”

8. Police dogs get crocheted blankets for Christmas, Dec. 14

This Christmas was a warm and fuzzy time for RCMP police service dogs in Nanaimo after all four of the force’s crime-busting canines received new crocheted blankets.

Nanaimo’s Sandy Clark took up the pastime after her mother, who was “passionate” about crocheting, died in 2008.

“This was my way of continuing her legacy and keeping her in my thoughts,” said Clark in a news release.

Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said in a press release that the dog handlers were appreciative of the gift.

“Each commented that it was so heart-warming to think that a complete stranger would devote so much time and energy for their beloved dogs,” he said.

7. Firefighters rescue dogs from Abyss crevice again and again, July 20

Hopefully no more dogs fall into Nanaimo’s Abyss crevice, but if they do, firefighters have had plenty of practice saving pooches.

At least three dogs fell into the fissure in 2021 – the News Bulletin wrote about incidents in February, March and July – and each time the dog was safely retrieved.

Dale Rahim said he won’t forget the sight of his little Chihuahua-Papillon cross Harley scrabbling at the edge of the Abyss and then tumbling down out of sight into the darkness several metres below.

Rahim and his family were hiking on the Extension Ridge Trail and he said his dog’s leash slipped out of his hand.

Firefighter Jared Anaka roped down in the Abyss to collar the animal with a pole with an adjustable loop that the fire department had purchased specifically for such predicaments.

Rahim said he was impressed by the skill of the rescue team and grateful, and he also had a few words for Harley.

“You’re back. Oh, my gosh you’re back. This is unbelievable. You’ve been to the depths of a cave that nobody else has,” he said.

6. Nanaimo man donates 140,000 mollusk specimens to biodiversity museum, July 25

A Nanaimo man’s 140,000-specimen mollusk collection found a new home at a B.C. biodiversity museum.

Bill Merilees, a retired B.C. Parks regional information officer, collected mollusk shells ranging from large clams to tiny snails found on the B.C. shorelines for nearly 50 years. In that time he amassed and catalogued more than 140,000 shells, and possibly the most extensive collection of micro mollusks ever gathered from B.C.’s coast.

“I’d find a nice rock at low tide and scrape all the slime and goop off it, put it into a plastic bag and bring it home and put it in [my wife’s] freezer, which of course wasn’t very popular,” he said.

Merilees, now in his 80s, stopped making collection trips in 2020, but he hopes his donation, bound for the University of British Columbia’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum, will become a learning resource for future biology students.

5. SPCA announces opening of new barn in Nanaimo for abused and neglected farm animals, March 31

The SPCA’s new farm animal recovery and adoption barn is now open in Nanaimo.

The facility, next to the Nanaimo and District B.C. SPCA’s community animal centre, helps the SPCA care for abused and neglected farm animals.

The barn has been named Seasted Stables in recognition of the Seasted Foundation, “which provided generous funding for the barn and paddocks, along with a contribution towards the first year of its operation,” according to a news release.

“It is such a joy to see this much-needed facility on Vancouver Island become a reality,” said Leon Davis, manager of the Nanaimo and District B.C. SPCA, in the release. “Seasted Stables will be an invaluable asset as we seek to protect and enhance the lives of farm animals in the region.”

4. Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps, June 11

Help was fortunately close at hand for a humpback whale that found itself entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off Nanaimo.

Paul Cottrell, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Marine Mammal Response Program coordinator, said fisheries officers happened to be working just five minutes away from a spot where an adult humpback whale was caught in a prawn trap line.

The animal, an adult estimated at about 12 metres long, had become so entangled it was anchored in place, possibly for as long as 24 hours, when it was discovered.

“It was a 50-string trap line with anchors on either end on 3,000 feet of rope, so there was a lot of gear that was holding this guy down, a lot of weight,” Cottrell said.

The marine mammal response boat and team rushed to the scene and assessed the situation with an aerial drone and remote-control submersibles, “because you can make things worse if you cut the wrong line,” Cottrell said.

After freeing the mammal, they watched it for close to an hour and it seemed to be acting normally again.

“It couldn’t have worked out better,” Cottrell said.

3. Dog with five puppies found abandoned and starving, Dec. 19

A mother dog and five puppies, found abandoned and emaciated, are being cared for in Nanaimo.

A two-year-old dog named Celeste and five puppies were brought to Nanaimo and District B.C. SPCA recently and are now receiving care in a foster home.

“She was living outdoors and starving, but she was obviously doing everything she could to try to feed her puppies and keep them safe,” said Bonnie Pequin, a Nanaimo SPCA manager, in a news release. “She is such a sweet, loving dog and a very good mother.”

The mother dog will remain in care for at least another month until it reaches a normal body weight, and will then be spayed and put up for adoption. The puppies will also be available for adoption in the new year.

2. Volunteer firefighters rescue dog from cliff face near Ammonite Falls, Sept. 24

Golden retriever Kona was one lucky dog after it fell over a cliff but was rescued near Ammonite Falls this autumn.

East Wellington Fire Department’s volunteer firefighters were called out to come to the rescue of a dog that had fallen over a cliff at Benson Creek Falls Regional Park. When firefighters arrived they saw the pooch had fallen about 15 metres down, but had managed to land on a shelf that stopped it from falling the remaining 30 metres to the rocky creek bed.

Capt. Darcy Morgan and his team rigged a harness and safety lines onto the winch of a side-by-side ATV they’d used to get to the site and lowered Morgan down to the dog.

“It was a small miracle the dog ended up on the ledge it ended up on because when I got down to it I couldn’t get my feet into anything,” Morgan said. “It was unreal. If it as much as tried to turn around it would have been at the bottom of the creek bed.”

1. Fisherman reels in five-foot shark near Nanaimo’s Entrance Island, July 13

It was more than five feet long, but it definitely wasn’t a keeper.

Nanaimo fisherman Roy Ban reeled in a sixgill shark in relatively shallow waters just off Entrance Island.

“I could totally tell it was a big one, just the way of how heavy it was and the way it fought – I just wasn’t sure what it was,” he said.

About 15-20 minutes of fighting brought the fish into view, and Ban said he thought it was some kind of shark, but it fought its way back down and it took the angler another 15-20 minutes to tire it out and bring it to the surface for a second time. Even after a closer look, he still wasn’t sure what kind of shark he’d caught. He clipped the line and let it go.

Afterward, Ban said an expert confirmed the catch was a sixgill shark, a species common to British Columbia but one that prefers to remain on the ocean floor.

Even though Ban’s catch wasn’t a keeper, it was worth all that reeling.

“I had to bring it in to see what it was,” he said.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo News Bulletin’s top 10 most-memorable animal stories of 2020

READ ALSO: Nanaimo News Bulletin’s top 10 most-memorable animal stories of 2019

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