SNORKELING WITH SALMONBy Lauren Kramer I've swum with belugas, played with the dolphins and dived close enough to stroke the backs of manta rays fifty feet below the water's surface. But the closest I've come to salmon has been consumption-until now.
Clad in a thick neoprene wetsuit, I'm about to enter the chilly waters of the Campbell River on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. Here, I will lie face down in the water, arms outstretched Superman-style, and let the current carry me six miles downstream like a leaf in the breeze. Armed with a mask and snorkel, I surrender myself to the cold, try to calm my fast-beating heart and focus on the scenery beneath me.The first thing I learn is that the current moves fast, carrying me with it on a speedy journey over churning whitewater and calmer eddies that range from three to fifteen feet in depth. Relax your body and the current does the work, but try to stand or swim in this brisk river and your limbs get bruised on the sharp rocks that line its floor. Some are tiny, and pose no harm. Others are the size of a vehicle, and can cause serious damage should you careen into them.
But it's not the rocks I've come to see-it's the salmon. The Campbell River is unique in that it shelters five different salmon species at various times of the year: chinook, coho, chum, sockeye and pink. Unlike my effortless sojourn downstream, theirs is more serious. After spending anywhere from two to six years in the open sea, they're now swimming against the current of a freshwater stream with one thing on their minds: to spawn. Once they've laid their eggs, they will give up the fight and expire in the same eddies and crevices where they entered the world.Between July and October, the river swarms with salmon, some weighing up to sixty pounds. In July alone, 165,000 salmon will thrash through the water, surrounding the few snorkelers who venture this way. Used to the soft, pink texture of their meat, I'm amazed by their beauty in the water-the rainbow-like color of their scales reflected in the sunlight, the litheness with which they move and their virtual oblivion to me and my group as we float above them. It would be downright hazardous to venture into this water alone, which is why I've joined the only adventure outfitter that plies these waters. Campbell River Snorkel Tours leads two groups a day on its snorkeling excursions, ensuring that a guide, armed with a boogie board and swift water rescue skills, is present.
Owner Brad Brock believes that the snorkeling groups should be kept no larger than fifteen and restricted to twice-a-day excursions to limit their impact on the salmon. "We don't want to scare the fish," he insists. The trips are focused on salmon appreciation and guides show participants how to distinguish between the salmon species and relay the challenges they face as their numbers decline.Brave the cold river as the salmon weave their way through the water beside you, and you find yourself humbled by its timeless beauty. This journey to spawn that ends, inevitably, in death, is one that these fish have taken since time immemorial. Already, the bald eagles are circling, waiting expectantly for their salmon-on-the-rocks, meals that will move down the food chain and keep the circle of life intact-for now at least. Thrust yourself into the current and you catch a brief glimpse of that precious circle in motion. If You Go:
All material used by Travel Writers' Tales is with the permission of the writers and photographers who, under national and international copyright law,
retain the sole and exclusive rights to their work. The contents of this site, whether in whole or in part may not be downloaded,
copied or used in any manner without the explicit permission of Travel Writers' Tales Editors, Jane Cassie and Margaret Deefholts,
and the written consent of contributing writers and photographers. © Travel Writers' Tales