Places

Remote paradise: The wonder of B.C.’s Triangle Island

Off the northwest tip of Vancouver Island, an isolated speck of “inhospitable” land is home and sanctuary to millions of seabirds

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As he approached the fog-shrouded cliffside, photographer Ryan Tidman began to notice specks of black breaking through the low-hanging cloud. Drawing closer, he realized he was seeing a natural wonder — thousands upon thousands of common murres circling the island as they prepared to nest. Though a mere dot in the ocean 45 kilometres off the northern tip of Vancouver Island, Triangle Island is home to more than two million birds. It’s in what’s officially called Anne Vallée (Triangle Island) Ecological Reserve, after a researcher who died there in 1982.

Tidman, who says he has “loved all things in nature” since he was a kid, studied environmental sciences at the University of Guelph and visual communications at the Royal Ontario Museum. Now a photographer documenting Canada’s most iconic animals and landscapes, he has been captivated by Triangle Island since first spotting it in the distance while sailing past on an expedition to the Great Bear Rainforest. “It’s Game of Thrones-esque,” he explains, “truly a surreal place.”

The ecological reserve is off-limits to visitors (only a few researchers are permitted to land each year) so Tidman captured these photos from a catamaran anchored offshore. He visited three times over the last few summers, “parking” for two- or three-week stints to collect footage for a National Geographic documentary for Disney+ about the island’s Steller sea lion rookery. But in his spare time, he focussed on the seabirds — auklets and puffins, guillemots and gulls, cormorants and murres. The island is home to the largest and most diverse seabird colony in B.C. — a noisy and frenetic place where the action takes place in the air, on the land and in the sea.

Follow him on Instagram @ryantidman.

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A colony of common murres stages on Triangle Island’s Puffin Rock. Murres are first seen in late March and early April, arriving at Triangle Island for nesting season.
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Common murres fly off their nesting grounds to forage for fish in the cold Pacific waters. They primarily prey on adult Pacific sand lance and juvenile rockfish.
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There are approximately 26,000 breeding pairs of tufted puffins on the island. They nest in burrows up to 1.5 metres underground.
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The black oystercatcher is one of the many species that come to Triangle Island to nest and raise chicks. (This photo was actually taken on land near Cape Scott but included here to show the species.) Oystercatchers are known as an indicator species — they are reliable indicators of the health of coastal ecosystems.
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A pigeon guillemot skirts across the surface of the sheltered waters in one of the bays at Triangle Island. Pigeon guillemots are diving birds. They generally feed in waters only 10–20 m deep but can dive deeper than 45 m.
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The island’s rocky shoreline hosts one of Canada’s largest Steller sea lion haul-outs. Females come to shore to give birth at this breeding rookery. Pups are about one metre in length at birth and weigh up to 23 kg. 
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A transient (Bigg’s) killer whale tail slaps a Steller sea lion to disable it during a successful hunt. Even while hunting in pods, whales can be injured by sea lions, which use their sharp claws and teeth to protect themselves. 
 

This story is from the May/June 2022 Issue

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