As we stood helplessly on shore watching the events before us unfold, we painfully realized that we might be witnessing the last moments of one or all of these magnificent creatures. Unable to do anything but watch.
A cow moose with two calves was spotted making her way down the shore towards us. However, upon noticing our presence, the cow decided to cross the river and head for the other side. It was this moment that triggered the events
One of the calves was quickly swept away by the current during the crossing. The Tatshenshini River at this point is no small river, having continually grown as it is joined by multiple glacial tributaries. Immediately, the mother and the other calf followed it, through the water, down the river, where shortly after, all three were pulled beneath the surface of these silty glacial waters.
We found ourselves holding our breath waiting for them to surface. Five seconds pass. Ten seconds.
Will they ever surface, we wonder, or maybe we were mistaken and they didn’t actually go under?
As we began to question what we had seen, all three suddenly surfaced. For those of us who have at some point or another found ourselves in a similar situation under the water's surface, we understand that even a few seconds underwater can feel all too long… like a lifetime of uncertainty. They re-emerged from the murky depths, and quickly made their way for the closest gravel bar.
As one of the calves was pulled further downstream away from its mother, we caught the first glimpse of the bond between a mother and her young. A bond that dismisses all logic and even survival instincts.
We assumed at some point the mother would accept the loss of this unfortunate calf, one that probably wouldn’t survive long in the wild anyway, and focus on the survival of the other calf. Yet, her motherly instincts proved to be far stronger.
Without hesitation, she charged back into the frigid waters, the other calf close behind. Within seconds, she had managed to regroup her two calves and once more began guiding them toward shore.
Getting weaker by the moment, as the glacial waters drained its energy, the same calf that was originally swept away was caught once more by the relentless currents. It continued to fight, despite being hopelessly pulled away further and further with each passing second. As we watched this seemingly endless struggle, we wondered if this was soon to be the end for this poor calf, and maybe even all of them, if this mother didn’t stop her relentless pursuit. Our hearts ached for what was to come and for this mother that wanted so badly to protect her young.
She never gave up though, not on either of her calves, no matter how far apart they were separated how dire the situation, or how tired she was. She simply kept moving forward, doing all she could to protect them. After much struggling and a lot of swimming, she managed to finally corral them onto
a gravel bar, in the middle of the river.
The mother, re-assured that they were safely out of the river, began looking for a new route to shore, one that did not involve entering the main channel again. It was too risky. She began testing different, smaller channels and the strength of the currents until she was satisfied that her calves would be able to make it. After much coaxing and a lot of back and forth, she finally convinced both of them to follow her. We watched as they made their way across the braided channels of the Tatshenshini River, until they disappeared, safely on the far shore.
It was both a remarkable and heart-wrenching sight to experience, to witness the worry yet calmness of a mother trying to protect her family despite the forces of nature working to tear them apart. To see first hand that a mother’s love has no bounds, and can be seen in all species.