Pacific Marine Wildlife in Victoria
Posted by Myrna West on
In our last blog post we covered some of the different birds you might see out on the ocean around Vancouver Island — but what about other marine life? On our popular wildlife sightseeing cruises you can see orcas, sea lions, porpoises, otters, and more. Come with us and learn a little more about these majestic creatures:
Killer Whales / Orcas
Two "transient" killer whales breaching from the ocean water.
Killer whales, also known as orcas, are social, intelligent marine mammals that are found in oceans all over the world. They live in groups called "pods" that are led by a female, and share hunting methods and unique vocal cries within each pod. The killer whale population around Vancouver Island is known as the Southern Resident Killer Whales, or "orcas of the Salish Sea", and used to contain a killer whale named "Granny", the oldest known orca in the world.
An elephant seal male, female, and pup at Piedras Blancas in California.
Elephant seals were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century but have since made a recovery, ranging up and down the west coast of North America and Mexico. Race Rocks in the Strait of Juan de Fuca is their most northern breeding ground, with the breeding season usually taking place from late November to late January. Elephant seals take their name from the long nose of the males, used to make loud bellowing noises and to preserve body moisture during the long mating season on land. They can grow up to an average of 15 feet and 5000 pounds.
A group of Dall's porpoises near Point Reyes.
Porpoises are also known as "mereswine" or "toothed whales", and are very closely related to dolphins, though porpoises have shorter beaks and flat, spade-shaped teeth (while dolphin teeth are shaped like cones). Two species of porpoise that are often seen near Vancouver Island are Dall's Porpoise, the largest species of porpoise and one of the fastest cetaceans in the world; and Harbour Porpoises, one of the smallest marine mammals and the porpoise most often sighted by whale watchers.
Steller Sea Lions spotted during a whale watching tour near Vancouver Island.
Sea lions are large marine mammals with large front flippers that can walk on all fours. They are prolific hunters, often eating 5-8% of their body weight in a single sitting, and are intelligent enough to perform tricks and tasks. The two sea lions most often seen around Vancouver Island are the California Sea Lion and the larger Steller Sea Lion, which can weigh up to 2000 pounds. They often frequent Race Rocks, and their mating season runs from May to August.
Sleeping sea otters holding hands at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Different from river otters, which are sleek and get around quickly on land, sea otters are fluffy sea-dwellers, with the thickest fur found in the animal kingdom. An endangered species, they are a key part of the ocean's ecosystem, as they eat sea urchins that would otherwise destroy important kelp forests. Sea otters can be found diving, "rafting" (holding hands to stay together on the water's surface), or using rocks and other hard items to break their food open on their bellies.
A lion's mane jellyfish in the Baltic Sea.
British Columbia sees about 75 of the 1500-2000 species of jellyfish found worldwide. Among them are the common moon jelly, the fried egg jellyfish, the lion's mane jellyfish (the largest known species and one of the longest organisms in the world), by-the-wind sailors, and the crystal jelly. None of their stings are fatal, and the lion's mane, which has the worst sting, mostly causes temporary pain and a rash. Moon jellies can even be picked up in your bare hand!
A harbour seal basking in the sun.
Harbour seals are also known as "common seals" and can be found in most of the northern hemisphere. They dwell along shorelines and prefer areas near a food source, where they have protection from the weather and predators. You can find them in a number of different colours including gray, brown, tan, and silvery white. Prodigious swimmers, they primarily feed on fish and have been known to dive as deep as 500 meters.
A humpback whale breaching at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
Humpback whales are a large whale species that can grow up to 52 feet in length, weighing an average of 79,000 pounds. With a distinctive pebbly head and easy-to-recognize body shape, and their tendency to breach above the waves, humpbacks are a favourite of many whale watchers. They feed on krill and small fish, and migrate between feeding in colder polar waters and breeding in warmer tropical waters. Humpbacks are also known for creating impressive bubble nets to catch their prey.
A grey whale breaching.
Though a rarer sight around Victoria, you may sometimes be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a grey whale. Having set a record for longest mammal migration, grey whales have been known to cover a distance of more than 22,000 kilometers across the Pacific Ocean, and are found in Canadian waters from April to October. They have two blowholes on their head, resulting in a heart-shaped blow at the surface in calm wind conditions. You can also sometimes spot their baleen, which shows as a creamy off-white colour.