Our West Coast Wildlife
The shoreline of British Columbia is generously populated with marine animals, birds, plants and intertidal life. People from all over the world visit us to enjoy the natural wonders the Pacific Rim has to offer. We offer a short description of the most commonly seen wildlife in our area using common terms.
Pacific Harbour Seal
Cute and curious, they pop their heads up out of the water to watch us paddle by or they sneak up from behind to get a look at us and remain unseen. The Seals are very shy and impossible to get close to but we do see them regularly on all of our trips. Seals are very territorial and do not migrate long distances. Often found in large groups, they haul out on land at low tide, on calm days and often in the morning. They give birth on shore. They also "sleep" on the ocean bottom adjacent to haulout sites. Seals often swim on the surface, sticking their heads out of the water, and swimming at speeds of 4.3 knots to pursuit speeds of 12.5 knots. The also swim submerged, usually for 5 - 8 minutes at a time, but they can dive to 420 meters and remain submerged for as long as 28 minutes. They can reach 6' long and weigh up to 250 lbs. The males can live for 20 years, females for 30 years.
Steller Sea Lion
The large sea lions with the light brown fur, can be found on rocky haulouts mingiling with the California Sea Lions. They seem more fearsome than the smaller species and they growl rather than bark. A protected species since 1970. Females grow to 8' in length and to a weight of 600 lbs, males 10' and 2,200 lbs. These giant growling mammals live along the coastal rim and stay close to shore, the adults do not migrate.They swim and make shallow dives, they can stay submerged for 16 minutes or more. Their feeding area is less than 15 miles off shore and in places shallower than 600'.
California Sea Lion
Smaller and darker than the Stellar Sea Lion. These species have a honking bark, they never seem to stop barking, sometimes they will bark all night long for no apparent reason. Very lively and curious towards kayakers, they like to swim over and get a good look at us as we paddle by. In the Broken Group Islands there is a Sea Lion Colony of up to 300. In Ucluelet Harbour they haul out on log booms and wharves; often resting in rafts with flippers held out of the water to minimize heat loss. Rolls and dives, often leaping out of the water. Can stay submerged for 20 minutes. They feed on schooling fish, herring, hake, Pollock and dogfish, only eating a small amount of salmon. Females can reach 5'6" in length and weigh up to 250 lbs. Males 8' long and 900 lbs.
Orca Whales or Killer Whales
Black and White and cute, the favorite whale to many whale enthusiasts. We never know when a pod of Orca Whales will visit our area they seem to come by on a Vacation or on a trip around Vancouver Island. 3 times that I personally know of, we have had Orca Whales come into Ucluelet Harbour to give birth. Females 23' long and 8 tons. Males 30' long and 11 tons. Travel range is one of the greatest among all mammals. Largest population is the cooler coastal waters of northern Pacific Coasts. They are a member of the dolphin family. Species show a number of exciting behaviours, including blowing, breaching, tail-slapping, pectorial fin slapping and spy hopping. They often rest in a tight group or line, and travel in groups, quite close to one another. They cruise at 2 - 4 knots but can reach speeds of 17 knots.
In shallow coastal waters of the north Pacific ocean you will find these whales feeding in shallow mud bottoms. They migrate between the lagoons of Baja and the Arctic Seas. Ucluelet has a Whale Festival every year to celebrate the migration. April is the month that we start to see large populations. We have resident Gray Whales in this area that stay for the entire summer, feeding on planktonic animals in the water. They can live to be 70 years old. The Gray is often approachable, the friendly ones approach small boats and allow themselves to be touched by humans. They produce occasional sounds like low groans, grunts, clicks and bongs but these are rare and barely audible on a hydrophone. They spyhop and breach. They travel at 2 - 5 knots occasionally to 10 knots. They will dive for as long as 18 - 20 minutes.
The Pacific Rim Whale Festival: March 12th to March 27th, 2016
The humpback whales are amazing to see when they breech, their massive body comes completely out of the water. They seem to come into our area to feed. They feed by charging schools of small fish and crustaceans, trapping food in the baleen plates that line the upper jaw. They breech, spyhop, tail-slap and often roll on the surface and flap the flipper. They can stay submerged for 10 - 20 minutes. These whales will visit the BC waters in the summer but migrate to Hawaii, Mexico and Japan for breeding and then migrate to the warm waters of Mexico for calving. Humpbacks can be seen alone or in groups of 15, they produce sounds during feeding that may scare prey or coordinate feeding activities. Males sing some of the longest and most complex songs of any animal, especially on breeding grounds. All males at a breeding ground sing the same song. Humpbacks swim slowly, 4 - 5knots.
Isolated populations are found in Alaska, BC, Washington and California. They were trapped to extinction in the Barkley and Clayoquot Sound in the early 1900's. Sea Otters always eat while floating on their backs in the water. We have a few Sea Otters around and on certain trips we do see them. They do not go ashore to eat, as river otters often do. They tend to stay in open, exposed waters, gathering and "rafting" together in large groups of various ages and sexes. They squeal, hiss, snarl and grunt but do not whistle like river otters. Sea otters have a high metabolic rate and eat as much as 25 - 30 percent of their body weight each day! They feed primarily on sea urchins, mussels, abalone, and a variety of invertebrates from the intertidal zone. Size, over 5' and 80 lbs. The smallest marine mammal.
Most abundant on the coast, in bays and inland marine waters, also found in lakes, rivers and marshes, they can be a nuisance. Long body up to 20". They stay in family groups, whistle to communicate, chuckle and grunt to sound the alarm. They are at home on land, they construct beds in hollow logs.
For more information about the sea mammals listed you can view Bamfield Marine Station website at http://www.oceanlink.info/
Bears are abundant on Vancouver Island, they can be seen along the road side grazing on the soft grass. Usually shy but they can learn not to be, sometimes they will come into residential areas and cause a lot of problems with domestic animals, families and garbage. Bears are unpredictable and should be treated as such. For more information on bears please go to the following website. www.bearsmart.com
Wolves have found their way into the Broken Group Islands and have been feeding on the numerous deer that inhabit the area. Some of the camping areas were closed down because of wolf populations. www.wolfsongalaska.org
Often the most memorable creatures a visitor can enjoy are the fascinating plants and animals that live in the pools where the ocean meets the land. To learn more you can visit our local Aquarium.