British Columbia is Canada’s most biologically diverse province, with its coastal waters providing important feeding grounds for resident and transient whales, plus critical natural habitat for endangered species like the sea otter, previously eliminated from our coastal waters by the fur trade earlier this century, but subsequently reintroduced. A highlight of the wildlife viewing calendar in BC is the annual migration of Pacific Gray Whales northward up the west coast of Vancouver Island in spring, and resident Killer Whales can always be counted on to provide the viewing thrill of a lifetime around Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
Harbour seals are the most likely marine mammals to be seen by visitors to coastal British Columbia. Curious, sleek, and so at home in the water, their round heads and whiskers peek just above the surface as they go about their daily routine. Watch for them also on offshore rocks, where they may gather in numbers to loaf and sleep, their varied pelage blending well with the rocky substrate.
Sea Otters & River Otters
Once eliminated from the coastal waters of British Columbia by fur traders trading in their thick pelts, sea otters have been successfully reintroduced to their native habitat, where their future now seems reasonably secure. They are seen only in the area of the Brooks Peninsula on the west coast of northern Vancouver Island, and the Goose Islands, off the central coast of BC.
Two species of sea lions occur in the waters of British Columbia; the Steller’s Sea Lion and California Sea Lion. Distinguished from Harbour Seals by their longer necks and external ears, sea lions gather at haulouts, where the two species loaf side-by-side. From December to April, sea lions converge on the east coast of Vancouver Island to feed on herring returning to spawn.
The most common whales in BC waters are the Killer Whale (Orca), Gray Whale, and Humpback Whale. Other whales found here include Beaked, Black Right, Blue, Davidson’s, Dwarf Sperm, False Killer, Fin, Finback, Herring, Minke, North Pacific Bottle-nosed, Pacific Pilot, Pacific Right, Piked, Pollack, Right, Sei, Sharpheaded Finner, Short-finned Pilot, Sperm, and Sulphur-bottom Whales.
Dolphins and Porpoises
Dolphin species in the waters of British Columbia include the Baird’s, Common, Euphrosyne, Hookfin, Long-beaked, Northern right-whale, Pacific Striped, Pacific White-sided, Risso’s, Saddle-backed Dolphin, and the Striped Dolphin. Porpoise species inhabiting the waters of BC include the Dall’s porpoise, Harbor, Spray, Streaker, White-bellied, and the White Flank porpoise.