The sea life of Western Canada

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One of the top reasons people visit Western Canada is to see the local wildlife. While bears may get top of mind for many visitors, one should not miss the chance to see some of the amazing sea life that can be found off the coast of British Columbia.

From Canada’s iconic beaver that makes it home on the rivers of Western Canada to the resident orcas that call the Pacific Ocean coastlines off Vancouver and Vancouver Island home, you’ll be amazed at the amount of sea life in Western Canada’s oceans, rivers and lakes.
Of course, if you are hoping to see some of the amazing sea life found in Western Canada, it is best to spend some time along the coast of BC. Whether you are in Vancouver, on Vancouver Island or in Northern BC near Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii, there is no shortage of sea life to see.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common sea life you may be able to see when travelling around the coastlines of BC.

The sea life of Western Canada

Whales

Orca:

BC’s biggest sea life attraction is without a doubt the Orca whale (sometimes referred to as the Killer Whale). Orcas are a magnificent species and one of the smartest creatures you’ll find in the ocean. Orca whales got the nickname killer whale because they were very efficient hunters of other whale species. BC’s resident Orcas eat mainly salmon but transient orcas that can be found in the area from time to time will eat local seals and even larger whales (orcas, like wolves, hunt in packs to bring down larger prey). If you are on the coast of BC make sure you get out on a whale-watching tour to see these beautiful whales hunting or sometimes just playing and jumping in and out of the ocean!

Grey Whale:

While Orca whales can be quite social and playful if you happen to see them out on the ocean, their larger cousin, the Grey whale is quite calm and quiet in comparison. Due to their calm demeanour, Grey whales have been referred to as breathing rocks! Also, unlike Orcas, they are solitary creatures and are often found alone. Unfortunately, this often makes them ideal prey for packs of hunting Orcas. With these whales growing up to 14 meters in length, they are also huge mammals and one of the largest whales you will find in BC.

Humpback Whale:

One of the only sea creatures that can get bigger than the Grey whale, the Humpback whale is a massive mammal, growing up to 16 meters in length. Unlike the Grey Whale, these whales are a bit more active and can be found even breaching the water – truly a spectacular sight to behold! Even with their huge size, Humpbacks can fall prey to packs of hunting Orca whales, just like essentially anything in the sea (except humans, of which Orcas, thankfully only seem curious about).

 

After whales, there are several other interesting and much smaller, sea creatures that you may come across along the coastlines of BC.

Harbour Seal

you aren’t able to get out onto the water, Harbour Seals can be found hanging out in marina’s, often looking for the leftover daily catch from the local fishermen. Harbour Seals, sometimes referred to as the puppies of the sea, are quite playful and very curious and can be fun to come across!

Steller Sea Lions

The largest type of Sea Lion, Stellers are much larger than Harbour Seals, getting up to 11 feet long and 2,500 pounds! Steller’s have also been known to eat the smaller Harbour Seal. The Steller Sea Lion also tends to make a lot of noise and like to hang out on boat docks or rock shoals near the shore – and if they do, you’ll be sure to hear them as they like to bark and roar all day long – especially during the breeding season! You’ll often find Steller’s living in large groups where there is one large male and many smaller females that make up his ‘harem’.

Sea Otter

Similar to seals, but smaller, sea otters are foragers and typically eat shellfish which they eat off their stomachs (cracking the shell against a rock) while floating on their backs in the water – so cute! Sea Otters spend almost all their lives in the water, not just eating but sleeping too! They will sleep floating on their backs on the surface of the water (as they still need to breathe). Also, unlike seals who have thick layers of blubber to keep them warm, Sea Otters rely on their thick coats of fur for insulation. Due to their thick fur, they used to be hunted extensively and are still listed as endangered species even though hunting them has been banned for years.

Conclusions

If you are visiting Western Canada but can’t make it to the Pacific Ocean, your best bet to see some of the sea life noted above (and much more) is to visit a local aquarium, like the Vancouver Aquarium, which happens to be the largest in Western Canada! Other smaller, but no less interesting aquariums to visit in Western Canada like Ucluelet Aquarium or the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea near Victoria.

What other sea creatures are out on the coastal waters of Western Canada and where do you like to go to see them? 

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