Whale Watching and Marine Mammal Viewing

 

Whale Watching and Marine Mammal Viewing

Every season, beginning in mid June the mighty orca or killer whale, migrate into the inside passage of the Strait of Georgia, just off the east coast of Vancouver Island, following the migration routes of the Pacific salmon.  During the summer and fall months they can be viewed, mating and rubbing their bodies on the smooth pebble beach’s of the Robson’s Bight Michael Bigg Ecological Reserve, foraging for food in any number of the bays or fjords or just resting as they travel from one feeding ground to another. 
 
Over 20 family groups or pods journey through the waters of the passage off Campbell River, giving birth to the next generation and fattening themselves up for their long winter voyage in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. 
 
This makes for some pretty common and sometimes spectacular sightings of one of the world’s top predators.  Not only are the orca easily spotted, but often there large dorsal fins and flukes can be viewed directly from shore.
 
In addition to the mighty Orca, the waters of the inside passage are home to a wide variety of marine mammals, from pacific white sided dolphins in staggering numbers to California and steller sea Lions.  In any given day you may glimpse up to a dozen varieties of marine mammals.
 

Grizzly Bear and Black Bear Viewing

In partnership to marine mammal viewing, bear viewing has become an integral component of any local marine tour.  Both grizzly and black bears of the coast descend the hillsides to the water’s edge during the spring and summer months to eat the new grasses, feed on salmon and forage along the low tide line for the rich abundance of exposed sea life that makes up much of their summer diet.
 
Many reputable tour companies exist in our area for viewing such animals, with their mandate being one of encouragement for the safety of their patrons and the protection of the beasts. The operator’s priority being the education of the public in regards to the animals themselves in all aspects.  The perspective of the tour can be founded on the Aboriginal History or interactions with humans or the impact that human presence on the planet has brought to the animals.  Each tour has something implicitly unique to offer.

Custom Tours

 Excursions generally range from 4 hours to a full day. Custom tours can be arranged that include island hopping with specific destinations and are capable of encompassing several days as in kayaking with the whales in Johnstone Straight.  Specifically tailoring your tour to meet or exceed your wildest expectations!  Check them out it is well worth the experience.

Marine Mammals of the Georgia Strait

 Humans and marine mammals have a long history of interaction.  Many historical and native cultures revered marine mammals that played an intricate role in life and ceremony, lore and written references to this, one of the most remarkable groups of animals on the planet go back in millennia.  From the Greek poet Oppian back in the 2nd century AD, to the importance of the mammals as a food source and an integral part of local culture in addition to many indigenous peoples across the globe.
 
Today our relationship with marine mammals is defined by extremes.  Exploited for the past 250 years by our modern day societal construction, many whales, dolphins, seals and others species have been driven to near extinction. 
 
Human interest in these animals of late has changed; from exploitation for quick monetary gain to the desire to observe them in their natural habitat.  With every passing year demonstrating an ever increasing number of people from all over the world joining excursions to sight marine mammals.  With an abundance of these animals making their home in the waters off the shores of the inside passage a burgeoning industry has enveloped where viewing opportunities are not only abundant but safe and assured.  
 
With this concentrated and fascinating collection of large marine mammals, an opportunity is presented to scrutinize them in their natural habitats and behaviours, where the patient observer may appreciate their magnificence. 
 
The ease of which different species can be identified in the field varies considerably, distinguishing one killer whale from another is not such a challenging task for the professional observer, however individual Pacific white sided dolphins’ can be a different story altogether.

What constitutes a Marine Mammal?

 In the strictest definition; a marine mammal makes its home in the marine environment for all or most of its natural life; this includes whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions and otters.
 
Marine mammals are as terrestrial mammals, in the class of mammalians, which includes more than 4,000 species.  Warm blooded and sometimes having hair; female mammals give birth to live young and have mammary glands that produce milk for the sustenance of her off-spring.
 
All marine mammals are believed to have evolved from Land-dwelling ancestors; mind you this is only speculation and not a proven scientific fact.   It is thought that such animals were almost certainly taking advantage of new food sources and seeking protection from terrestrial predators.
 
Remarkably successful at colonizing a broad range of habitats, marine mammals are sighted in a variety of different environments, the inside passage presenting a perfect combination of environmental advantages for scores of the large Pacific Ocean species.

Why is the Georgia Strait so abundant with Marine Mammals?

 The rapidly moving waters of the Georgia Straight, transport a substantial quantity of marine organisms to the waters of the inside passage.  Twice a day the tide changes and fresh feed is transported to the numerous narrow channels that constitute the east coast waterways of Vancouver Island.  This formula attracts an array of schooling fish species in abundance, which in turn attracts the larger mammals.
 
River estuaries also afford an advantage for marine mammals, as salmon tend to congregate at the mouth of many estuaries on their way to their ancestral spawning grounds.  Many of the river systems no matter how small, that drain into the Georgia Straight play host to thousands if not millions of migrating salmon during the summer months and small fry salmon who immerge from the rivers beginning in early winter.  Since the inside passage is narrow, it is reasonably effortless for the larger mammals to gain a rich profusion of a consistent food source.

Do all Marine Mammals Migrate?

 For many marine mammals, the year is divided into distinct breeding and feeding seasons, during which the animals’ distribution is quite different.  In most cases, these two periods of the seasonal cycle are part in parcel to a seasonal migration pattern.  Some of these larger mammals’ migrating patterns encompass thousands of miles of travel.  Much of these migrating patterns are not completely understood, although it is speculated that most animals migrate to take advantage of greater seasonal availability of food resources, however this objective does not always completely explain migrating patterns.

What kind of behaviour can be expected?

 The social organization of marine mammals ranges widely, from the highly complex societies found in some whale pods to the solitary ways of the otter.
 
The terms; group, pod, or school usually imply some degree of association and coordination among the animals and their movement.  An observer on a ship may one moment pass a school of dolphins hundreds strong and nearby see a lone minke whale.  Yet appearances may be deceptive, the dolphin school can be a temporary gathering that can break into more discrete groups, while the minke whale may be in acoustic communication with one or other of its kind many kilometres away.
 
There are specific trade-offs for the structure of animal societies, firstly; all social behaviour has developed as a cost and benefit of a group living versus solitary living.  Secondly; any social system is the sum of the behaviours of the system’s individual members.  This is because, as a species evolves, selection works upon individuals, not upon groups or societies; this may be the case in which a young killer whale is abandon by the pod, well before it is able to look after itself.
 
The societies of killer whales are quite extraordinary in that the groups remain together for the entire lives of the individuals that make up the pods.  This species have developed highly efficient cooperative hunting strategies that depend upon long-term bonds among the family members.

Do Marine Mammals communicate with each other?

 Underwater visibly is restricted at best and even with excellent eye site it is difficult to see underwater even in the best of conditions.  Sunlight does not infiltrate below depths of a few hundred feet, if not less, so visibility based communication is useless except at very close range.  As an alternative many marine mammals communicate primarily by sound, which travels five times faster in water than in air. This is why so many marine mammal viewing companies have invested in hydrophones as underwater communication is both easy to hear and quite beautiful.
 
The sounds produced by different mammals are distinctively varied in type, frequency and strength.  Listening to a school of dolphins you will pick up a barrage of sounds such as trains of rapid clicks made as the animal’s echolocate; as well as a variety of whistles used to communicate within the pod.
 
Killer whales have been known to have specific dialects that distinguish a particular family group, in many cases biologists can identify a group of killer whales without seeing them, based on their echolocation.  Some whales emit such low frequency booms they can be detected over a distance of up to 2,000 kilometres in the open ocean.  Communication is an important component of the social repertoire for marine mammals that spend time on land.  It is usually used at this time for territoriality displays and for the females to locate their young.

Surfacing, Diving and Hauling-Out, what does that mean?

Our sightings of marine mammals are usually restricted to brief glimpses of the animals as they surface to replenish their oxygen supply before descending back to the depths.  Seals usually show no more than their heads above the surface, where dolphin’s porpoises and whales typically take a number of breathes at the surface before they dive.  Most whales create a visible “Blow” when they surface; this blow is not water but a mixture of condensed air and atomized water droplets.
 
The speed at which marine mammals swim varies from species to species with some whales exceeding 20 knots. While dolphins and whales are known to flap their flippers on the water surface, this behaviour is known as lob tailing and flipper slapping for reasons that are not clear.  Some will raise their heads above the water to look around; a behaviour known as spy hopping, while others appear to be playing in the water.  Certain dolphins are well known for their tendency to ride on the bow waves of boats and ships.
 
Haul-outs can be seen frequently in mammals such as seals and sea lions for the purpose of mating, pupping and moulting, which requires more time on shore due to the decrease in the animals ability to keep itself warm and promote blood circulation.  In selected species and in colder climates, the animals will huddle together during the moult to conserve energy.
 
The appearance of any living cetacean such as whales or dolphins on shore is not natural, such events are termed stranding, usually fatal; these acts can be divided into two types, those caused by sickness and those caused by navigational error. Single acts of stranding usually involve animals that are ill and often close to death.
 
Mass stranding, which usually involves three or more animals, occur more often than most people realize.  These stranding(s) usually do not result from illness, although some scientists have theorized that a sick lead animal may sometimes direct the rest of a groups’ members to their death.  Generally they are the result of several factors, including bad weather and interaction between abnormally low tides and shallow confusing topography, with the animals unable to reorient themselves and get back to the safety of deep water.

How do Marine Mammals Reproduce?

There are as many reproduction strategies amongst marine mammals as there are species.  In general terms the mating system of a species is determined by the distribution of the females, environmental constraints and the competition of the males.  Like humans, generally female marine mammals have evolved to invest more heavily in their young than the males of the species. 
 
Some species of marine mammals such as elephant seals will contain a few dominant males that will inseminate the majority of the breeding females on the pupping beach.  These males are usually the largest and most aggressive of all the males on the beach.  Male mating strategies in other marine mammal’s species include visual or acoustic displays to attract females; such as the Pacific white-sided dolphins tendency to jump out of the water as high as they can en-mass when competing for the attention of the females. 
 
Like other large animals, marine mammals tend to produce single offspring and to invest heavily in rearing their offspring.  Gestation is also relatively long, varying form eight months in the case of most porpoises and as long as 16 months in larger whales.  The duration of lactation also varies, however; in most mammals the length is prolonged and also serves as a bonding function.
 
Marine mammals become sexually mature between three to seven years of age with much variation between species.

What and Where do they eat?

 The variety of food consumed is in direct proportion to the variety of species of marine mammals. The transient killer whale is a fearsome predator whose diet can include huge fast fish like blue fin tuna, as well as seals, dolphins and even other larger marine mammals, although the resident killer whale maintains a diet of exclusively salmon with a preference for the larger chinook salmon.  Probably all of the toothed whales possess some kind of biological sonar or echolocation that they use routinely as their principal means of locating prey.
 
Dolphins prey on large schools of herring and other smaller species of fish, while otters will collect and break open shells and sea urchins along with other shellfish.

Conservation of Marine Mammals

 Few groups of animals have been as relentlessly exploited by humans as marine mammals.  Hunted for their fir, meat and oil for millennia this quest for more has brought many marine mammals to the brink of extinction, and with the improvement of hunting techniques, along with the introduction of large scale commercial hunts in the past hundred years or so, many species have already disappeared completely. 
 
Due to the excesses of the 20th century it is estimated that more than 2 million whales have been killed for commercial purposed in the southern hemisphere alone.  Although the exploitation has been greatly reduced in the past 50 years, the hunting continues to negatively affect populations of many marine mammals today.
 
Other pressures that contribute to the decimation of populations of marine mammals include urbanization, pollution, boat traffic, noise and river damming.  Habitat degradation is of particular serious consequence, particularly so for many species that are brought into close range with human activities.  Noise form ship traffic and industrial activity may displace the animals from feeding or breeding.  Collision between ships and large whales are not uncommon on the inside passage, usually resulting in death for the animal and focus a grim reality of the dominance of the human impact on these animals.
 
The influence of pollution in the past has been difficult at best to assess but more recently it has become evident that wide spread industrial pollutants such as PCB’s are known to have profound effects on the reproduction and health of many of the local populations. The increasing accumulation and concentration of pollutants with each new generation is of further concern.  The many uncertainties involved in the absorption of these pollutants make specific cause and effect links very difficult to demonstrate, however; it has been proven that reduced reproduction or immune function is as a direct result of contaminants.
 
Many marine mammals are protected by international agreements such as the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species.  Bodies such as the International Whaling Commission and various bilateral or multilateral commissions either protect marine mammals or attempt to regulate their exploitation.  The challenge for conservation is great as most marine mammals do not regulate their migratory patterns to international borders.
 

Watching Marine Mammals

 
Many marine mammals around Vancouver Island are easily accessible to the casual observer.  Sometimes you do not even need to board a boat to watch these animals. 
 
            Identification
 
This can be a simple or almost impossible feat, depending on the species.  Correctly identifying a particular seal species is often quite a challenging feat; it becomes even more difficult  to identify accurately when the animals are in the water, especially when they are moving quite rapidly, affording only brief glimpses.  Most species do, however; have unique characteristics that either alone or in combination, helps to identify them.
 
            Equipment needed for viewing Marine Mammals
 
*  Binoculars, one of the most important pieces of equipment.  More often than not you are not within close range of the animal you are attempting to view.
 
*  A camera or video camera, pretty standard equipment preferably with telephoto lens.
 
*  Warm clothing; paramount on the BC coast as it can be 10 degrees colder on the water than it is on land.
           
*  A hat; the sun is much stronger when reflected off the water.
 
*  Sun glasses; even if you do not think you need them, again the sun can be much stronger when reflected off the water.
 
*  The proper safety equipment; make sure you are equipped with all the regulated safety equipment on your boat or that you are with a reputable tour company, that the vessel you are on has been passed for safety inspections and the pilot of your vessel is well versed in the tidal currents that are unique to the waters of the Georgia Straight and the Discovery Passage.
 
            Etiquette
 
Conduct yourself with respect for the animals, due little to disturb them and keep your distance.  There are specific regulations governing marine mammal watching in our area - be aware of what these regulations are before heading into the field.  See Rules for sighting marine mammals in British Columbia
 
            Sightings of stranded or injured animals
 
Any stranded or injured animal, alive or dead should be reported to the proper authorities as soon as possible.  There is a well established network of scientific and governmental researchers that are responsible for dealing with these animals.  If you cannot find the right phone number to call, alert the coast guard or the local police.
 
Do not touch a dead or injured marine mammal, any rotting carcass can be transmitting disease and keep well clear of any stranded live animals as they can be dangerous.  When professional help is not immediately available, taking photographs of the animal may be very useful, together with recording the information on the date, location and other details you can remember that then can be sent to appropriate experts for evaluation.
 

Whale Watching Guidelines for the British Columbia Coast

 As dictated by the Fisheries Act, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is accountable for the protection and management of marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Regulations specifically prohibit the disruption of whales and other marine mammals.
 
The DFO has developed guiding principles for whale watching in Johnstone Strait, and the inside passage, where killer whales and other marine mammals are known to patronize during the summer months. It is strongly advised that vessel operators follow these guidelines for all mammalian species and other marine animals.
 
This section is not meant to replace the regulations of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, for more information please visit their website at www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca.
 
Diving or swimming with these creatures constitutes a manner of approach to all marine mammals and falls under these guidelines and regulations. It is illegal to hunt, pursue, scatter, drive or round up groups, pods or individuals of marine mammals.
 
Be conscious of the result of your actions on the whales and other marine mammals. Be familiar with the distances required and activities that will disturb and interfere with the animals. Viewing activities within the confines of the Robson Bight Michael Bigg Ecological Reserve is strictly forbidden.

Marine Mammal Viewing Guidelines

  • Approach the animal only from the side, not from the front or the rear.
  • Advance no closer than 100 metres and shift your motor into neutral or idle.
  • Keep noise levels to a minimum – no horns, whistles or racing motors.
  • Start your motor only after the animals are more than 100 metres from your vessel.
  • When leaving the area, do so slowly, accelerating little by little as you place distance between you and the animals.
  • Advance and retreat at a snail's pace, avoiding sudden changes in speed or direction.
  • Prevent disturbing pods or families of resting whales.
  • Sustain low speeds and steady direction if traveling parallel to animals.
  • When animals are traveling close to shore, do not crowd them near the shore or come between the animals and the shore.
  • Limit the time spent with any group of animals to less than 30 minutes at a time when within 100 – 200 metres of the animals.
  • If there is more than one vessel at the same observation site, be sure to avoid any boat position that would result in corralling the animals.
  • Limit time, as above and then move out to allow other vessels access to good viewing positions.
  • Coordinate activities by maintaining radio contact with other vessels, and ensure that all operators are aware of the viewing guidelines.
 
Researchers wanting to study the whales must confirm with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to ensure their proposed study activity is permissible and to establish whether or not they will necessitate a scientific license.
 
The entry of Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve, without exception requires permission by B.C.. Parks.
 
Summary convictions for contravention of the Fisheries Act or its regulations carry a fine of up to $100,000 a prison term up to one year, or both. Indictable convictions carry a fine of up to $500,000, prison terms of up to two years, or both. (Fisheries Act s.78)
 

Marine Mammals of the inside Passage

 

California Sea Lion                                     Sightings: Common

(Zalophus californianus)
 
            Description:  Male Length: 2.4 meters - Female: 2 meters
                             Male: weight    300 kg - Female: 90 kg          
                             Life Span: 17 years
 
Pointed muzzles gives these sea lions a dog-like appearance, males grow a large crest of bone on the top of their heads and small manes around their necks as they attain sexual maturity.  Females are lighter in color than the males and pups are born dark, but lighten when they are several months old. When the skin is dry, it is a purple color. By sealing their nose shut, they are able to stay underwater for up to 15 minutes.
 
            Range and Habitat:
 
As its name suggests, the California sea lion is found mainly around the waters of California, however they also live along the coastline of Oregon, Washington State, the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia and the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
 
            Behaviour:
 
California sea lions are highly social and breed in May to June. When establishing a territory, the males will increase their chances of breeding by staying on the rookery for as long as possible. During this time, they will fast, using their blubber as an energy store. Size is a key factor in winning fights as well as waiting, the bigger the male the more blubber he can store and the longer he can wait.
 
A male sea lion can only hold his territory for up to 29 days. Females do not become receptive until 21 days after the pups are born, thus the males do not set up their territories until after the females give birth, most fights occur during this time.  Soon, the fights go from violent to ritualized displays such as barking, roaring, head-shaking, stares, and bluff lunges.
 
Each male may service up to 16 females.  For adult males, territorial claims occur both on land and underwater.  These males have been known to charge divers who enter their underwater territory.
 
            Reproduction:
 
Gestation is 12 months and birthing is done between the months of June and August, birth may occur on land or in the water. The pups are born with their eyes open and can vocalize with their mothers immediately; they may nurse for up to six months, experiencing rapid growth due to the high fat content in the rich cream content of the mothers’ milk.  Within two months the pups learn to swim and hunt guided by their mothers.
 
After the breeding season, female California sea lions normally stay in southern waters while the adult males and juveniles generally migrate north for the winter. Social organization during the non-breeding season is unstable. However, a size-related dominance hierarchy does exist. Large males use vocalization and movement to show their dominance and smaller males always yield to them. Non-breeding groups are gregarious on land and often squeeze together into tight groups.
 
California sea lions prefer to breed on sandy beaches in the southern part of their range. They usually stay no more than 10 miles out to sea.  On warm days they stay close to the water's edge. At night or on cool days, the sea lions will move inland or up coastal slopes. Outside of the breeding season they will often gather at marinas, wharves and rocky outcrops, they may even be seen on navigational buoys. These man-made environments provide safety from their natural predators; the Orca.
 
            Food and Foraging:
 
California sea lions feed on a wide variety of seafood, mainly squid and fish including salmon, hake, Pacific whiting, anchovies, herring, schooling fish, rock fish lamprey and dog fish.
 
Feeding grounds are mostly around the edge of the continental Shelf as well as sea mounts, the open ocean and the ocean bottom. California sea lions may eat alone or in small to large groups depending on the amount of food available. They have been known to cooperate with dolphins, sharks and seabirds when hunting large schools of fish.  Sea lions from British Columbia will wait at the mouths of rivers for the salmon run.
 
            Status and Conservation:
 
The California Sea Lions numbers are abundant (280,000 U.S. stock 2005 est.), and the population continues to expand at a rate of approximately 5.0% annually. They are quite intelligent, can adapt to man-made environments, and it is known that adult males can be easily trained.

Dall’s Porpoise                                            Sightings:  Common

 
            Description:  Length:  Male: 2.3 m – Female: 2.0 m
                                          Weight:  Male:  200 kg – Female: 130 kg
                                           Life Span:  15 years
 
Dall’s Porpoise are generally very thick bodied and robust, with a tiny head and little or no beak.  The caudal peduncle is strongly keeled above and below, posterior to the anal region.  Flippers are small and positioned far forward. The small dorsal fin is wide-based, triangular and positioned at mid body, the fin is canted forward and the trailing edge of their flukes is markedly convex.  Adult males have a deeper caudal peduncle than females and a pronounced hump immediately behind the anus. There are 21 to 28 pairs of very small teeth in both the upper and lower jaws.
 
The porpoise is mostly black, with bright white patches on the flanks and belly.  There are two consistent and well defined color morphs.  The dalli-type morph has a white flanks patch extending forward to approximately the level of the front of the dorsal fin:  the true- type morph sees the patch extending farther forward reaching the flipper.  Both the dorsal fin and the flukes become frosted with light grey, then white, as the animal ages; the white frosting on the dorsal fin usually has dark flecking. 
 
            Range and Habitat:
 
Dall’s porpoise are endemic to the cool temperate North Pacific and quite a prolific species in the inside passage of Vancouver Island.
 
            Behaviour: 
 
Spending their time in small groups, from 2 to 12 individuals the dalls’ porpoise loosely associates with other groups to form feeding aggregations involving dozens to hundreds of individuals.  This porpoise is very fast, it is thought to be the fastest of all the small cetaceans.  When surfacing, it typically creates “rooster tails” of spray that can almost obscure the animal itself. Dall’s porpoises are avid bow riders and often weave in and out of bow waves making jerky movements.  This species is subject to predation by killer whales but its ability to swim at high speeds may minimize the threat of shark attack.Pacific White Sided Dolphin in the waters off Campbell River, Vancouver Island ~BC, Canada
 
            Reproduction: 
 
The sexual dimorphism in body size and shape and the smallness of testes, suggest that the male dall’s porpoises compete for exclusive access to females, as the males in such situations have a reduced need to produce large quantities of sperm. To achieve dominance they would need to be adept at fighting or alternatively, capable of intimidating one another with a visual display.  Gestation lasts 10 – 11 months and birth takes place between early spring and early fall, mainly June to August.  The lactation period lasts at least two months but for how much longer is uncertain.  Females have been known to give birth annually during their prime.
 
            Food and Foraging: 
 
Diet consists mainly of schooling fish such as herring, pilchards, hake and squid.  A high proportion of its diet consists of deep water, vertically migrating species.  Their blubber is thin for a cold water species so they must maintain a relatively high metabolic rate and thus a high regular caloric intake.
 
            Status and Conservation: 
 
Abundant and wisely distributed, however the tendency to approach vessels makes it difficult to avoid overestimating their abundance.  Many are killed each year in gill nets, trawls and other types of fishing gear.  The greatest known threat is the porpoise hunt in Japan, where the annual harpoon kill of dall’s porpoises increased in the 1980’s from thousands to several tens of thousands.  Some years there have been reports of over 40,000 animals harpooned.

Harbour Porpoise                                          Sightings: Rare

           
             Description:   Length:  Male: 1.57 m – Female: 1.68 m
                                                 Weight:  Male:  61 kg – Female: 76 kg
                                                 Life Span:  25 years
 
The harbour porpoise has a robust body and a short, poorly demarcated beak.  It reaches maximum girth just ahead of the dorsal fin.  The medium size dorsal fin is triangular or slightly falcate and is set at mid body.  Several rows of small tubercles line the fin’s leading edge.  There are usually 21 to 29 pairs of teeth in the upper jaw and 20 – 29 pairs in the lower jaw. 
 
The colour pattern is subtle but complete.  Dark gray cape is overlaid on a much lighter grey dorsal field, variable dark grey flecking in the light grey area.  The throat and belly are white, and there may be grey streaking on the throat.  Sometimes you will see a dark chin patch, a dark eye ring and a dark stripe from the corner of the mouth to the flipper. 
 
            Range and Habitat:
 
As their name implies, harbour porpoises are coastal, often found in fjords, bays, estuaries and harbours, limited to northern temperate and sub arctic waters.  North Pacific and North Atlantic populations are entirely separate, as is the population in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.
 
            Behaviour:
 
Generally perceived as solitary creatures they are usually seen alone or in a small groups of two to five individuals.  Group sizes tend to increase toward the end of summer but little is known about their social affiliations.
 
Individuals are highly mobile, using home ranges of thousands of square miles and often traveling many miles in a day.  These porpoises are shy and tend not to exhibit curiosity toward vessels which make them difficult to approach and follow.  With occasional arching out of the water (porposing) but generally they are inclined not to display aerial activity.  They are subject to predation by sharks and killer whales.
 
            Reproduction: 
 
Although short lived by cetacean standards, harbour porpoises can be highly productive.  After reaching sexual maturity, at the age of three or four, females become pregnant annually for at least several years in a row.  This means they can be pregnant and lactating at the same time, thus under nutritional stress for much of their adult lives.  In all areas of study the reproduction of this animal has been proven to be strongly seasonal, with ovulation and conception occurring within a brief time span during the late spring or early summer.  Gestation lasts for 10 – 11 months and calves may be nursed for 8 to 12 months.
 
            Food and Foraging: 
 
Being largely independent, harbour porpoises usually feed individually.  Large aggregations, seen occasionally are likely adventitious rather than indications of cooperative foraging.  Much of their prey is found near the sea floor; however they also forage in the water column.  Schooling fish less than 40cm long such as herring, capelin, sprat and silver hake maintains the bulk of their diet.  Calves often ingest small crustaceans during the early phases of weaning.
 
            Status and Conservation: 
 
All told there are hundreds of thousands of harbour porpoises, but many geographical populations are substantially reduced from historical levels.  Incidental mortality in fisheries especially bottom set gillnets is a threat throughout the species range.

False Killer Whale                                            Sightings:  Rare

 
            Description:  Length:  Male: 6 m – Female: 5 m
                                          Weight:  Male: 1,360+ kg - Female: Unavailable
                                          Life Span: Male: 58 years – Female: 63 years
 
The false killer whale has a slender body with a small, rounded or bluntly conical head and a straight long mouth line.  Particularly prominent in adult males you can see that the melon overhands the tip of the lower jaw.  The dorsal fin is erect and slender and can be more than 40 centimetres high.  It is falcate and positioned at the mid back.  The flippers are wider at the base than the tip and have a distinctive hump midway on the leading edge.  A maximum of 12 pairs and a minimum of 7 pairs of large conical teeth are set in both the upper and lower jaw.
 
            Range and Habitat:
 
False Killer Whales have an extensive oceanic range. In the Pacific Ocean, their range extends from Japan to British Columbia to New Zealand, Tasmania and Chile.  Usually encountered in waters deeper than 1,000 meters these whales have been spotted in the inside passage.
 
            Behaviour: 
 
Being a gregarious whale; the false killer whale typically occurs in groups or pods of 10 to 20 individuals.  These can be sub groups of larger schools consisting of hundreds of individuals.  The strong affiliations of the species are evident from the large numbers that unfortunately all too frequently strand together.  Active at the surface much like dolphins these animals will frequently bow ride, it is also not unusual to see dolphins traveling with them although the whales may chase and attack smaller dolphins during tuna purse-seining. 
 
They have also been reported in large groups attacking large whales, on one occasion near the Galapagos Islands, a school of female and immature sperm whales reacted defensively when a mixed group of false killer whales and common bottlenose dolphins rapidly approached them.  From the chunks of flesh floating in the water during the encounter, researchers surmised that the false killers had bitten at least the sperm whales’ flippers and flukes.
 
            Reproduction: 
 
Representing a low reproductive rate, calving intervals is relatively long, estimated to be seven years.  In addition females older than 45 years tend to be barren.  The species maintains its numbers by offsetting its low reproduction with a high survivability.  Females give birth after a gestation period of 14 to 16 months and nurse their calves for 1 to 2 years.
 
            Food and Foraging: 
 
Surveyed only direct observations and from examinations of stomach contents False killer whales are deemed as being versatile predators and consume a fairly large variety of fish and cephalopods.  There specialty in prey, depends on the region they are in.  They often travel in a broad band up to several miles wide, presumably to increase their chances of finding prey.
 
            Status and Conservation: 
 
Hunted opportunistically in some countries they are also killed incidentally in various fisheries.  Some animals being caught live are sold to ocean aquariums.  There are an estimated 16,500 false killer whales in the Western Pacific North of 25 degrees North.

Gray Whale                                                       Sightings:  Rare

 
            Description:   Length - Male: 15 m – Female:  same
                                            Weight - Male: 35,000 kg – Female: same
                                            Life Span:  More than 40 years
 
Large body with mottled grey coloration with the calves being darker than the adults, the head is narrow and triangular when seen from above.  The mouth appears slightly arched and contains 130 to 180 creamy or yellowish baleen plates per side.  The baleen is relatively short with coarse bristles on the inner fringe.  The gray whale has two to five deep longitudinal creases along the underside of the head.  Gray whales have no dorsal fin, but rather a hump followed by 6 to 12 bumps, or knuckles along the top of the lower back.  Barnacles and whale lice grow in various places on the body and are usually most obvious on the head.  The broad mottled flukes are frequently raised during a deep dive.  The blow can be either columnar or bushy in shape.
 
            Range and Habitat:
 
Can be seen most frequently in shallow coastal waters, migrates from summer feeding grounds in the Bering Sea and Beauford Sea to the winter breeding and calving areas off the coast of Baja California, with some summering in lower latitudes off the Coast of British Columbia.  In the Pacific Northwest a small remnant population known as the Korean stock spends the summer in the coastal waters off Vancouver Island.
 
            Behaviour: 
 
Typically these whales do not form lasting associations.  They frequently travel alone or in small unstable groups, although large groups can occur on both feeding and breeding grounds.  When migrating these whales move steadily in one direction, breathing and diving in predictable patterns.  Breaching is relatively common in this species, although its function is unclear.  The gray whale also regularly spy hops and can exhibit considerable curiosity toward boats.
 
            Reproduction: 
 
Both breeding and calving are strongly seasonal.  Females calve at intervals of two to three years.  Gestation period is estimated between 12 to 13 months, with some evidence that there is no foetal growth during the last month of pregnancy.  Calves, born in the winter become independent by seven to nine months of age, usually prior to the fall migration south.
 
            Food and Foraging: 
 
Principal prey is benthic amphipods, which is filtered from the bottom sediment in shallow shelf or coastal waters.  Foraging whales often leave long trails of mud in their wake on the ocean bottom. 
 
Status and Conservation:  having been heavily exploited in the North Pacific beginning in the 19th century the status of two extant populations differs greatly.  The protected North Pacific population is one of the most critically endangered whale stocks in the world, with perhaps only 100 animals remaining, considered extinct as recently as the 1970’s surveys have found this remnant population that is carefully watched today.

Harbour Seal                                                 Sightings: Common

 
            Description:  Male: 1.9 m in length – Female: 1.7 m in length
                                           Male: 170 kg – Female: 130 kg
                                           Life Span:  Male 25 years - Female 35 years
 
A short, spindle-shaped body, a robust head and a snout rather broad and long, the flippers are relatively short, with sturdy claws on the fore flippers.  Adult males may be slightly larger than females; both have nine pairs of teeth in the upper jaw and eight pairs in the lower jaw. 
 
The pelage pattern varies substantially with latitude, however; off the east coast of Vancouver Island the seals are black with scattered, light, incomplete rings.  In our area the dark morph may be more common where as light and intermediate morphs may predominate.  Some harbour seals may have red or rust coloured areas, evidently owing to deposition of iron oxide on the hair shafts.  Pups generally resemble their parents at birth. Harbour Seals sunning in the waters off Campbell rIver BC, Vancouver Island, Canada
 
            Range and Habitat: 
 
Harbour Seals range widely in coastal areas of the North Pacific and North Atlantic with five recognized sub species.  Harbour seals forage in a variety of marine habitats, including deep fjords, coastal lagoons and estuaries and high-energy coastal areas.  They may also forage at the mouths of freshwater rivers and streams and occasionally travel several miles upstream.  During the salmon spawn often they can be sighted 1 or 2 kilometres up the Campbell River in search of an easy meal.
 
            Behaviour: 
 
The mothers and pups maintain a strong bond; however harbour seals are generally intolerant of close contact with other seals.  They are nonetheless gregarious, especially during moulting, which occurs between spring and autumn.  While moulting, groups of several dozen may haul out at the same tide bar or reef where they spend most of their time sleeping or soaking up the sun.  During the winter, harbour seals may be at sea continuously for several weeks or more presumably feeding to recover body mass lost during the reproductive and moulting seasons. 
 
Rather curious of human divers they may nip at the fins of scuba divers and snorkelers.  Pups have a sheep-like call to which their mothers respond with a call by navigating toward them.  Brief grunts and growls can be heard on land, which constitute warnings to neighbours to keep at least a flippers length away.  Some low frequency pulsed sounds have been recorded underwater that are thought to be threat displays of patrolling males.  In the inside passage these animals do not need to worry about being hunted by sharks however with repeated sightings of transient killer whales they are made to be kept on the lookout.
 
            Reproduction: 
 
A generally monogamous mammal, with males mating with one or just a few females during the season.  Males display and vocalize, both to attract females and threaten challenging males.  A well known display during the breeding season is to slap the surface of the water with the fore or hind flippers.  Aggressive vocalizations with mostly growls or coughs are accompanied by thrusts of the head when on land.  Females may begin to teach their pups to forage when they are only a few days old.  Pups may remain on the beach during these times, but more often than not they will accompany the mother into the water.
 
            Food and Foraging: 
 
Depending on prey availability Harbour Seals eat a highly varied diet, feeding on mostly small schooling fish, octopus, squid, shrimp, and shellfish.  They spend about 85% of their day diving, and much of their diving is presumed to be active foraging in the water column or on the seabed.  Usually they dive to depths of 10 to 150 meters depending on location and availability of food.
 
            Status and Conservation:
 
Historically indigenous peoples hunted these seals to various extents for thousands of years.  In the early 1900’s bounties were paid in some areas for killing harbour seals because of the acting as competition with the commercial fishermen. 
 
Long term ecosystem changes owing to natural changes in the environment may also partially explain the decline in numbers, perhaps with their lack of reproductive capability in addition to immunological suppression from chronic exposure to chemical pollutants.

Killer Whale                                                 Sightings:  Seasonally Common

            Description:   Length:  Male: 2.6 m – Female: 7.9 m
                                           Weight:  Male: 5,600+kg – Female: 3,800+kg
                                           Life Span: Male:  50 – 60 years – Female: 80 – 90 years
 
The killer whales body is extremely robust.  The head is conical and lacks a well defined beak.  The dorsal fin at the mid back is large and prominent and highly variable in shape.  Falcate in females and juveniles, erect and almost spike like in adult males.  In adult males the dorsal fin can reach heights of over 2 meters high where as in the females the dorsal is usually a maximum of 1 meter high.  The flippers are large, broad and rounded, very different from the typically sickle-shaped flippers of most delphinids.  There are 10 to 14 pairs of large pointed teeth in both the upper and lower jaws.
 
The color pattern consists of highly contrasting areas of black and white.  The white ventral zone continuous from the lower jaw to anus narrows between the all black flippers and branches behind the umbilicus.  The ventral surface of the flukes and adjacent portion of the caudal peduncle are also white.  The entire back and sides are black with the exception for white patches on the flanks that rise from the uro-genital region and prominent oval while patches slightly above and behind the eyes.  All killer whales have a grey to white saddle patch clearly and directly behind the dorsal fin.Orca spyhopping, Campbell River BC, Vancouver Island, Canada
 
            Range and Habitat: 
 
Killer Whales are clearly cosmopolitan and are not limited by such habitat features as water temperature or depth.  Where there is an-abundance of prey there is usually Killer Whales, although its movements generally appear to track those favoured prey species or to take advantage of pulses in prey abundance or vulnerability such as areas with spawning grounds and seal pupping. 
 
In the Antarctic during summer, most killer whales position themselves near the ice edge and in channels within the pack ice where they prey on baleen whales, penguins, seals and other birds.
 
Researchers in British Columbia have identified distinct differences in two different family’s of Killer Whales, they have been segregated into resident pods and transient pods, both with different and clearly defined habits, with both species occupying large ranges, however the resident pods tend to be more habitual in their migration.
 
            Behaviour:
 
The Resident pods of killer whales off the Coast of British Columbia maintain a strong matriarchal society, consisting of two or four generations of two to nine related individuals.  These groups are stable over long periods of time and all the members may contribute to calf rearing.  The largest resident pods in the inside passage is known to have 60 individuals.  While adult females tend to be associated with one or more pods, adult males are sometimes solitary.  Known to breach, spy hop and slap the surface with their flukes or flippers these beautiful creatures are quite the sight to behold.
 
Transient pods rarely have more than three members, who seem to be together to hunt.  They do not mingle with the resident pods; it has been recorded that many of the resident whales will leave an area if the transients are approaching.
 
            Reproduction: 
 
With the resident population, calving occurs year round, with a peak between autumn and spring.  The average calving interval is five years.  Females usually stop reproducing after 40 years of age.  Studies of whales in captivity suggest that the gestation lasts 15 to 18 months.  The young begin eating solid food at a very young age; however they do continue to nurse for at least a year and may not be fully weaned until close to two years of age.
 
            Food and Foraging: 
 
Transient killer whales eat a diet ranging from small schooling fish and squid to large baleen and sperm whales, they have also been found with birds, sea lions and dolphins in their stomachs there have even been accounts of sharks, rays and even deer or moose which they can catch swimming across channels. Killer whales obviously use cooperative hunting habits to harass and subdue large prey. 
 
The resident pods tend to specialize in their eating habits, with a preference almost exclusively for salmon and if given the choice chinook salmon.  Operating in a consolidated group to maintain tight balls of bait fish taking turns slicing through the schools to feed, with the young being in training and given the opportunity to go first.
 
            Status and Conservation: 
 
Although not considered endangered, whaling or live capture operations have depleted some regional populations.  Local populations number only in the low hundreds and are threatened by pollution, heavy ship traffic and possibly reduced prey abundance.

Minke Whale                                                 Sightings:  Common

 
            Description:  Length:  Male: 9.8 m - Female: 10.7 m
                                           Weight:  Male and Female:  Most likely 92,000 kg
                                           Life Span:  Uncertain but possibly up to 50 years.
 
The minke whale is slim and sleek, with a V-shaped head that is pointed when seen from above.  A sharp longitudinal ridge runs along the top of the rostrum, and there are 230 to 360 short baleen plates on each side of the mouth that are mostly cream coloured or white.  minkes’ have a falcate dorsal fin that appears simultaneously with the blowholes when they surface.  They arch their body prior to a dive but do not raise their flukes above the ocean surface.  Their blow is usually not visible but may appear indistinctly in some individuals.  The females are slightly longer than the males. 
 
The general body is black or dark gray above, often with a grey chevron crossing the back behind the head, and while underneath.  A white band across the flippers is indicative of the species.
 
            Range and Habitat: 
 
Among the most widely distributed of all the baleen whales they occur in the North Atlantic and the North Pacific from tropical to polar waters.  Frequently observed in coastal or shelf waters these whales can often be sighted in the Georgia Straight during the summer months.
 
            Behaviour:
 
Typical of the Baleen whales, the minke are usually seen either alone or in small groups, although large aggregations sometimes occur in feeding areas.  Populations are often segregated by sex, age or reproductive conditions, a complex population structure that implies an equally intricate social structure for the species.  Known for their curiosity, minkes often approach boats.  Predation by killer whales is probably a significant source of mortality, local whale watching companies and scientists have witnessed a number of attacks. 
 
            Reproduction:
 
A gentle giant, very little is known about the minke whale, its breeding and habits.  There is good evidence that many females give birth annually although this is only speculation.  Gestation is approximately 10 months with the calving occurring during the winter months.  It is suggested that the calving grounds may be in tropical waters off the Caribbean coast and Brazil, with the calves gaining independence at about six months old.  Mating is presumed to occur in the winter.
 
            Food and Foraging:  
 
Minke Whales feed on a variety of small schooling fish, including herring and capelin.  krill are also a major part of their diet when available.
 
            Status and Conservation: 
 
Originally considered too small to hunt; the minke whale became a primary target of the commercial whales following over exploitation of the large whales in the 20th century.  More than 100,000 minkes have been killed in the Southern Hemisphere and thousands more were caught in the North Atlantic and North Pacific.  Lack of information on their current population structure raises concerns about continued exploitations although International trade in the species is currently banned.

Pacific White-Sided Dolphin                        Sightings:  Common

 
            Description:   Length: Male 2.5 m – Female 2.36 m
                                            Weight: Male 200 kg – Female 150 kg
                                            Life Span: More than 40 years
 
A robust body and a barely noticeable beak are distinctive characteristics of the Pacific white-sided dolphin. The dorsal fin is unusually large, considering the overall body size, and the flippers are large although not exceptionally so.  The dorsal fin is set at a low angle relative to the back; its shape is highly variable from sharply falcate to broad and rounded at the peak.  There are 23 to 36 pairs of teeth in both the upper and lower jaw.Pacific White Sided Dolphin in the waters off Campbell River ~BC, Vancouver Island, Canada
 
Like many dolphin species the colour patters are complex and sharply discriminate.  The back and sides are dark grey interjected dorsally only by a long, light grey or whitish stripe.  Seen from above the two stripes, one on each side of the body, resemble a pair of suspenders.  On each side, the stripe begins on the side of the face ahead of the eye, sweeps up onto the back and then branches down toward the light grey on either side of the caudal peduncle.  The side and anterior dorsal fin is dominated by a broad, zone of light grey.  Black coloration on the lips is continuous with a narrow black line passing under the eye to the flipper.  A white belly is sharply demarcated from the gray sides by a black line between the flipper and anus.  The dorsal fin is dark along the front edge, but the rear two thirds are light grey with the flippers often being lighter in colour.
 
            Range and Habitat: 
 
Cold temperate waters are the preferred habitat for the Pacific white-sided dolphin, represented in a broad swath across the Northern Pacific Rim extending along the continental coasts to the South China Seas. Increasing numbers in the Inside Passage of British Columbia during the winter months, suggests an onshore movement in that season.
 
            Behaviour: 
 
Schools of thousands of Pacific white-sided dolphins are occasionally seen, but estimates of average group size range from 10 to 100.  Close knit groups of five or fewer heavily scarred individuals have been seen which are determined to be adult males, swimming together within large schools, possibly indicating that males form lasting alliances.  Aerial behaviour and bow riding are common amongst these animals.   They are often seen in mixed-species aggregations with other cetaceans, pinnipeds and seabirds and have a particular association with northern right whale dolphins and Rissos’ dolphins.  Transient killer whales have been seen successfully preying on Pacific white-sided dolphins
 
            Reproduction: 
 
Although a common species, surprisingly little is known about reproduction.  Gestation probably lasts about a year with most calves appearing in late spring and summer and lactation lasting at least six months.  These dolphins give birth every other year and possibly less frequently than that.  There have been reports of females being pregnant at 29 years old indicating that they remain reproductive for much of their adult life.
 
            Food and Foraging: 
 
A versatile and opportunistic feeder; the Pacific white-sided dolphin generally feeds on small schooling fish such as herring and other feeder fish, which are relatively abundant in the shallow inshore waters of British Columbia.  These dolphins are not considered deep divers, so feeding on organisms of the deep scattering layer presumable takes place primarily at night when prey are nearest the surface.   They work cooperatively during the daylight hours to corral a tightly balled school of fish, often with opportunistic seabirds in attendance.  They individually penetrate the fish school to catch their prey, but they also pick off fish while swimming along the periphery.
 
            Status and Conservation: 
 
As noted by the vast proliferation of this species in the inside passage, estimates of the abundance for the entire North Pacific total close to one million individuals.  Although the movements of the Pacific white-sided dolphins’ toward vessels to bow ride have a tendency to inflate shipboard estimates.  The total kill of the Pacific white-sided dolphins in the Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese drift-net fisheries from 1978 to 1990 was estimated at 49,000 to 89,000. At present the level of overall mortality is not thought to be high enough to endanger the species.

Rough-Toothed Dolphin                               Sightings:  Rare

 
            Description:  Length: Male 2.65 m – Female 2.55 m
                                           Weight: Male 160 kg – Female unavailable
                                           Life Span:  35 years
 
The rough-toothed dolphin is readily distinguished from other long-beaked oceanic dolphins by the shape of its head, which lacks a crease at the base of the melon.  The forehead slopes smoothly from the blowhole into the long narrow beak.  The dorsal fin is tall and erect, set at the mid-back and is usually moderately falcate.  The flippers are very large.  There are 19 to 26 pairs of teeth in the upper jaw and 19 to 28 pairs of teeth in the lower jaw. 
 
The colour patterns on this dolphin are complex but muted.  A dark dorsal cap narrows considerable between the blowhole and the dorsal fin then widens at the dorsal fin at the posterior.  The cape has a distinctive neck when viewed from the dorsal.  The sides are a lighter grey giving way to a white belly and throat.  There is often dark spotting or flecking, giving the sides, throat and belly a mottled look.  The lips are white but the upper surface of the beak is dark with exception of the tip which is often white.  The eyes are darkly shaded, with a less than prominent eye to flipper stripe.
 
            Range and Habitat:
 
Although sighted off the coast of British Columbia and at rare occurrences within the inside passage, this dolphin usually makes its home in the warmer climates of the south Pacific Ocean as far south as Chile.
 
            Behaviour:
 
Regularly forming close knit groups up 10 to 20 individuals, but seldom more than 50 animals.  Although they have been known to form aggregations of several hundred as many species of dolphins do.  Considered deep divers the rough-toothed dolphins are known for their ability to make extremely deep dives and may remain submerged for up to 15 minutes at a time.
 
            Reproduction: 
 
Almost nothing is known about the reproduction of the rough-toothed dolphin.
 
            Food and Foraging: 
 
Diet consists primarily of fish of many different sizes and cehalopods.  Observations in captivity suggest that these dolphins behead and eviscerate fish, regardless of how small, before consuming them.
 
            Status and Conservation:
 
Not as prolific as other kinds of dolphins the rough-toothed dolphin, surveys show that there may be as many as 150,000 of them in the eastern tropical Pacific, with only a few small groups being seen in the northern waters of the Pacific.

Sea Otter                                                       Sightings:  Common

 
              Description:   Size: Males 1.48 m in length - Female 1.4 m in length,
                                               Weight: Males 45 kg - Females 33 kg
                                                Life span: Males: 15 years - Females 20 years
 
A short broad head and a short blunt snout, upper lip and cheeks are well developed and densely covered by stiff whiskers.  Back paws are flipper-like, very large, and webbed.  The front paws are rounded:  Sea otters use their front paws to manipulate food, groom themselves and hold tools such as rocks for breaking open shellfish, along with their eight pairs of teeth in both the upper and lower jaws are useful in breaking open even the hardest of sea shells.Otter on a log off Campbell River ~BC, Vancouver Island, Canada
 
The body is completely covered by fur, except for the pads on the bottom of its feet and the tip of its nose.  Adult males and females have dense coats of dark brown to reddish-brown fir on the belly.  The guard hairs are less dense and may be lighter in colour, to almost blond.  Newborn pups have a light, buff-coloured pelage with guard hairs becoming yellowish several weeks after birth.
 
            Range and Habitat: 
 
Near shore waters of the North Pacific, along the coast of Vancouver Island, primarily sea otters live in a variety of coastal marine habitats, ranging from rocky sea bottoms and shorelines, where marine communities are most diverse, to areas where mud and sand is the primarily sea-bottom.  They mostly occur in areas that are shallower than 40 meters although they may move to much deeper waters when traveling to different feeding areas.
 
             Behaviour: 
 
They may appear alone or in small groups or family groups.  Sometimes a dozen or more may amass into floating rafts in near-shore waters or in kelp beds, where they may wrap themselves or tie themselves up in the kelp.  Although they may be seen in groups of several animals or dozens or more when in areas that food is abundant and kelp beds are thick.
 
Not very social; the adult males often segregate from the rest of the population for most of the year.  Most otters spend all their lives in the water, although some individuals occasionally haul out on occasion on rocky coastlines.  Distinctive and easily to identify in the water, sea otters distinguish themselves by floating belly-up when sleeping or while rubbing and grooming their fur.  Grooming is an important social activity for the Otter as it maintains general cleanliness and ensures the waterproof, and insulating quality of their under-fir.
 
             Reproduction:
 
One male otter may mate with several or more females in one breeding season, after establishing their territory.  Many mature females may have bloody noses during the breeding season, because the males often will bite them on the nose.  Females give birth throughout the year.  Gestation lasts 9 to 10 months with the females nursing their pups for six months to a year afterwards, although she teaches them to forage for food starting when they are six months old, when weaned the pups are then abandoned. 
 
             Food and Foraging: 
 
Sea Otters’ diet varies with the biological characteristics of the habitats in which they live.  In rocky bottom habitats, otters generally search out and eat large-bodied prey, including, crabs, urchins and abalone.  In soft bottom habitats seas otter will eat a variety of burrowing invertebrates, such as oysters and clams.  Throughout their range sea otters mostly forage in depths less than 40 meters.  Known to use tools while eating; they can often be seen carrying rocks to the surface to use as hammers for crushing the shells of urchins and other shellfish while balancing the prey on their chests and holding their prey with their forepaws. 
 
             Status and Conservation:
 
Commercial hunting began in 1741 when there was an estimated population of between 150,000 and 300,000 sea otters on the west coast of North America.  By 1911 only several thousand were thought to remain at scattered locations throughout their vast historic range.  Having recovered substantially in most areas, lately there have been unexplained declines in several populations, with reasons for declines unknown.  However it has been suggested by the scientific community that killer whales hold a primary responsibility for this decline.  The sea otter population has been listed as “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection act and in some cases has been tagged as “threatened”.

Sei Whale                                                     Sightings:  Rare

 
               Description:   Length: 19.5 m with males being slightly smaller than females
                                              Weight:  Approximately 680 kg
                                              Life Span:  Estimated at more than 50 years.   
 
The sei whale has a large, sleek body that is dark grey dorsally and often white or cream-coloured on the under belly.  Oval scars often cover the body, caused by bites from cookie-cutter sharks.  The baleen plates, numbering 300 to 400 on each side of the mouth are dark grey or black, with a fine, white inner fringe.  The dorsal fin is large, prominent and usually very falcate.  There are 30 to 60 ventral pleats, which extend to a point well forward of the umbilicus.  Sei whales have a tall columnar blow, while diving; they do not arch the back as much of some other whales do.
 
            Range and Habitat: 
 
A worldwide species from subtropical waters to high latitudes the sei whales inhabits both shelf and oceanic waters, although its distribution is poorly understood. Little is known about the movements of individuals between areas.  Sei whales are known worldwide for their unpredictable occurrences, with sudden influx into an area followed by disappearance and subsequent absence for years or even decades.  Although it is generally understood that the sei whales migrate from northern latitudes to more southern latitudes in summer, the proof for this migration is unclear. 
 
            Behaviour:
 
Like many of these smaller groups of whales much of their behaviour is unknown.  Their groups are usually small and associations between individuals short-lived.  Usually seen traveling alone or in small groups although large unstable pods have been recorded in some areas, together with fin whales – sei’s are probably the fastest of the large whales, capable of swimming up to 25 knots for a short distance.
 
            Reproduction:
 
Calves are born in winter, presumably in tropical waters after a gestation period of 11 to 12 months.  They separate from their mothers at six to eight months old.  Females usually give birth at intervals of two or three years.  Nothing is known about their mating system, other than; breeding is seasonal, occurring in winter.  It is known that sei whales occasionally hybridize with fin whales.
 
            Food and Foraging:
 
The sei whale feeds on small fish, herring, squid, krill and smaller zooplankton.  It is the only mysticete that feeds both by gulping and skimming.  The sei whale uses gulping when feeding on fish or krill and skims for copepods.  The very fine hairs on the inside of the baleen make up the smaller mesh needed to efficiently filter copepods.
 
            Status and Conservation:
 
Like many other rorquals, sei whales lay beyond the reach of whalers until the introduction of faster whaling boats.  Hunted worldwide particularly in the Antarctica there was an estimated 200,000 of these whales killed during the 20th century.  An accurate account is virtually impossible since for many years members of this species were confused with other whales.  Their status today is uncertain; however they are believed to be reasonable abundant in the North Pacific.  A protected species, the sei whales are endangered, although this status is contested for some northern species.

Short-Beaked Common Dolphin                   Sightings: Rare

 
            Description:   Length:  Male 2.7 m – Female 2.6 m
                                           Weight:  both approximately 150 kg
                                           Life Span:  unavailable
 
A slender and evenly proportioned body with a moderately long beak, a tall somewhat falcate dorsal fin and moderately large, tapered flippers are ear marks of the common dolphin.  Males are only slightly larger than the females. Tooth counts average from 41 to 54 pairs in both jaws, with the upper jaw usually having one or two more pairs than the lower. 
 
The colour pattern is complex with the entire dorsal surface from the front of the melon to well behind the dorsal fin being very dark grey to black in addition to a while belly.  The dark dorsal colouration dips low onto the sides below the dorsal fin in a V-shaped saddle, resulting in an hourglass or crisscross pattern on the sides.  The thoracic patch is relatively light grey to medium golden-yellow and is in sharp contrast with the dark dorsal color.  The posterior segment of the hourglass is a dirty gray and sweeps over the caudal peduncle.  A dark eye patch is continuous with a dark stripe that extends forward and joins the blackness of the lips.  The top surface of the beak is white or gray, with a dark tip.  The dorsal fin on the adults is basically dark, however; in adults it is often light gray to white in the middle and darker around the borders, with the flippers being of similar colour.  A bold dark stripe connects the flipper with the lower jaw. 
 
            Range and Habitat:
 
Potential confusion with the long-beaked dolphin creates some uncertainty as to the extent of the range of the short-beaked dolphin, however it has been sighted off the coast of the North Pacific from British Columbia to California, with rare sightings in the inside passage.
 
            Behaviour: 
 
Short-beaked dolphins typically gather in schools of hundreds or thousands, although the schools generally consist of smaller groups of 30 or fewer.  These dolphins are eager bow riders and are active at the surface.
 
            Reproduction: 
 
Relatively non seasonal the reproduction of this dolphin occurs in warmer waters, with calving peaking in late spring or early summer with a gestation that lasts from 10 to 11 months, with pregnancy intervals of 2 years. 
 
            Food and Foraging: 
 
Squid and small chilling fish are the principal prey of the short-beaked common dolphin.  Their foraging is attuned to the night time vertical migration of the deep scattering layer.  A school may drive the prey scattering them late in the day, then deep dive to separate the schools and feed.  The daylight hours are spent resting and socializing before the night time feeding cycle resumes.
 
            Status and Conservation: 
 
Killed accidentally in industrial trawls, gillnets and many other types of fisheries throughout their range, have reduced the fairly abundant population all over the world, this is in addition to habitat degradation form human activities.  Populations off the coast in the Northern Pacific and the North Eastern Atlantic were hard hit by high-seas driftnet fisheries for flying squid and tuna, but the United Nations driftnet moratorium has helped reduce this threat.   Although small numbers are still killed each year in tuna purse seines, recent abundance estimates in the eastern Pacific total about 3 million individuals divided among three distinct populations.

Steller Sea Lion                                     Sightings:  Common/Seasonal

 
            Description:  Male:  3.3 m in length – Female: 2.9 m in length
                                           Male:  1,100 kg in weight – Female:  350 kg in weight
                                           Life span:  Male 16 – 22 years – Female:  18 – 25 years
 
Large with robust body and head, short snout blunt and broad, broad front flippers with hair sparsely covering about three-quarters to the dorsal surface describe this common Sea lion.  Hind flippers are short and slim, with the first and fifth digits larger than the middle digits.  Males are substantially larger than the females, especially at the head, neck and chest.  With a mane of long hairs that extends from the back of the head down the neck to the shoulders and a lesser extent on the throat and chest.  Nine pairs of teeth in the upper jaw and eight pair in the lower jaw.A bunch of sea lions on the rocks near Campbell RIver ~BC, Vancouver Island, Canada
 
Adults are light brown to blond and are generally darker ventrally than dorsally.  Fore flippers and hind flippers are dark brown to black, contrasting with the lighter pelage color.  Females are often lighter in colour than their male counterparts.  They moult at about four months old to a lighter brown and become lighter with each successive annual moult.  Juveniles attain the adult coloration when they are about three years old.
 
            Range and Habitat: 
 
North Pacific ocean, they range from southern California to the Bering Sea, being most abundant in southern Alaska and British Columbia can be found hauling out on rocky beaches in large groups.
 
            Behaviour: 
 
Northern sea lions can be found in modest numbers on rocky and gravel beaches and rocky reefs throughout the year.  They space out from each-other during the breeding season although pups may gather in close groups to socialize and play while their mothers forage at sea.  The females being very intolerant of the males when they are lactating, however they can be spotted being very social with other females at this time.  Females bond strongly with their newborn pups and later recognize them by vocalizations and smell.  Moulting occurs from late summer through early winter, depending on age and sex.  When foraging, juveniles may dive to 21 meters with a maximum depth of 200 meters, however most of them dive for less than one minute. 
 
            Reproduction:  
 
The mating system of the Northern sea lion is polygynous.  Adult males arrive at colonies in early to mid May and establish territories with visual and vocal threats, occasionally displays of physical combat happen, however these displays are usually brief.  Females give birth from late May through early July, with most pups born in late June.  Mothers remain with their pups for around nine days and then alternate form one to three days of foraging with several hours to two days ashore nursing their pups.  Females are ready to mate 11 to 14 days after giving birth, gestation lasts about a year and most pups are weaned by the time they are one year old.
 
            Food and Foraging: 
 
Presumed to forage mostly close to continental and island coastlines, past data has shown seasonal changes in diet and evidently reflective changes in local abundance and distribution of prey.  Herring, rockfish, cod squid and octopus are key prey in coastal waters, as are young salmon and hake.
 
            Status and Conservation: 
 
Northern sea lions have been hunted for food and clothing for several thousand years.  In the early 1900’s as a result of fishermen’s complaints that the sea lions were affecting their catches, scores were killed for bounty from British Columbia south to California.  In addition, large numbers of pups were commercially harvested in Alaska form the late fifties to the early 70’s.  The abundance of the northern sea lion population greatly declined across the species range, from several hundred thousand to 60 or 70 thousand in the late 1990’s.  This may be due to ingress in commercial fishing activities or to long term natural environmental changes in marine communities.

Striped Dolphin                                            Sightings:  Rare

 
            Description:   Length:  Male 2.65 m – Female: 2.4 m
                                           Weight: Male 160 kg – Female: 150 kg
                                           Life Span:  57 – 58 years
 
            Range and Habitat: 
 
A cosmopolitan species, the striped dolphin ranges includes the northern limits of the Pacific.  There are numerous populations of this dolphin that are more or less isolated from each other and do not mix.  They prefer highly productive oceanic waters and are not seen often, or in large numbers. 
 
            Behaviour:
 
Striped dolphins travel in dense schools that average about 100 animals but can have an impressive 500 members.  Some schools have only adults, some only juveniles and some both adults and juveniles.  Schools are fairly conspicuous because the dolphins tend to churn the surface of the water with their leaping.
 
            Reproduction: 
 
Most of what is known about the striped dolphin reproduction has come from studies associated with the intensive drive fishery in Japan or examinations of animals found stranded in the Mediterranean Sea.  Calves are born primarily in late summer and fall after a gestation period of a year or longer.  Most calving and calf nurturing takes place within large schools of a least 30 individuals.  Such schools are composed of mature animals, calves and a few juveniles.  Intervals between pregnancies are thought to be about four years although this is thought to be in the decline as the animals are heavily exploited. Sexual maturity is usually reached between the ages of 9 and 12.
 
            Food and Foraging: 
 
The extensive distribution of the striped dolphins indicates that they have a fairly diverse diet.  They take a wide variety of shoaling fish and cephalopod species.  Generally they feed on fish that are less than 13 cm long.  They take prey anywhere in the water column as long as it occurs in large, dense schools.
 
            Status and Conservation: 
 
There are close to 2 million striped dolphins remain today, with 20,000 residing off the coast of Washington State and British Columbia. In spite of its great numbers there is reason to be concerned about this dolphin, the incidental catch of the commercial fisheries when drift netting has had great cause to these animals, this along with habitat degradation have caused a widespread decline of fish and cephalopod resources which causes stress from food shortages and high contaminant burdens on their tissues.
 

Glossary of Terms - Marine Mammals

 
Ano-Genital Area--The vertical surfaces of the body generally near the anus and the genital opening.
 
Amphipods--Crustaceans, a food source for some baleen whales.
 
Anterior--The areas on forward front part of the body.
 
Baleen--A horny, keratinous substance that occurs as a series of comb like plates suspended from the upper jaws of baleen whales; fibrous fringes along the inner surfaces of the plates filter and trap prey inside the mouth.
 
Beak--The forward projecting jaws of certain toothed cetaceans.
 
Benthic--Living at or in, or associated with the bottom of a body of water.
 
Blow--A tall and columnar or low and bushy, visible cloud of warm moist air expelled from whales lungs as it surfaces.
 
Blowhole--Nostril, or reparatory opening, of a Cetacean.
 
Blubber--Layer of fatty tissue located immediately beneath the skin of most marine mammals to insulate the body core and store energy.
 
Bow riding--Placing themselves immediately ahead of a vessel or large whale to experience the assisted locomotion provided by the pressure wave.
 
Vow Wave--Crest of water that precedes a vessel as it moves along the surface.
 
Breaching--A term widely used to refer to cetaceans leaping or jumping clear of the water.  A single leap is called a breach.
 
Bull-- A male seal, whale or Sirenian, especially an adult male.
 
Calf--An infant cetacean.
 
Calving Interval--The period of time from one birth to the next birth.
 
Caudal Peduncle--That portion of a Cetacean’s or Sirenians body behind the dorsal fin and anterior to the flukes.
 
Cephalopod--A Benthic or swimming mollusc that possesses a large head, large eyes, and a circle of arms or tentacles around the mouth; the shell can be external, internal or absent and an ink sac is usually present in squid or octopus.
 
Cetacean--A species in the mammalian order Cetacea, which includes whales, dolphins and porpoises.
 
Commercial hunting--Killing wild animals for profit.
 
Copepods--Minute shrimp like Crustaceans.
 
Cosmopolitan--Occurring worldwide, in all major oceanic regions.
 
Crustacean--An invertebrate that breath via gills or similar structures and has a segmented body, commonly covered by a shell: barnacles, shrimp, crab and lobsters.
 
Dorsal--Pertaining to the upper surface of the back or other body parts.
           
Dorsal Fin--The fin along the midline of the back of a Cetacean. 
 
Drift Net--Fishing net suspended in water vertically so that the drifting or swimming animals will become trapped or entangles in the mesh, a gillnet that is not anchored.
 
Eco system--An ecological community and its physical environment considered as a whole.
 
Estuary--A semi-enclosed tidal coastal body of at least partially salt water with free connecting to the sea or the lower end of a freshwater river.
 
Extinction--The death of all animals of a population or species.
 
Falcate--Shaped like a sickle: back curved; refers to a dorsal fin with a concave rear margin.
 
Flank--Side of the body, used mainly to refer to the side of the posterior half of the body.
 
Flippers--Variably shaped, often paddle-like limbs of a cetacean, Pinniped or Sirenian.
 
Flukes--The two horizontally flattened fin like structures that comprise a Cetacean’s tail.
 
Gestation--The process of carrying young in the uterus from conception to birth.
 
Gillnet--A net that is suspended vertically in the water column so that fish swim into it and become entangled by their gills or other body structures as they try to back out.
 
Habitat--The organism and physical environment in a particular place, an organism’s ecological support system.
 
Haul Out--The process by which Pinnipeds crawl or pull themselves out of the water onto land or ice.
 
Haulout--The site at which Pinnipeds come out of the water to rest or moult.
 
Hind Flippers--Fin like rear limbs or appendages of a Pinniped, used for propulsion and steering.
 
Invertebrate--An animal without a backbone.
 
Juvenile--Immature or pre-adult. 
 
Kelp--A type of algae that is anchored on rocky bottom near shore with its stem reaching the surface, the longest of all marine plants.
 
Krill--Small shrimp-like marine Crustaceans which make up a large proportion of the Zooplankton.
 
Lactation--The production of milk by female mammals to nurse their young.
 
Lateral--Pertaining to or in the direction of the side, on either side of  the vertical plane.
 
Melon--The often bulging forehead of a toothed Cetacean, thought to play an important role in echolocation.
 
Migration--The process of moving from one habitat to another, often between breeding and feeding sites.
 
Moult--The shedding of an outer layer of skin or fur which is replaced by new growth. 
 
Morph--Any of the genetic forms, or individual variants that account for the variety in shape and appearance within a population or species.
 
Mysticete--Whale species belonging to the suborder Mysticeti; baleen whale.
 
Nautical Mile--Unit of measurement equal to 1,852 meters or one minute of                                              latitude.
 
PCB’s--Ploychorinated biphenyls:  an array of man-made Organochorine compounds that are widespread toxic and persistent in the environment.  They originate from use in electricity transformers, plastics, inks, lubricants, hydraulics, etc.  These compounds accumulate in the tissues, especially in the blubber, of marine mammals.
 
Penduncle--See Caudal peduncle
 
Phocoenid--A species belonging to the toothed family Phocoenideae:  porpoise.
 
Pinniped--A term that encompasses three living families of the order Carnivora: seals, sea lions and walrus.
 
Plankton--Passively drifting or weakly swimming organisms that occur in swarms near the surface of open waters
 
Pod--A group of Cetaceans, generally affiliated in some way.
 
Polygyny--The tendency of one male to mate with two or more females.
 
Population--The individuals of a given locality that potentially form a single interbreeding community
 
Porpoise--Applied to species in the toothed whale family.  All porpoises are relatively small, have spade shaped rather than conical teeth and lack a distinct beak.
 
Porpoising--The act of Pinnipeds making low arcing laps as they travel rapidly near the surface of the water.
 
Posterior--On or back or hind part of the body.
 
Productive--Referring in the present context, to waters that provide large quantities of food for marine mammals.
 
Pup--New born or young, un-weaned Pinniped.
 
Range--The geographic area in which a species is usually found.
 
Rooster tail--Spray of water created as a porpoise or dolphin surfaces at high speed.
 
Rostrum--Specifically the upper jaw of a cetacean also sometimes used to refer to a beak that encompasses both the upper and lower jaws.
 
Saddle--A saddle shaped marking that straddles the dorsal midline and extends to a variable degree onto the sides.
 
School--A large number of fish or other aquatic animals that swim, feed, or otherwise occur together with coordinated movements; sometimes applied to dolphins.
 
Seal--Applied to Pinnipeds, usually excluding the walrus.
 
Seasonal--Occurring during a particular time of year.
 
Seine--A large net that hangs vertically in the water.  A purse seine is used to encircle large schools of fish; when the two ends are joined, the bottom is drawn in with the fish trapped inside.  A beach seine is operated from the shore in shallow water, usually set by a boat and dragged shoreward forming a barrier to the fish and other organisms inside the enclosed area.
 
Sexual maturity--The state in which an animal is capable of reproducing
 
Species--A group of interbreeding populations those are reproductively isolated from other such groups.
 
Spy Hopping--When a Cetacean raises its head vertically out of the water at least high enough for the eyes to be clear of the surface.
 
Stranding--When a marine animal comes ashore or is cast ashore
 
Temperate--Between sub polar and subtropical regions, where the mean annual temperature ranges between 10 – 13 degrees Celsius.
 
Transient--Impermanent; used to describe non-resident killer whales.
 
Umbilicus--The round, depressed scar on the median line of the abdomen where the fetal umbilical cord passed through; navel.
 
Uro-Genital area--Portion of ventral surface around and near the excretory and genital orifices.
 
Vocalization--Sound produced by an organism via its vocal apparatus.
 
Wake--Waves and other turbulence left behind a moving vessel.
 
Wake Riding--Swimming in the waves and other turbulence behind a moving vessel.
 
Water Column--Anywhere between the surface and bottom of an ocean or other body of water.
 
Whale--A member of the mammalian order Cetacea; generally applied only to the larger species, including all of the Baleen species and some of the toothed species.
 
Zooplankton--The animal forms of plankton.