Captain’s Blog

6 Tag-Along Animals Who Might Join Your Whale Watching Trip

October 28, 2015

There are few animals that capture the imagination quite like the Orca Whale. Not only are we mesmerized by their intelligence, their family ties and their history, seeing an orca whale at play reminds us that despite a harsh environment, we all need to cut loose from time to time.

One of the great things about whale watching in their natural habitat is all the neighbours who share that space with them. Some are more comfortable than others and some keep their distance so they don’t end up as dinner for a predatory transient orca.

While you’re keeping your eyes peeled for orcas on your next whale watching adventure, make sure you say hello to these critters as well.

1. Dall’s Porpoises

The muscular, gunshot fast Dall’s Porpoises are a treat for whale watchers every time they swim in for a peek at their human neighbours. People often mistake them for young orcas because of their similar markings, but the porpoise is a distinctly different animal than whales or dolphins. Don’t bother with your camera or else you might miss the 7 foot long Dall’s porpoise zipping by at over 30 nautical miles per hour!

2. Harbour Porpoises

Typically travelling in small groups, the Harbour Porpoise is smaller than its Dall’s counterpart, but share the same back yard. They’re shy, which is probably because they’re often prey for the northern pacific’s orca population. They’re also threatened by fishing nets and toxic human pollution. Spotting a Harbour Porpoise is a treat that reminds us of the work we need to do to keep these beautiful creatures safe.

3. Harbour Seals

Known as true seals because of their lack of ears and furry flippers, Harbour Seals can be spotted in the waters surrounding Victoria or on the rocks as they awkwardly attempt to manoeuvre around on their bellies on land. Harbour Seals can live for up to 30 years if they avoid the jaws of transient orcas. Three of their favourite spots are at Race Rocks, Trail Island and the Chain Islands.

4. Northern Elephant Seals

Another common visitor to the Race Rocks lighthouse is the majestic Northern Elephant Seal. Did I say majestic? That might not be the right word. These true seals (no external ear flaps and fur-covered flippers) are easily spotted because of their bulbous nose, hence the name. Judge all you want, the Northern Elephant Seal has nothing to hide as it suns itself high on the rocks for all to see.

5. California Sea Lions

These animals can be spotted by their external ear flaps and hairless flippers as they walk about on the rocks off the coast of British Columbia and all the way up to the Alaskan Panhandle. Their flippers allow them great dexterity in the water as well – they can dance with elegance or barrel roll through the water like a fighter jet. California Sea Lions are also big believers in communal warmth: they each take turns being held out of the water by their mates to stay warm in a behaviour called sharking.

6. Stellar Sea Lions

When a stellar sea lion is nearby, you’ll know. Not only by the stench, but by the sheer noise of the animal. Stellar Sea Lions like to announce their presence with authority by growling, roaring and competing for territory on the rocks. But despite the commotion, stellar sea lions also understand community and engage in sharking like their California counterparts to avoid the freezing waters, if only just for a moment.

Unlike the California Sea Lion, the Stellar Sea Lion population is currently threatened due to over-fishing of their primary food sources, pacific cod and herring. It’s a sobering thought, the fact that the California Sea Lion population is growing while an animal so close in physical characteristics is in trouble. It’s also a reminder that every animal who lives in the waters between Vancouver and Victoria faces its own set of challenges.

And it’s not always the orcas in the area who are to blame.

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