This year, March 20th marks the first day of spring. Sometimes the weather can make it difficult to identify the true beginning of the season, so luckily there are some other signals boaters can look to that the warmer months have arrived. Marine animals, from seals to giant whales, can be great identification tools for spring. If you weren’t already excited for some warmer weather, here are 6 marine animals for spring boaters to see during this time of year, to get you in the mood for spring!
Orcas: Three ecotypes of orca can be observed off the coast of BC. Offshore killer whales do not enter coastal areas frequently and are unlikely to be seen. Thriving and growing populations of whales, such as Bigg’s orcas and humpbacks, are more visible and more likely to be encountered, starting in April. Sightings of large numbers of these orca peak in the spring then can drop of in frequency early summer, before a second peak late summer and into fall.
Humpback whales: Humpbacks can be found in the Salish Sea throughout late spring, summer, and fall. Over recent years the dramatic increase in humpback population in the Salish Sea means we can find humpbacks almost all year round, however the sighting frequency starts to increase around March as the humpbacks return in numbers to their feeding grounds.
Gray whales: The annual migration of the gray whales is one of the longest of all mammals, passing the Vancouver area from March to May on route to Alaska from Mexico and California. They can be very playful and curious, and often like to interact with boats, sometimes getting quite close! Many gray whales, however, don’t travel that far north at all and instead stay near the coastlines of Vancouver Island all summer long.
Sea lions: From December through April, sea lions converge on the east side of Vancouver Island to feed on herring that are returning to spawn. Encounters with these impressive and playful animals are most frequent in the spring and autumn around Vancouver. The species have been hunted extensively in the past, due to their perceived threat to the fishing and farming industries. They are now protected, but prey availability, pollution, climate change, and predation by Bigg’s killer whales remain threats to their recovery.
Dolphins: Pacific White-Sided dolphins are one of the favorite mammals to encounter on the ocean for both tourists and nature enthusiasts around Vancouver Island. They are usually viewed in schools of 50-100 or more in a pod around the northeastern part of Vancouver Island, although a “superpod” of up to 1000 dolphins has been known to congregate in the Salish Sea.
Porpoises: Harbour porpoises generally congregate in small groups, except in the spring when they feed on prey concentrated by strong, seasonal tides. Dall’s porpoises, their far more social cousins, are more likely to approach and interact with boats. Spring is also when you might spot newborn porpoise calves swimming with their mothers.
Harbour seals: The most common marine mammals in the B.C. coastal waters are seals. Although they can spend several weeks at sea, we often observe them hauled out on rocky shorelines where they can rest, sunbathe, and scan for predators. Pupping season is in spring and early summer, and starting in June, beaches all along the coast are transformed into harbour seal nurseries, as female seals come ashore to give birth, nurse and protect their young.
The Marine team at HUB is looking forward to this spring season as much as you are! If you happen to catch a photo of these marine animals, we’d love to see them – send us your photo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images courtesy of https://oceanecoventures.com/