The Pacific Northwest is known for the ethereal beauty of its great outdoors. The abrupt summits and serene waters intersect with hues of luminous greens and deep blues of the like to inspire one of the great artists of our time: Emily Carr. However, unlike the equally stunning landscapes of far-flung regions like Madagascar, the Congo, or Costa Rica, our wildlife get less of the global limelight. Here we list 5 of the many fascinating creatures that inhabit our lush lands, all of which can be spotted on a Salish Sea eco-adventure or whale-watching tour:
The Humpback Whale
Humpback whales belong to a species known as the baleen whale. They are massive mammals that can range in length from ten to fifteen meters, some weighing almost 80 thousand pounds. Despite their size, humpbacks feed off of tiny fish and krill and live off their stored fat during breeding and birthing seasons, a time when they fast. Humpbacks are known for surface activities such as breaching and they are often seen splashing their tails; they can also sing, creating music for up to 10 or 20 minutes. They have even been described as “inveterate composers.” Humpbacks are migratory and can travel up to 25 thousand kilometres every year. This large mammal was once a target of the whaling industry, having been hunted to the brink of extinction. Their recovery is due, in large part, to whale restoration efforts.
The Crested Puffin
The crested puffin, or tufted puffin, is known in ecology as Fratercula cirrhata. While quite populous, they’re rarely seen near cities, but they appear in large numbers in British Columbia in reproductive season. Typically burrowed up high, yet still near actively inhabited waters, they prefer cliffs above patches of grass for when their young learn to fly. Medium in size (around 14 inches tall), the tufted puffin is a pelagic bird—which is Greek for ‘open sea’. Winter is their feeding season and it’s a time they are most often found at sea. You can spot the crested puffin by its bright, orange-red bill and long, pale yellow tufts just above their eyes (like over-grown eyebrows on a human). In the summer, their feet develop a red hue and their faces turn white. These cute little birds are a delight to see if you can catch them close by!
The Sea & River Otter
Did you know the otter is part of the weasel family? They’re carnivorous mammals from the Lutrinae subfamily. Two types of otters inhabit the Salish Sea: traditional sea otters and river otters that have become accustomed to ocean living. River otters spend just as much of their time on land as they do in the sea; they inhabit riverbanks and sea shorelines where they build dens. While it was more common to spot river otters on our tours due to the diminishing sea otter population, restoration efforts have us spotting more sea otters in coastal waters again. Sea otters are larger and more plump with thicker fur coats and shorter tails; they spend much of their time in the ocean foraging for fish and other invertebrates. Otters are playful mammals; they engage in activities for pure amusement, like slipping down handmade slides into the water below. What a sight to see!
The B.C. Wolf
The British Columbia wolf is known as the Canis lupus columbianus to animal researchers and have a fur coat that is often described in colour as cinnamon-buff. These wolves thrive in temperate rainforest regions like Vancouver Island and the Southwest region of the mainland. They’re a species of grey wolf that were given their own distinction in 1941. The BC Wolf may be one of the last remnants of a formerly large species that came up from the Wisconsin region after the melting of glacial ice many moons ago. However, they are not migratory in behaviour and prefer to remain in the environments they are born into. The BC wolf’s diet consists of fish and smaller deer; they are more petite than other wolves.
The North American Cougar
Did you know the North American cougar is related to the domestic house cat? They’re both members of the Felid family which includes most other large cats. The population of North American cougar that lives on Vancouver Island has a red-gold hue to its fur and can weigh up to 70 kg. Cougars are “spot and stalk” hunters who feed on deer, rabbits, and other prey they can catch; cougars don’t discriminate––so of all the animals on our list, these are the ones to be cautious of! They’re also very sly and hard to spot; they have hawklike vision. North American cougars can also be called other names such as the ‘puma’, ‘mountain lion’ or ‘panther.’
While you’re out on your next Prince of Whales Whale Watching eco-adventure, be sure to keep a keen eye out for these incredible creatures!