North Pacific Right Whale

North Pacific Right Whale


Leda Kitzler

North Pacific Right Whale

Common Name: North Pacific Right Whale

Scientific Name: Eubalaena japonica

Size Range: The Right Whale can reach from 16 m to 18.3 (60ft) in length, with the female being larger than the male.

Identifying features:  The Right Whale is the third largest whale on earth, after the Finback and Blue Whale. It is the only whale that does not have a dorsal fin. Right Whales also have a cluster of callosities on their head and back, mainly behind the blowhole, and instead of teeth they have baleen plates, which are fiber-like brushes that separate food from sea water. One of the main physical features of the North Pacific Right Whale is its highly arched jaw. The identifying colors and patterns of the North Pacific Right Whale are mainly blue, with its underbelly spotted white, and their chin being darker in color than the rest of its body.

Habitat:  The main habitat for the North Pacific Right Whale ranges from the sea of Okhotsk, in eastern Russia, (mainly in the summer) to the western coast of Canada, and are sometimes seen along the coast of Japan. The North Pacific Right Whale has been seen a number of times across the coast of British Columbia, mainly in the mid-1900’s and have lately been seen around northern B.C.

Prey (food):  Just as many of the other species of whale, the North Pacific Right Whale feeds mainly on copepods,  such as Calanas marshallae, and has occasionally been seen feeding on the euphausiid larvae Euphausia pacifica.

Life Cycle:  The life cycle of the Right Whale is similar to many other species of whale. The females reach their maturity around 8 years of age. They then travel to their breeding grounds (the coast of Japan) to mate with a selected bull. These bulls attract mates by singing songs and displays of physical strength. The two whales will begin their relationship much in the way that humans do. They show affection through rubbing they’re dorsal fins together. The female whale is pregnant for around 13 months. She then returns to the breeding ground to give birth in more temperate waters. The bull whales leave the main pod and form a bachelor pod comprised of several other bulls of the same age.  The bull whales then search for other mates, and never return to their calves. The maturing calf will leave its mother when it is around one year old. The average North Pacific Right Whale will live up to an average of 60 years, with some living up to 80 years old.

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Dall’s Purpoise

Dall’s Porpoise

Author: Maisha Moon

Common Name: Dall’s Porpoise

Scientific Name: Phocoenoides dalli

Size Range:

Males length – Average 1.8 m, Maximum – 2.29m

Female’s length – Average 1.8 m, Maximum- 2.1m

They weigh around 220kg (480pounds)

Identifying features

The Dall’s Porpoise has a small head with a narrow mouth and small flippers.  They have a forward tilted dorsal fin that has a small white trim. The tail of the Dall’s porpoise usually has a white strip. The most common way to identify them is by the large white flank on the stomachs.


The Dall’s Porpoise has a wide range in habitat. They are usually found in water at least 1000 kilometers from shore. They can also be found in sounds, near shore waters (near deep water canyons). They like water that is colder than 18◦C and they are most abundant in waters colder than 13◦C. They are found in waters between 3-20◦C.  They appear to prefer waters that are 600ft and deeper. Dall’s porpoises live throughout the North Pacific, along the North American coasts of California, Canada, and Alaska, and the Asian coasts of Japan, Korea, and Russia.


The Dall’s Porpoise doesn’t have a specific food group. Their diet depends on where they live. They eat a wide range of fish and squid in the open ocean and schooling fish in coastal areas. They generally feed at night and eat from 28-30 pounds of food which is 12.7-13.5kg!


Given the size and speed of the Dall’s Porpoise, they are very difficult to catch. Their main predators are Killer Whales and sharks. They largely escape predation because of their color which makes them hard to see and their ability to travel in groups.

Life Cycle

The Dall’s Porpoise reaches sexual maturity at around 8 years old. They give birth primarily in the summer. Calves are nursed until they are 2 years old. The Dall’s Porpoise doesn’t usually live longer than 20 years.


The Dall’s Porpoise usually swims in groups of 15-20 porpoises. They stick to these groups and hunt together, however when groups join you can have groups with thousands of porpoises. The other animals that they can be seen associating with are the Pacific White-sided Dolphins and the Pilot Whales.

Photos provided courtesy of Joe McDonald from the ARKive of life website at

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Author: Allie Graff

Common Names: Orca, Killer Whale

Scientific name: Orcinus orca

Size range: 7 to 9.7m long,  (23 – 32 ft). Can weigh up to 7257 kg.

Order: Cetacean

Suborder: Odontoceti

Identifying features: Orcas are easily identified by their distinct black and white markings. They also have a noticeably large dorsal fin, which can vary by gender.  They are “toothed whales”, and their teeth can be up to 10 cm long.  Orcas also make a variety of distinct communicative sounds, and each pod has different noises that its members can recognize, even from far away.  Orcas are a part of the Delphinidae family, also known as the ‘oceanic dolphin’ family.  Orcas have good eyesight above and below the water, excellent hearing, and a good sense of touch.

Habitat: Orcas live in resident and transient (or “impermanent”) pods of up to an astounding 40 whales. They are very widespread, and can be found from the polar regions all the way down to the equator. In some cases, orcas have been found in tropical waters and (even rarer) in freshwater! Despite this, they will always be iconic to Canada.  Resident pods can be found on the coast of Vancouver Island from April to November, and usually head inshore for the winter. Transient pods are found in B.C. year-round, but they roam constantly to search for prey. They are mostly found in areas that are home to a vast number of seals.

Prey: Orcas have been noted to hunt in a similar manner to wolf packs, using an effective cooperative method, which has given them the title of “Wolves of the Sea”. They hunt using echolocation (like dolphins).  Their prey is varied, and includes many types of fish, including sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka), seals and sea lions, such as the harbour seal (Phoca vitulina), other whales, like the humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae), squid ( the opal squid (Loligo opalescens) is one example), and seabirds such as the black-tailed gull (Larus crassirostris).  Resident pods tend to eat more fish, while transient pods prefer marine mammals.  In one extreme case, a pair of killer whales took down a whale shark (Rhincodon typus), which was 26 ft. long!

Predators: Orcas are apex predators and have few natural enemies, as they are very large and are usually found in huge groups. They have never been extensively hunted by humans, and no one has ever been killed by a wild orca whale. Most of the time, the whales mistake humans in the water for seals. The most recent occurred in 2011, when the film crew for the BBC documentary Frozen Planet had an encounter with the whales; they were trying to apparently “wave wash” the crew’s zodiac.  However, in captivity, the attacks are more common and unfortunately have yielded death. In 2010 a captive orca named Tilikum drowned a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando.  SeaWorld has since been fined by OSHA for $75,000 for endangering its employees, and none of SeaWorld’s trainers have been allowed in the water with the orcas since.

Life Cycle: Female orcas can live an average of 50 years in the wild, outliving the males who only live an average of only 29 years. They give birth to new calves every 3-10 years, and pregnancy lasts 17 months. An orca’s main mating season is between May and June.  Not much is known about the actual mating encounters of orcas, so it is uncertain whether or not orcas have the same mate for their whole lifespan. This is unlikely, however, seeing as the females live much longer on average than male orcas.  Young orcas look very similar to adults, even when they’re first born.

Illustration by Allie Graff

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Pacific Harbour Seal

Pacific Harbour Seal

Author: Tessa March

Identifying Features:

Coat colors of the Pacific harbour seals are varied in shades of white, black, gray or sometimes dark brown. Spots are common markings on the harbor seals, and are often in contrasting colors to the main coat color. Harbor seals have also been known to have an almost red color in the San Francisco Bay.  The Pacific harbour seals have large, round, smooth heads, with no external ear flap, signifying them as ‘true’ seals. Whiskers and large eyes, with large pupils, are other identifying features. Males of this species are often larger than the females. Thick fat (also known as ‘blubber’) covers the seals body. Harbour seals have short pectoral flippers that are covered in hair with five fingers that are used for scratching, defense and grooming of themselves. Their hind flippers also have five fingers. The hind flippers are used to propel the forward and are also used for side to side motions.


Though they often travel up rivers and into lakes, the Pacific harbor seal stays mainly in temperate coastal areas of the north Pacific. They favor being near shore and are often seen on rocky beaches, sandy beaches, bays and estuaries. They can range from Alaska to Mexico.


The Pacific harbour seal eats by ripping their prey into pieces, then swallow the pieces whole. The molars of the seal crush shells before swallowing, but food is almost never chewed. They feed mainly on crustaceans, mollusks, squid and various fish, including herring, cod, salmon and sea bass. Feeding is often in shallow water.


The main predator of the Pacific harbour seal is the Orca, while other minor predators include specific types of shark, such as the Great White Shark, and humans. Though the Pacific harbour seal is now protected against commercial exploitation, it is still often hunted by some Native American peoples. Harbour seals often get entangled in fishing nets and are strangled and injured.

Life Cycle:

Mating season for Pacific harbour seals often happens in the warmer months of the year, and only one pup is usually born. Female seals are ready to breed about 6 months after birth, and reach maturity around 2-5 years, while male seals are a bit longer, around 5-6 years. It takes about 9-11 months from the pup being conceived to when the pup is born. Pups can crawl and swim right after birth, usually within an hour. Following birth, the pup is protected and nursed by its mother for 4-6 weeks. To breed, Male Pacific harbour seals become very violent and fight each other for the female’s attraction. Male’s will breed with many females’ during the breeding season. Male Harbor Seals live an average of 20 years, and females an average of 25-30 years. The Pacific harbour seals have one of the smallest populations of all the harbour seals, fewer than 4,000. Pacific harbour seals are only seen in groups during molting and breeding.

Photos by D. Young and T. March


Pacific White-sided Dolphin

Pacific White-sided Dolphin

Author: Isabella de Souza Dias

Common name: Pacific White-sided Dolphin.

Scientific name: Lagenorhynchus obliquidens

Size range: Maximum length of 2.3 meters.

Identifying Features: 

The Pacific White-sided Dolphin’s back is black, the sides are striped light and dark gray, and the belly is white.  They have a dorsal fin that located in the middle of the back and is very curved .  They are a very gregarious species, often seen in large groups that range from 1 to 1000 (mean: 62, median: 15, mode: 6), and will often leap clear of water.


Pacific White-sided Dolphins are found continuously throughout the north Pacific.  In the eastern part of their range, Pacific White-sided Dolphins are found from 20º N to 61ºN. Through out their range they are found in open-ocean and coastal waters.  In Canada, Pacific White-sided Dolphins were primarily considered a pelagic species, however since the mid-1980s their distribution has shifted and they are increasingly common in coastal waters.

Prey (food):

Pacific White-sided Dolphins eat herring, capelin, Pacific sardines, squid, anchovies, salmon, rockfish, pollock, hake and other small fish.


Transient killer whales and sharks both eat Pacific White-sided Dolphins. When the dolphins first came back to B.C. waters, it took the Killer Whales a couple of years to figure out how to catch the fast-moving dolphins. Some Killer Whale pods drove groups of dolphins into small bays and killed them en masse but this behavior is no longer as common, suggesting the dolphins have learned to avoid this trap.

Life Cycle:

The maximum age recorded for a female Pacific White-Sided dolphin is 46. The oldest male recorded is 42. Females have their first calf when they are seven to nine years old. Length of pregnancy (gestation period) is around 12 months. When the calves are first born they are approximately one metre long and weigh roughly 15 kg. Females will nurse their calves for eight to ten months and give birth approximately every 4.5 to five years. In B.C. most newborn calves are sighted between June and August but researchers have yet to determine whether there is a defined calving season here.

Illustration by Isabella de Souza Diaz

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River Otter

River Otter

Authors: Cory Davidson, Chandler North and Brianna Sheppard-Murphy

Common name:  River Otter

Scientific name: Lontra canadensis

Size:  1 to 1.4 meters in length (3.1 – 4.5 feet)

Identifying Features

The River Otter (Lontra canadensis) has a muscular body, short legs, webbed feet and rich brown fur.  The fur on their underside may be light brown to almost white.  The River Otter is three to four feet long with sharp claws, a slender body and it has a diamond shaped nose.  It weighs between 5 to 11 kg (11-25 pounds) and its thick tail is 17 to 18 inches long.


L. candadensis is often found along the shore line of British Columbia including the Victoria area and the Gulf Islands.  They prefer marshes and wooded banks in fresh water areas but can be found along a variety of shores foraging among rocks or on sandy beaches. They create burrows around land habitats close to the water and are comfortable living in the space under docks at marinas.  River Otters stay close to the shore so they can avoid water predators.

Prey (food)

River Otters have a rapid metabolism and must hunt frequently. They eat a variety of animals including fish, clams, and frogs. They also attack beavers, and punch holes in beaver dams to collect and eat the trapped prey which include catfish, crayfish, and insects. In the ocean they often eat gunnels and pricklebacks, sculpins, and various crab species such as the Red Rock Crab (Cancer productus). They use their sharp claws to catch and eat their prey and can hold their breath under water for long periods of time using their large lungs while they are hunting.


There are a number of predators of the River Otters including bobcats and wolves and even bald eagles may take young pups. In the southern United States they are sometimes ambushed by alligators. They avoid being eaten by either fighting off the enemy or running/swimming away.

Life Cycle

River Otters breed in the winter or early spring. They can have up to three to five young pups each mating season and the pups are born blind and remain blind until five weeks of age. They can live from 13-15 years in the wild, and 20-25 years in captivity. River Otters are very playful and play games to teach their young coordination.

Photos by Lydia Young

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