Common name: Sea Angel

Scientific name: Clione limacina

Author: Choe Stone

Photos: Special thanks to Alexander Semenov for allowing us to use his beautiful images of Clione limacina. 

Size range: 3 cm to 8 cm

Identifying features: Clione limacina are a type of pelagic sea slug, They have a unique pair of swimming wings, called peropoida, connected to the sides of their anterior at the midline. Three pairs of buccal cones (eversible tentacles without suckers), a radula and chitinous hooks are used to capture and hold prey, pulling it towards their mouths. The translucent body of these creatures show the pink or yellow couloured internal organs of the sea angel. 

Habitat: Clione limacina inhabit the cold ocean waters of the Pacific, Arctic and sub-Arctic along with some C. limacina being found in the Sea of Okhotsk, Japan. They live anywhere from the surface of the water up to 600 meters deep. 

Food: The Sea Angel feeds exclusively on the Sea Butterfly (shelled Pteropods). C. limacina use their buccal cones to drag the thecosome towards their mouth where they use their radula and chitinous hooks to pull the prey out of its shell. 

Predators: Sea Angels main two predators are Baleen whales, such as right whales, blue whales, and humpback and Oncorhynchus keta, more commonly known as Chum salmon. Baleen whales take in filtered water that has lots of different types of microscopic species, usually including Clione limacina. 

Life cycle: The sea angel is a hermaphrodite, meaning that they can become whatever sex they needed to be to mate with another C. Limacina. Mating between the angels involves cross-fertilization and results in about 20-30 fertilized eggs. The eggs are laid in a gelatinous mass where they hatch into a larval form. The larval stage of Clione limacina is a shelled pteropod. The larva’s shell is thimble shaped and it’s mouth has a ciliated ring. Once they grow out of the larval stage, the Sea Angel loses its shell and ciliated band, grows wings and elongates its body. Clione limacina live up to two years. 

References:

Brady, H. (2017, September 20). Rare Video Shows Sea Angels’ Graceful Mating Dance. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/09/sea-angels-mating-arctic-video-spd/

Maoka, T., Kuwahara, T., & Narita, M. (2014, March 13). Carotenoids of sea angels Clione limacina and Paedoclione doliiformis from the perspective of the food chain. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3967221/

Pteropoda by Alexander Semenov. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://coldwater.science/project/pteropoda

Wrobel, D., & Mills, C. E. (2003). Pacific coast pelagic invertebrates: a guide to the common gelatinous animals. Monterey CA: Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Steller Sea Lion

Author:  Eva Olcen

Photos by:  Stef Olcen

Scientific name:  Eumetopias Jubatus

Size:  Males may grow to 11 feet in length and weigh almost 2,500 pounds. Females are much smaller and may grow to nine feet in length and weigh 1,000 pounds. Pups weigh about 20 kg when born (male pups are usually larger than female pups).

Population count:  Steller sea lions are the most common species of sea lion on Vancouver Island and numbers are estimated close to 25,000 in British Columbia. And an estimated 240,000 worldwide.

Identifying Features:  Steller sea lions are the largest species of sea lion in the world. They are a golden brown color and a dark chocolate brown colour on their flippers and underside, when dry. They appear darker brown or black when wet.

Males have a thick mane and females have smooth fur on their necks and heads. Their main sources of insulation is their thick coarse fur and blubber. These two things protect them from the cold waters and jagged rocks. Steller sea lions also have facial whiskers which they use to sense prey and feel their way underwater.

Habitat:  About 70 percent of the Steller sea lion population live in Alaska. However, they range throughout the North Pacific Ocean from southern California, north to the Bering Strait, and south along the Asian coast to Japan. They need both terrestrial and aquatic habitats. They mate and give birth on land, at traditional sites called rookeries. Haul-outs and rookeries usually consist of beaches (gravel, rocky, or sand), ledges, and rocky reefs. In the Bering Sea and Okhotsk Sea they sometimes also haul out on sea ice.

Prey:  Steller sea lions are carnivores and forage for the most part between intertidal zones and continental shelves. They fed on a large range of fish including pacific herring, sandlace, pollock, salmon,cod and rockfishes. They eat octopus and squid and occasionally smaller seals. Typically, an adult steller sea lion requires approximately six percent of its body weight every day.

Predators:  Steller sea lions are some of the largest carnivores in the ocean so considering the sheer size of them, they have very few known predators but they have been known to be threatened mainly by killer whales and occasionally certain species of sharks such as sleepers or great whites have been known to prey on juvenile sea lions.

Mating/Breeding:  Steller sea lions are colonial breeders. They have a polygynous mating system, in which only a small proportion of the sexually mature males father most of the pups in a given season. Adult males, also known as bulls, establish breeding territories on rookeries that they defend through the whole breeding season, (1 to 2 months) not even leaving to eat. Bulls become sexually mature between 3 and 8 years of age, but typically are not large enough to hold territory successfully until 9 or 10 years old. Females begin to arrive on rookeries in mid-May. Females typically mate for the first time at 4 to 6 years of age, usually giving birth to a single pup each. At birth, pups are about 3 feet in length and weigh 35 to 50 pounds. Females usually mate again within 2 weeks after giving birth.

References:

North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium. (2017). Steller Sea Lions: Northern Fur Seals: Marine Mammal Research Consortium: Steller sea lion research. Retrieved from https://www.marinemammalcenter.org/education/marine-mammal-information/pinnipeds/stellar-sea-lion/

National geographic society (1996-2015). Steller Sea lion. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/s/steller-sea-lion/

Sea Otter

Author:  Zoe Jennings

Photo: Ollie the lone resident of Race Rocks near Pedder Bay, British Columbia.

Thank you to Josh Deleenheer for his photo.

Scientific Name: Enhydra lutris

Size Range: Length 1.2-1.5 meters for males, 1-1.4 meters for females;  Mass 22-45 kg for males, 14-33 kg for females

Identifying Features: Sea otters are among the smallest marine animals but are actually the largest in the weasel family. Their fur is the main protection they have against the cold water that is their home; it is estimated that they have 100,000 hairs per square centimetre, they have the densest fur of any animal on Earth. They have webbed feet and strong back legs adapted for swimming and a flat, large head, black eyes, and tiny ears. Sea otters spend most of their time on their backs floating around and are normally spotted in large groups. Their distinctive colours are brown with a white face.

Habitat: Approximately 6000 sea otters live in B.C around the central coast by Bella Bella and the west coast of Vancouver Island. Near Vancouver, the only sea otters are living in the Vancouver Aquarium (4 of them). They populate reefs, fjords, kelp forests, and bays and coastal waters near islands in the North Pacific Ocean. In other areas in the world, there are larger populations like Russia and Alaska, in Russia, there are 22,500 sea otters, and in Alaska, there are 71,500, but in California, there are 2,500 and only 550 in Washington. In their ecosystems, sea otters are a keystone species because they have such a substantial impact on the habitat around them. Kelp forests thrive when sea otters control the sea urchin population.

Food (Prey): Sea otters eat a variety of seafood: clams, prawns, squid, crabs, chitons, snails, abalone, sea star legs, mussels, and sea urchins. In certain areas, they eat various types of fish. Sea otters have insufficient underwater vision so they have to dive using their sense of touch to find food with their front paws which are very sensitive. While eating they float on their backs and use their stomachs as tables. Sometimes they use rocks to crush food with hard shells. Up to twenty-five percent of their body weight is eaten per day by sea otters, because they need the energy to keep their body temperature constant in the cold ocean. Their fur is the only thing that keeps them warm because they have no insulating body fat. Compared to a similar-sized land mammal, a sea otter’s metabolic rate is two or three times larger.

Predators: In kelp forests, sea otters are keystone predators, but they are eaten by bald eagles, great white sharks, orcas, and other great predators. Oil spills are a major threat to sea otters because when there is a spill, the oil breaks down the natural oil in their fur. This leads to the loss of their ability to insulate themselves. If they aren’t rescued after a spill they can die due to hypothermia. In the 1700s and 1800s, sea otter’s predators were humans; because of their thick pelts, humans desired their fur for coats and were hunted to extinction on the coast of B.C. The actual sea otters around here now are the descendants of Alaskan sea otters when 89 were relocated from 1969-1972.

Life Cycle: Sea otters become sexually mature at the age of 3 for females and 5-6 years for males. They live between 15-20 years old. Most pups are born between April and July but they can give birth at other times of the year as well. Sea otters usually give birth to one pup at a time commonly in the water and they float on their backs while nursing. Pups have yellowish-brown fur and only weigh about 2 kg when born. Sea otters are pregnant for 6 to 9 months.

Fun Facts: 

  • Sea otters can live their whole lives without ever leaving the ocean.
  • Sea otters hold paws to keep themselves from drifting apart while sleeping.
  • They also wrap themselves in kelp while sleeping so they don’t float away since they have to sleep on the surface.

References:

Sea Otters. (n.d.). In Oceana. Retrieved from https://oceana.org/marine-life/marine-mammals/sea-otter

Sea Otters. (n.d.). In Vancouver Aquarium. Retrieved from https://www.vanaqua.org/education/aquafacts/sea-otters

Sea Otter. (n.d.). In VI-Wilds Vancouver Island Wilderness and Historical Conservation. Retrieved from http://www.geog.uvic.ca/viwilds/iw-otter.html 

Sea Otter. (n.d.). In Oceana Canada. Retrieved from https://oceana.ca/en/marine-life/canadian-marine-life-encyclopedia/sea-otter

Ten Facts About Sea Otters. (2010, December 13). In World Wildlife Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.worldwildlife.org/blogs/good-nature-travel/posts/ten-facts-about-sea-otters 

The Humpback Whale

Author: Hannah O’Shea 

Photos: Thank you to Andy Murch for the use of his photos

Common Name: Humpback Whale

Scientific Name: Megaptera novaeangliae

Size Range: The females range from 15-16 metres in length and the males range from 13-14 metres in length. 

Status: Endangered (least concern) 

Population: It is estimated that there are just over 10 000 – 15 000 whales.

Identifying Features: The Humpback Whale is mostly grey or black with a white underside. They have a distinctive hump in front of their small dorsal fin, which is toward the tail. A very noticeable characteristic is their long flippers. They are large creatures, ranging from 13-16 metres in length and weighing an average 36 000 kilograms. They contain anywhere from 14-35 throat groves that go from the chin to the navel. These grooves are for allowing their throats to expand during filter feeding when they intake huge amounts of water. They have small, round bumps (called tubercles) on the front of their head. 

The Humpback Whales are famous for their “song”.  In the winter breeding season, males make a long series of calls that may go on for several hours. The song is shared by any singing members in the area and as the song changes, all of the members change with it. They will sing this song together even when they are up to 5000 kilometres apart.  

Habitat: Humpback Whales are very wide spread throughout the world. However they make seasonal migrations between low latitude winter grounds and high latitude summer grounds. The winters are for mating and calving in sub-tropical waters, followed by a migration back to cold waters to feed in summer. In the Northern Hemisphere they can be found in the north Pacific, from South-East Alaska, Prince WIlliam Sound and British Columbia; they migrate to Hawaii, Gulf of California, Mexico, and Costa Rica. Humpbacks from Western Aleutians and the Bering Sea migrate to Korea, Japan, Philippines, and northern Marianas. In the North-West Atlantic they can be found in areas around Iceland, southern Greenland, Norway, Svalbard, the eastern seaboard of Canada, and the United States; they migrate to the Caribbean, the southern Bahamas, the Grenadines, and Venezuela. Humpback Whales travel in pods from 2-15 members but these groups don’t last very long. They always come together to mate and feed. They are also known to be friendly to other marine life (they have been spotted socializing with other types of whales or dolphins). They tend to dive to about 200 metres, with each dive lasting about fifteen minutes before coming up for air. They are however known to be able to stay underwater for up to thirty minutes. 

Food: Humpback Whales are baleen whales, meaning they contain plates of whale bone in their mouths. This acts as a filter that is used for straining plankton or krill from the water. Their diets consist of krill, anchovies, plankton, cod, sardines, and other small fish (including mackerel, capelin, herring, and sandeel). Humpback Whales have some interesting ways to capture their different types of food. They capture very small creatures by swimming through clouds of krill or plankton and suck in large amounts of water, then they push the water out through their baleens, which keeps the small creatures inside but not the water. They have an extremely strategic way of collecting larger fish. When Humpback Whales come together to feed, they are amazing pack hunters. They start by finding a school of fish and then some pod members will blow bubbles around the school, creating a cylinder the fish are trapped in. Other pod members will gather more fish into the cylinder. Another group of pod members will circle below and make sure no fish escape. Finally, the whales swim up through the middle of the cylinder and eat all of the fish.

Predators: Although Humpback Whales are very large, friendly creatures, they still have a couple predators. One predator they have is the Transient Killer Whales. They prey on marine animals and typically prey on calves and younger whales. There has not been a recorded attack, however on many whales, there are scars or drag marks as a result of an Orca attack. Location researchers predict that Humpback Whales breed in warm and tropical waters because Orcas rarely swim in that condition. The other predator Humpback Whales have, are sharks, but only the most aggressive shark species (Great White Sharks and Tiger Sharks). They often prey on calves but they will prey on adults that are sick or in distress. Many Humpback Whales have distinctive rake marks from Great White Shark teeth. Great Whites have been observed following these whales as they migrate. A defense they use is there massive tail. They use their tail to create a violent thump, which can frighten or injure the predator. They can also breach or charge at their predator.  

Life Cycle: The lifespan of a Humpback Whale can range from 50-80 years. In some rare cases, they have been recorded to live much longer, for example, 100 years. Females become sexually mature at the age of five, and males become sexually mature at the age of seven. When it is time to mate, all of the males gather into groups near a female and fight for dominance. These fights consist of charging, breaching, floating with their heads above water (called “spy-hopping”), and slapping the water with their flukes to make loud sounds (called “lob-tailing”). The male that wins, gets to mate with the female. Mating happens during the winter in tropical waters. A Humpback Whale’s pregnancy lasts from 11-12 months. At birth, the calf weighs about 900 kilograms and it is 3-4.5 metres long. Females nurse theirs calves in shallow, warm waters.

Fun Facts!

  • Megaptera novaeangliae is a latin name that translates to “the great winged newfoundlander” because of their huge wing-like flippers.
  • Barnacles form on almost all Humpback Whales, which gives them a bearded appearance.
  • When a Humpback Whale is spouting, it can be heard from up to 245 metres away and the spout can get as high as 6 metres tall.
  • To prepare for a dive, Humpback Whales hump their back before going under, that is how they got their common name.
  • Humpback Whales are massive creatures and their heart alone can reach almost 200 kilograms in weight. (That is equivalent to three full grown men!)

References:

Jeananda, C. (Updated 2018). Humpback Whale. enchantedlearning.com Retrieved January 3, 2020 from enchantedlearning.com/subjects/whales/species/Humpbackwhale.shtml

Mueller, J. (Updated 2020). What Preys on Humpback Whales? animals.mom.me Retrieved January 3, 2020 from animals.mom.me/preys-humpback-whales-3735.html

Oceanwide. (Updated 2020). Humpback Whale. Oceanwide-expditions.com Retrieved January 3, 2020 from oceanwide-expeditions.com/to-do/wildlife/humpback-whale

World Wildlife Fund. (Updated 2019). Humpback Whale. panda.org Retrieved January 3, 2020 from wwf.panda.org/our_work/wildlife/profiles/mammals/whales_dolphins/humpback_whale/

The Blue Whale

by Antonia Kropp

Photo – Thanks to Chase Dekker for permission to use his photo.

Scientific Name:  Balaenoptera musculus

Size:  Blue whales are the largest living animals ever known (bigger than dinosaurs). Adults are 23-30 meters long, with females growing up to 10m larger than males. They weigh approximately 140,000kg-160,000kg. Their infants are about 8m long and weigh 4 tonnes.

Status: Endangered

Population count:  10,000 to 25,000 blue whales worldwide today

Identifying Features:  The blue whale is slender, streamlined and very big (23-30m). The head is broad and U-shaped when viewed from above and relatively flat cone-shaped from the side. Around the centre of the rounded rostrum is a single prominent ridge which ends in an impressive ‘splash guard’ around the two blowholes. It has approximately 90 ventral throat grooves, which reach the navel. The flippers are long and pointed while the dorsal fin is really small, variable shaped and about three-quarters of the way back from the snout tip. The broad fluke has a straight trailing edge and a prominent notch. Blue whales are bluish-grey from above and a bit lighter underneath. The head is uniformly blue but the back and sides are variably mottled (depends on basic colour if spots are lighter or darker than the rest). The yellowish colouring on their bottoms sometimes occurs because diatoms (microscopic, unicellular marine algae) accumulate there, and lead to the nickname “sulphur bottom whale”. The mouth contains 300-400 pairs of black, broad-based baleen plates on each side of the mouth (each less than 1m long). The blow is tall and slim, reaching 9m or more in height. The blue whale is in general bluish-gray, mottled, slender, long, relatively flat with (compared to body length) very small fins and fluke.

Habitat:  Blue whales prefer deeper ocean waters to coastal waters and come closer to the shore just for mating and birth. They dive to depths more than 100m (330ft) to feed during the day but stay at the surface at night. Their dive times are typically 10 minutes when feeding, though dives of up to 21 minutes are possible. They have a truly global distribution, occurring in all oceans except the Arctic and enclosed seas like the Bering seas. They migrate towards the poles (in colder waters) in summer to feed, but go back towards the equator (into warmer waters) in winter to breed (mostly in south Africa). Despite their wide spreading habit they are one of the rarest whales existing with a population of 10.000-25.000.

Food (prey):  A baby blue whale consumes milk during its first 6-18 months after birth and can drink as much as 150 gallons per day. This feeding will continue until the young whale is able to hunt for food and survive on its own. Blue whales are filter feeders who eat krill, copepods and small fish. Their stomach can hold one tonne of krill and it needs to eat about four tonnes everyday, which means he consumes around 40 million krill each day while summer feeding season. The blue whale expands its throat plates and takes in ocean water (with krill and other food in it obviously) for feeding. It then pushes the water out of its mouth by lifting its huge tongue. Krill, copepods and small fish stay inside and get swallowed. Through a blue whale’s 10-20 minutes dive at depths less than 100m, it can eat about 3 000 000 (3 million) krill. These giant animals need to feed constantly in order to have enough energy to move their bodies and swim. One of the most common natural causes of death for a blue whale is loss of energy due to undereating. This means that they don’t have enough energy to hunt and regain their strength, so they end up dying because of a lack of energy.

Predators:  The only animals that dare to attack a blue whale are a group of killer whales. While these attacks are very rare, there have been people who confirmed witnessing such attacks and even a few videos have been recorded showing a group of killer whales attacking a young blue whale. The biggest threat to them are humans though. They have been almost hunted down completely in the major time of whale hunting (1920-1940) because of the many treasures that just one of these giants holds. After almost extincting these mammals, new laws prevented them from dying out (international whaling commission declared them to be a protected species in 1966). They recovered a bit but are still endangered and face new threats today. These are chemical and sound pollution, habit loss, overfishing of krill, ship strikes and becoming entangled in fishing gear for example. Those are all slow and painful deaths to many blue whales in just one sudden strike of these causes. Due to climate change, the “colder” waters are getting warmer and warmer which causes the krill to move further south and so do the whales in order to feed on them. These longer migration paths can increase the energy cost of migration and cause energy loss way faster than normal. The lack of food in these areas then lead to death of whole pods (group of whales). Most of these threats are connected to the impact of humans, which means humans are in almost every way the cause of death to blue whales. Their only defense is the gigantic size and the thick layer of blubber under the skin (2-14 inches) because it has no teeth, toxin or sting. A hit from it’s fluke can be deadly tho.

Life cycle:  After mating, the female blue whale will carry the baby for one year. The infant will be born with the tail first (as all cetaceans) near the shore in shallow water. It will start to search the surface 10 seconds after birth with the help of the mother who pushes the newborn up, for its first breath of air. At birth, a blue whale calf is already the largest baby on earth; approximately 8m long and weighing about 4 tonnes. They grow at a rate of 90kg per day. With about 150 gallons of milk per day, they reach an enormous size in no time. They are able to follow the normal migration pattern of a blue whale alone at about 15m in length. They reach sexual maturity at 5-10 years and start mating through the breeding season in the tropic zones around the equator. Blue whales usually give birth to just one calf (rarely twins) and with every female giving birth approximately every, to every second year just once, the number of population is keeping itself relatively low. Many human impacts on habit and life of a blue whale makes breeding very hard (pollution, ship sounds, shrinking habit). Without any of these dangers, a whale has a lifespan of about 40-70 years, though it is really hard to tell the age of these whales because they have baleen instead of teeth.

Interesting facts:

The blue whale’s heart is the size of a small car and its beat can be detected two miles away

Lifespan: 40 to 70 years but hard to tell because they have no teeth

Blue whales are the loudest animals on earth, with calls reaching levels up to 188 decibel. This low-frequency whistle can be heard for hundreds of miles. The blue whale is louder than a starting jet, which reaches only 140 decibels

A human could crawl through its aorta (major blood vessel)

Despite their size are blue whales very fast swimmers with an average speed of 3-20 mph (4.8-32 kph). In case of danger are bursts of even 24-30 mph (38-48 kph) possible

It is very hard to tell their weight because they are too big for any scale. The measured weight is very inaccurate when only pieces of a blue whale are weighed because they loose most of their body fluids in the process of cutting. Scientists guess that only their body fluids (like blood) weigh about 2000kg

The oil you can make out of the blubber (fat layer under the skin) of a whale, was very valuable during the whale hunting period because it is a long-lasting fuel for fire (used as light in every household)

Before whaling, the largest population was in the Antarctic, numbering approximately 239,000 (today 10.000-25.000)

They live in pods (group of whales) with three to hundreds of blue whales together

Blue whales are very social and look out for each other like a family

References:

Blue whale (balaenoptera musculus). (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2018, from http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/whales/species/Bluewhale.shtml

Blue whale facts. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.whalefacts.org/what-do-blue-whales-eat/

Blue whale. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/cetaceans/about/blue_whale/

Forsyth, A. (1988). Mammals of the Canadian wild. Camden East, Ontario: Camden House.

Harbo, R. M. (2011). Whelks to whales: Coastal marine life of the Pacific Northwest. Madeira Park, B.C.: Harbour Pub.

Jefferson, T. A., Leatherwood, S., & Webber, M. A. (n.d.). Blue whale (balaenoptera musculus). Retrieved from http://species-identification.org/species.php?species_group=marine_mammals&id=74

Keyes, L. (2015, November 12). Life cycle of a blue whale. Retrieved January 18, 2018, from https://prezi.com/lkpfy4af1tfu/life-cycle-of-a-blue-whale/

North Pacific Right Whale

Author:

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 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.

Habitat

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.

Prey

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!

Predators

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.

Behaviour

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 www.arkive.org

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Orca Whale

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.  The whale above is a calf of a transient whale pod taken off of Sidney Spit.

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

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.

Habitat:

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.

Prey:

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.

Predators:

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

References

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.

Habitat:

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.

Predators:

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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