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


Blue whale (balaenoptera musculus). (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2018, from

Blue whale facts. (2018). Retrieved from

Blue whale. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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

Keyes, L. (2015, November 12). Life cycle of a blue whale. Retrieved January 18, 2018, from

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 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

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

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

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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