The Salish Sea Boasts Several Species Of Marine Mammals Dolphins, Seals, Otters & More
Dall’s Porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli)
This uniquely marked, black and white porpoise was named after the American naturalist W. H. Dall, who collected the first specimen of the type, which is now on display in the U. S. National Museum. It may be the fastest swimmer of all the small cetaceans and has been reported to reach speeds of 30 knots (55 kph). It delights in bow riding with fast-moving vessels. Dall’s porpoise has an extremely robust and muscular body. This cetacean is quite small, averaging 6 feet (1.8 m) for males with a maximum length of 7.5 feet (2.29m). Females average 6 feet (1.8 m) with a maximum length of 7 feet (2.1m). Weight averages 270 pounds (123 kg) for both males and females. Possible maximum weight is about 350 pounds (160 kg). Dall’s porpoise eats a wide variety of prey species, depending on what’s available within its range. In some areas it eats squid, but in other areas it may feed on small schooling fishes such as capelin, sardines, herring, lantern fish, hake and deep-sea smelt.
Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena Phocoena)
One of the smallest of the oceanic cetaceans the Harbor Porpoise is shy and elusive, not inclined to approach boats and bow ride, as many other species of dolphins and porpoises do. On calm days these animals can be easily detected by the loud puffing sound they make as they surface to breathe.. Maximum length is 6 feet (1.9 m) with a maximum weight of approximately 200 pounds (90 kg). The harbor porpoise eats non-spiny fishes such as herring, cod, whiting, squid, pollock, and sardines.
Pacific White Sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens)
Often referred to as a “lag” because of its cumbersome scientific name, Lagenorhynchus. Pacific white-sided dolphins are medium sized dolphins reaching up to 8 feet (2.5 m) in length and weighs 300 pounds (140kg). . They are considered robust animals, with a large and strongly falcate (curved or hooked) dorsal fin. They have a small and unnoticeable beak, unlike bottlenose or common dolphins. Pacific white-sided dolphins have a distinct color pattern: they are dark gray or black on their back, sides and belly but have a striking large gray or off-white patch on both sides. Pacific white-sided dolphins are found in cold, temperate waters of the North Pacific Ocean from North America to Asia. Pacific white-sided dolphins are gregarious and often found in large groups of tens, hundreds and sometimes thousands. They are fast, acrobatic and playful and are one of the species commonly found bow-riding off boats. These dolphins are often seen with other cetaceans, including Northern right whale dolphins and Risso’s dolphins. “Lag’s” are known to eat a variety of creatures including squid, anchovies, hake and other small fish.
Pacific Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina)
Harbor Seals have spotted coats in a variety of shades ranging from silver gray to black or dark brown. Maximum length is six feet (1.7-1.9m) and weighs up to 300 pound (140 kg). Males are slightly larger than females. They are true or crawling seals, with no external ear flaps and their small flippers mean they must move on land by flopping along on their bellies. Harbor Seals are opportunistic feeders, eating sole, flounder, sculpin, hake, cod herring, octopus and squid.
Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris)
The northern elephant seal is the second largest seal in the world, after the southern elephant seal. Northern elephant seals are found in the North Pacific, from Baja California, Mexico to the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands. During the breeding season, they live on beaches on offshore islands and a few remote spots on the mainland. The rest of the year, except for molting periods, elephant seals live well off shore (up to 5,000 miles, or 8,000 km), commonly descending to over 5,000 feet (1,524 m) below the ocean’s surface. Adult males may grow to over 13 feet (4 m) in length and weigh up to 4,500 pounds (2,000 kg). The females are much smaller at 10 feet (3 m) in length and 1,500 pounds (600 kg). It is believed that they eat deep-water, bottom-dwelling marine animals such as ratfish, swell sharks, spiny dogfish, eels, rockfish, and squid. Elephant seals molt each year between April and August, shedding not only their hair but also the upper layer of their skin as well. This is known as a catastrophic molt.
California Sealions (Zalophus californianus)
California Sealions range from chocolate brown in males to a lighter, golden brown in females. California sea lions are known for their intelligence, playfulness, and noisy barking.Males may reach 1000 pounds (more often 850 lbs., or 390 kg) and seven feet (2.1m) in length. Females grow up to 220 lbs (110kg) and up to six feet (1.8m) in length. California sea lions are found from Vancouver Island, British Columbia to the southern tip of Baja California in Mexico. They are opportunistic eaters, feeding on squid, octopus, herring, rockfish, mackerel, and small sharks. Adult males have a visible sagittal crest (the bump on the top of their heads).
Steller Sealion (Eumetopias jubatus)
Steller or Northern sea lions are much larger and lighter in color than California sea lions. Males may grow up to 11 feet (3.25m) in length and weigh almost 2,500 pounds (1120kg). Females are much smaller, and may grow to nine feet (2.9m) in length and weigh 1000 pounds (350kg). They have a blunt face and a boxy, bear-like head. Adult male Stellers have a bulky build and a very thick neck with longer fur that resembles a lion’s mane, hence the name “sea lion.” Stellers are found throughout the North Pacific Rim from Japan to central California. Steller sea lions eat a variety of fishes, invertebrates, and occasionally other pinnipeds.
Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris)
Sea otters are members of the weasel family and are the smallest marine mammal. Adult females weigh 35-60 pounds (16-27kg); males reach up to 90 pounds (40kg). Alaskan sea otters are bigger with males weighing up to 100 pounds (45kg). It preys mostly upon marine invertebrates such as sea urchins, various molluscs and crustaceans, and some species of fish. They are still rarely seen off Victoria but have become a familiar site on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
River Otter (Lontra canadensis)
This stocky, muscular, amphibious member of the weasel family is distributed throughout most of North America, except the Far North. They attain a maximum length of about 1.4 m (4.5 ft.) and a weight of about 13.5 kg (30 lb.). Northern river otters have thick lustrous fur. Wary in the wild, they are, nonetheless, sociable, docile, playful animals and easily domesticated. They prefer life on the shores of deep, clear rivers, lakes, large marshes and ocean bays. Their diet consists mainly of fish, but they also eat insects, frogs, and sometimes, small mammals such as muskrats. Primarily nocturnal, otters remain active year round.