The Discovery Island region has become one of the most predictable places in the world to see Bigg’s or Transient Orca (mammal eating Killer Whales). The Northern Resident Orca (inshore fish eaters) spend much of the summer here as well feeding on runs of Chinook salmon moving down the coast of BC. These genetically distinct eco-types live in the same area, but avoid each other. In fact the evolutionary split is thought to have begun some 7-8 hundred thousand years ago!!
Large groups of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins are common and become the highlight of many trips with their wake surfing and aerial displays. They are in fact the world most acrobatic dolphin species. Harbour and Dall’s Porpoises are also abundant and the latter often delight our visitors with speeds up to 55 km/hr as they dart across the surface of the water. Sightings of Humpback Whales are becoming increasingly common near Campbell River. It appears that these glorious giants are rediscovering the rich, inland waters of Vancouver Island as a primary summer feeding ground! Only a few years ago it was very rare to see them. Now they are sighted quite frequently along the city’s waterfront.
Pacific Harbour Seals are abundant with peak pupping being in mid-July. They never range far from their primary haul out, spending most of their lives within a 30 km radius. Steller Sea Lions, the largest of the eared seals are in the area in very large numbers in spring, fall and winter. The move to their breeding areas (Rookeries) further up the coast cause numbers here to drop somewhat during the peak summer months, however in recent years an increasing number of juveniles have stayed in the area to feed. Californian Sea Lions are also commonly sighted in the area. They are amongst the most vocal of all mammals, can dive to depths over 300m and swim up to 40 km/hr in short bursts.
It is beyond the scope of this text to be able to accurately relay the astounding diversity and abundance of marine invertebrates and fish found in local waters. Marine invertebrates include sea stars, sea cucumbers, anemones, nudibranchs, etc. Suffice it to say that the cold, oxygen and nutrient rich waters fuel one of the most vibrant eco-systems on earth.
The Discovery Island and Bute Inlet region is home to large numbers of Black Bear, River Otters, wolves, mink, raccoons, deer and of course Grizzly Bears. Black Bear sightings are quite frequent, especially at low tide as they feed in the intertidal zone on mussels, shore crabs, eels and whatever else they can dig up. The color of Black Bears can range from cinnamon to light brown to dark chocolate to jet black! Grizzly sightings are more sporadic, but come September and the return of the salmon in Bute Inlet they show up in large numbers. Grizzlies are the North American sub species of brown bear. At one time grizzlies could be found as far south as Mexico and east to the Great Plains. BC and Alaska are now the final strongholds! Their size and weight varies according to geographic location and time of year. Wolf sightings are rare but sightings of deer, otters and mink (often right at our dock) are very common.
Year-round resident species include the Bald eagle, Harlequin Duck, Great Blue Heron, Pigeon Guillemot, Rhinoceros Auklet, Red-Necked Phalarope and Black Oystercatcher.
Even within downtown Campbell River itself, the birds delight visitors. The eagles, herons and gulls wait to tease fishermen and profit from their catch. There is often a pair of eagles sitting at the entrance to our marina as we depart or return from a trip!
It is in the late summer and fall however, that the bird life becomes truly extraordinary as winter residents return and migrating visitors alight on the Pacific flyway. Sooty Shearwaters return in floods; Leach’s and Fork-Tailed Storm-Petrels are common, as are Surf and White-Winged Scoters.