Once nearly extinct, today an estimated 20,000 gray whales swim the length of the British Columbia coast twice annually between Baja Mexico and the Bering Sea. The spring migration (Mar.–Apr.) is close to the shore, with whales stopping to rest and feed in places such as Clayoquot Sound and the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Orcas (also known as “killer whales”) are actually the largest member of the dolphin family. Adult males can reach 10 meters (33 feet) in length and up to 10 tons in weight, but their most distinctive feature is a dorsal fin that protrudes more than 1.5 meters (5 feet) from the back.
Belugas—also called “white whales” for their coloring—are common off the Arctic coast. They winter in the Bering Sea and off the west coast of Greenland and migrate to estuarine areas such as the Mackenzie Delta in the western Arctic for summer calving season.
Five types of seals inhabit western Canadian waters. The most abundant, smallest, and most important to the Inuit are the ringed seals, whose name refers to the cream-colored circular markings on their backs. The largest are the bearded seals, which weigh up to 250 kilograms (550 pounds), and have facial whiskers resembling a beard.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition