For more detailed information, please see our Marine Mammal Guide online or for a colourful, printable version our Marine Mammal Guide PDF.

Marine mammals are a diverse group of mammals living mainly in the ocean and depending on the sea for their food. In and around Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on Vancouver Island, one of few temperate locations in the world with such variety, these include cetaceans (whales, orca and dolphins), pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) and otters (northern river and, rarely, sea otters).

Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina):

seals and commorants

  • distribution is north of the equator
  • found at various haul-out (rocky outcrops) sites around the Victoria area
  • tens of thousands of harbour seals are found along the coasts of Vancouver Island
  • one pup per female and approx. 10,000 pups born around Victoria each year
  • pups are born from mid July to mid September around Victoria
  • pups weigh about 10 kg (20 lbs) at birth
  • pups suckle for 4–6 weeks
  • adults are 1.5 m (4–5 ft) long
  • adults weigh about 70 kg (150 lbs)
  • are opportunistic hunters eating anything, but feed primarily on herring, hake and other small bait sized fish
  • eat 2–3 kg (4–7 lbs) fish daily
  • often look like logs or what we call ‘rock sausages’
  • diverse colouration allows them to blend in the environment really well, hiding from transient orca

Stellar Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus):

  • they look like great big golden grizzly bears
  • range is from Washington State to Alaska
  • recently have been placed on the US Endangered Species List due to rapidly declining numbers in Alaska
  • it is suspected that the decline is linked with food shortages for young animals and over fishing
  • breeding occurs mainly in Alaska
  • males disperse after breeding season and can be found in large numbers around Victoria during the fall and winter months
  • females generally stay near the breeding sites all year
  • males are about 3 m (10 ft ) long and weigh approx. 900 kg (2000 lbs)
  • males eat about 5–10kg (11–22 lb) fish daily
  • females are substantially smaller, approx. 400–450 kg (800-900lbs)
  • feed on salmon and small schooling fish

California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus):

California Sea Lions

  • they are known for their dog-like barking
  • found from southern BC to Mexico
  • breed mainly in California
  • females generally stay near the breeding sites all year
  • have an active and comical disposition
  • males spread out after breeding season and about 3000 animals go as far north as southern Vancouver Island during fall and winter months
  • dark chocolate brown colouration, males have a prominent bump on their forehead (sagittal crest) males are 2–2.5 m (6–8 ft ) long and weigh approx. 400 kg (900 lbs)
  • feed on small schooling fish and salmon

Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena):

  • found in coastal water throughout the northern hemisphere
  • the worlds smallest cetaceans!
  • they have a very beautiful bronzy brown colour, with a small triangular dorsal fin that is quite black
  • adults generally 1.7 m (4–5 ft ) long
  • calves about 80 cm (2.5 ft) long at birth
  • graceful swimmers, and can sometimes be seen in very large groups (communities), cooperatively feeding on small schooling fish
  • susceptible to entanglement in fishing gear and coastal pollutants
  • there has been a drastic decrease in abundance in this area over the last 50 years
  • very shy animals, avoid boat traffic and are less social than Dall’s Porpoise

Dall’s Porpoise (Phocenoides dalli):

Dall's Porpoise

  • only found in the North Pacific Ocean
  • this is the most commonly seen porpoise in the Victoria area
  • very social and playful, they will often “surf” in the bow (front) wake of boats
  • their crisp, high contrast black & white colour
  • mis-identification as baby killer whales from shore-based onlookers because of colouration
  • adults generally 2 m (5–6 ft ) long
  • calves about 90 cm (3 ft ) long at birth
  • fastest marine mammal in the world
  • feed on small schooling fish and squid by herding them like cattle