Types of Wild Animals on Vancouver Island
Between the months of May and October, Vancouver Island comes alive with wildlife sightings. From land animals such as bears, cougars, and deer, to marine animals like whales, otters, and salmon, Vancouver Island is bursting with wildlife. Here are some of the different types of wildlife living on and around Vancouver Island on Canada’s West Coast – look out for them from the deck of your boat or yacht, or while on land for a hike.
In the Water
From the five types of pacific salmon, to the various types of trout, dozens of rockfish species, and several varieties of shellfish, Vancouver Island is teeming with fish for locals and visitors to catch, eat, or watch. Popular target species that are commercially important to the region include salmon, trout, and halibut, as well as shellfish such as crabs, prawns, mussels, and Olympia Oysters. Pacific herring are also an important fish in the area, sought after for their roe and to use as live bait for the larger, more lucrative fish species.
Members of the weasel family, there are two distinct species of otters that can be seen around Vancouver Island: river otters and sea otters. Around the Island, river otters are more commonly spotted than sea otters. River otters inhabit coastal shorelines, rivers, streams, wetlands, ponds, and lakes – they are seemingly everywhere!
Sea lions, which resemble seals but are not the same animal, are hungry for the region’s pacific salmon, making them unpopular with fishermen in the area. There are two common types of sea lion around the Island: California sea lions and Steller sea lions. You can tell them apart by their colouring. California sea lions are dark brown, while Steller sea lions are a lighter tan colour, or sometimes reddish brown. The two types tend to co-mingle in the same areas.
Harbour seals are mammals in the Pinniped (“feather foot”) family and can be found around the world. You’ll likely see them from your boat or from the shore napping on rocky reefs, sand bars or boulders up and down Vancouver Island. Unlike sea lions, seals do not have external ear flaps, and they are greyish in colour rather than brown. They have short, furry front flippers and cannot raise their head and shoulders well while on land, so they constantly appear to be sleeping.
Whales & Dolphins
Pacific gray whales and orcas are the two most common types of whales you’ll find around Vancouver Island, but there are also humpbacks too! While whales can be seen at any time of year, May to October is the optimal time for whale watching in the region.
- More than 20,000 pacific gray whales make their migration north up the west coast during March and April, making boating in this region at this time of year extra exciting.
- Orcas are the black and white whales of the region. They are always making headlines in the local news as they are favoured by locals. Resident orcas are either Northern residents or Southern residents. Both types are comfortable around boats and have been known to get close to boaters, so keep your camera handy!
- Humpback whales are more common around Telegraph Cove, Port McNeil, and the Pacific Rim. They are the largest whales in the area, known as much for their song as they are for their sheer size and beautiful breaches.
Sometimes while whale watching, you might come across a school of 50-100 Pacific White-Sided dolphins – another wildlife popular amongst locals and visitors alike. These mammals are playful and often seen jumping along or behind the boats they encounter. You’ll find plenty of dolphins in the Johnstone Strait heading north to the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Deer are plentiful on Vancouver Island. You won’t be able to get far into the wilderness on the island without spotting one! BC is home to mule deer, black-tailed deer, and white-tailed deer. They can be found everywhere from the valleys, to the mountains, coastal rainforests, and dry interior grasslands. Deer are also prevalent in residential neighbourhoods, which create conflict for homeowners as they graze in gardens and create traffic hazards.
Black bear sightings are common on Vancouver Island during spring and summer, as the region is home to around 7,000 black bears (but zero grizzly bears). Although black bears prefer wooded areas near rivers, they sometimes make their way into residential neighbourhoods and busy campsites in search of food.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on the west coast of Vancouver Island is a great spot for viewing black bears, although there are dozens of other areas up and down the Island where you might come across one. If your boat can get close enough to the shore, be on the lookout for bears as they have been known to hang out on the shoreline hunting for food.
Cougar sightings on Vancouver Island are less common than black bear sightings, but they do happen – often by unsuspecting locals on the trails or even in their backyards. Cougars are exceptionally dangerous creatures, considered to be the most feared cat in North America, so if you see one it’s best if it’s from an enclosed area. Like bears, hungry cougars make their way to urban areas when they are searching for food in the warmer months.
In BC, dangerous wildlife are handled by the BC Conservation Officer Service (COS) – a public safety provider focused on natural resource law enforcement and human wildlife conflicts prevention and response.
Racoons are medium-sized mammals, and while they are intelligent creatures, they aren’t necessarily a type of wildlife you’ll be seeking out. They do, however, exist in droves on Vancouver Island. In residential areas especially, racoons are more of a nuisance than anything, as they lurk in the darkness and topple over garbage cans to “dumpster dive” in search of sustenance.
It’s unlikely you’ve come across a Vancouver Island wolf, but they are here on the Island in limited numbers in forested and semi-forested parts of the northern region, as well as areas around Port Renfrew and Clayoquat Sound. The Grey wolves on Vancouver Island are lighter in colour than their mainland relatives and are considered shy and elusive, making them even harder to spot. If you see a grey wolf and wonder, could that be a coyote? The answer is no – there are no coyotes on Vancouver Island (but there are many living on the Lower Mainland).
In the Air
There are hundreds of different birds circling above Vancouver Island at any given time, making the area a birder’s paradise. The mightiest one to watch soaring through the sky is the Bald Eagle, which captivates locals as much as visitors. The island also has plenty of sparrows, blue jays, swallows, woodpeckers, owls, hummingbirds, and hawks.
There is also a wide range of seabirds living on Vancouver Island, including several species of gulls, skimmers, shearwaters, terns, puffins, plovers, kingfishers, herons, ducks, loons, and albatrosses. With so many seabirds in the area, there are plenty of opportunities for birdwatching from your boat.
Less of a type of wildlife to admire out in the wild, and more of a pest to protect your house from, are bats. Vancouver Island is home to 16 species of bats, with the Little Brown Bat being the most common. Bats are a special type of mammal and are an integral part of our ecosystem, as they are great insect eaters and their guano is used as plant fertilizer.
Spend any amount of time on and around Vancouver Island and you’ll quickly come to realize the region is filled with all sorts of wildlife. In and amongst all the flora and fauna of the region, Vancouver Island offers many amazing opportunities for wildlife viewing, whether by boat or by foot. It’s one of the things this region is known for, and one of the many things that draws thousands of visitors to the waters surrounding Van Isle Marina each year. Come for our large marina, stay for our wildlife sightings.