Sea Kayaking – 5 Things You Should Look For

Sea kayaking is known as a special acitivity and sport, as you can experience what you would not usually do. When you are close to the water, you have the opportunity to go to areas which cannot be reached on your own foot. If you go to Vancouver Island, a kayak can make you understand a lot about sea life. Below are five things which are worth looking for around Vancouver Island.

1. Orca whales-the local orcas are part of two groups of pods that swim the waters around Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands in Canada, and the San Juan Islands in the U.S. The Southern Residents travel up and down the southern Strait of Georgia, the Juan de Fuca Strait, and Puget Sound, looking for fish as they arrive in the Inside Passage waters from the open Pacific. The Northern Residents travel through Johnstone Strait up to the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwa’ii). Large pods of travelling orcas move up and down the Pacific coast from California to Alaska. These travelling whales are closely related to the resident whales around Vancouver Island. All of these orcas are fish eaters, so they follow the fish. Transient orcas are more solitary, often alone or in pairs, travelling anywhere looking for their preferred food, which is usually seal and sea lion. Sighting an orca is an incredible experience. These are truly majestic animals.


2. Sea Lions-sea lions inhabit the waters all up the west coast, from California to Alaska. Two main species live along these shores, the Stellar’s Sea Lion, or Northern Sea Lion, and the California sea Lion. These incredible creatures can often be heard miles away roaring together in colonies, or rookeries. They can be seen swimming along shores fishing as well. Rookeries usually have a few males and a large number of females. The males can be very large, weighing up to 2,500 pounds. The Northern sea lions are the largest species, inhabiting the waters from California to the Arctic, while the California sea lions’ territory ends around Vancouver Island.


3. Seals-Harbor seals can be found all along the west coast. They are ever-present. If you are on the sea, you are bound to see harbor seals. These are incredibly curious creatures. They will often follow a kayaker for long distances, watching. Their heads poke out of the water as they peer and watch the happenings around them. Harbor seals can also be seen sunning on rocks and small islets. When their pups are young, they can be quite protective, with the adults taking to the water and forming a kind of barrier around the young.


4. Otters-River otters and sea otters inhabit the waters around Vancouver Island, but the sea otters are in very limited locations. River otters are usually found in small groups swimming near shores and often climbing up and onto rocks and beaches. They are not exclusive to the sea, but live all across Canada and through the entire eastern U.S. Sea Otters are an endangered species that has been reintroduced to western Canadian and northwest U. S. waters. A few colonies are located along the northern end of Vancouver Island and along the central coast of BC, as well as along the Washington coast. The majority of these Alaskan Sea Otters are along the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Kayaking in the Salish Sea brings regular encounters with river otters. They are common there. To see sea otters, kayakers have to brave the rough, exposed waters to the south and east of Cape Scott, or paddle out to the openings of Kyuquot Sound or Esperanza Inlet.


5. Sea stars-Sea stars are everywhere and largely unappreciated. There are as many as 2,000 species worldwide, ranging from the intertidal zone to the abyssal plains. The most common sea stars are the five armed purple or orange stars, but in some areas the bat star is a usual inhabitant. The bat star has “webbed” legs. The larger sunflower star has 21 legs and can be one meter wide. A few species are small and blend in more with their surroundings. Many sea stars can regenerate legs that have been lost to predators. Stopping to take the time to look at these amazing creatures can reveal a lot. Fascinating and colorful, sea stars are a must see on kayaking trips.


West coast sea kayaking opens up opportunities to see some of the most interesting creatures in the seas around North America. This list of five animals is really just a short list of the creatures out there. Kayaking gives anyone unique chances to see many animals. Around Vancouver Island, different areas give different opportunities. The Salish Sea area around Victoria gives a greater chance to see orcas and river otters, while the northwest coast gives the chance to see sea otters. Sea stars, seals, and sea lions are a part of all these areas. The chance to be right there on the water with these creatures is a great incentive to kayak and learn what we really share the planet with.


Gary Ward has been leading trips and teaching in wilderness areas for 20 years. Having traveled from desert to sea, he spends most of his time now in coastal areas, exploring the boundary between land and sea, land and sky, and sea and sky.

He can be found leading tours on the west coast, teaching, and writing for his business, Coastal Bliss Adventures.

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