Cruising & Sailing Information

Back to Nature: Observing Marine Life When Boating

"Whether you boat on fresh water or on the ocean, there is a lot of marine life to observe and appreciate. We boat in the Pacific Northwest off the west coast around the islands and straits of the Pacific Ocean. The sea life here is exceptional. Following are some of our wonderful experiences."

One of the most powerful sights is that of large pods of Orca whales, or Killer whales as they are often referred to, as they migrate off the coast. Sometimes there can be several in these pods including mother whales and their babies. Orca whales are quite beautiful to see. Their black and white bodies glisten in the sunlight each time they appear near the water surface or do a breach jump. Usually the babies follow their mothers. It is quite possible to watch them for hours without getting tired.

Boaters must be careful and remain a respectable distance from the whales, as most whales are endangered. You do not want to interfere with their normal migration routes and movements. It is possible to see Orca whales up close in captivity, and they are splendid animals. But when you can actually see them in their normal environment in the ocean, it is magnificent. How fortunate we are to be able to go boating for a few days and have them entertain us along the way.

Another sea mammal that I always enjoy watching is the dolphin or the porpoise. They too can be found off the west coast. These mammals are so sleek and they can swim at very fast speeds. As they jump and slice through the surface of the water they are quite entertaining. Most people have seen dolphins in action at the various aquariums around the world. Well they do the same in the wild. They make me laugh. I think that they actually enjoy an audience!

Living in the Pacific North West, we are very aware of the salmon industry. When boating, there are many small fishing boats out with their nets during the fisheries openings for the various kinds of salmon. It is fun to watch them jump. Seals are also very good fishermen. You can be sure that when the salmon are plentiful around the mouths of the large rivers, you will see a lot of seals. They love to fish for salmon, much to the chagrin of the commercial fishermen. They can be seen swimming through the waters, or sunning themselves on large logs or rocky outcroppings along the shoreline. The bark of a seal is loud and comical to hear and they are another creature that can entertain west coast boaters.

When the salmon are running, you will find another fisherman, one with wings. There are many Bald Eagles on the west coast and they also enjoy a good salmon dinner. These are very majestic birds. Their soaring overhead is something to be marvelled at. The black and white features really stand out against the sky as they glide and then swoop down for a fish.

Sea otters can sometimes be seen around large beds of kelp. In particular I have seen many when boating in our Bayliner, off the coastline from British Columbia to California. These sea creatures are very timid, so you must give them space. They love to float on their backs and eat sea urchins or play in the water, rolling over and over. Often you can see them playing in pairs. Sea otters are my husband's favorite sea mammals. He loves to watch them play. They really are very cute. If you have watched them, I'm sure you will agree.

As well as these mammals, the coast offers wonderful creatures that attached themselves to the rocks and driftwood or coral. Sea anemones are absolutely beautiful, as are the many colored starfish. Anenomes are found in white, pale green and soft pinks with large fluffy plumes. Starfish are found in ranges of bright orange to deep purple. They can be very tiny and fragile or very large. Some measure several inches across. Sea cucumbers, barnacles, sand dollars, oysters, mussels and crabs are all found along the coastline. I love to walk on docks at marinas when the tide is out and see some of these shell fish in tiny pools of water. You can often get up quite close to see them better.

All in all we are very fortunate in this area to be able to see so many creatures. Many of which are not seen by most people around the world. They enhance our environment and our boating experiences. It is important that we remember to respect all of these creatures in their natural environments, so as not to interfere with nature's course.

Valerie Giles owns and operates Boats, Anchors and More a boating resource site featuring boat accessories, fishing lure manufacturers and inflatable boats. Everything you need for the boating season.


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