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Killer Whales - Johnstone Strait

Whale watching is a very popular viewing activity. While Gray Whale are best seen off the West Coast of Vancouver Island in the spring, June to October is best for Killer Whale, also called orca. The Johnstone Strait area is among the best sites.

Viewing whales and a wide variety of other marine mammals in Johnstone Strait requires a boat. If you don't have your own there is no shortage of companies offering whale watching tours.

More than 600 orcas inhabit British Columbia's coastal waters, and more than 200 of these make up the northern resident population that visits the Johnstone Strait area. Research has found that the northern whales form 16 pods, each typically composed of 5 to 20 individuals.

In British Columbia, much of our knowledge of Killer Whale has come from the use of a photo-identification method developed by the late Dr. Michael Bigg. After more than 20 years of black and white photographs, identifying markings and nicks on dorsal fins and saddle patch shapes behind the fin have helped to identify each individual whale and its relationship to other animals.

The Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve, established in 1982, is located in Johnstone Strait and is closed to all boaters. It is a sanctuary for Killer Whales.

However, whales can be observed in Johnstone Strait and Blackfish Sound. If you encounter whales while boating please observe the following guidelines to minimize your impact on the whales:

  • Approach no closer than 100 metres (under review) and shift your motor into neutral or idle.
  • Keep noise levels down - no horns, whistles or racing motors.
  • Approach whales only from the side, not from the front or the rear, and approach and depart slowly.
  • Avoid disturbing resting whales.
  • Maintain low speeds and constant direction if travelling parallel to whales.
  • When travelling close to shore, avoid crowding whales near shore or coming between the whales and shore.
  • Limit your time with any group of whales to less than 30 minutes at a time.

10 Year Anniversary

British Columbia Wildlife Watch, the provincial viewing program of the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks is 10 year old! Almost 400 sites are now recognized by British Columbia Wildlife Watch as places to watch wildlife and to learn about wildlife and habitat.

Since 1989, hundreds of binocular logo signs have been placed on roadways, and new facilities and information signs have been installed at viewing many viewing sites. There is a quarterly newsletter, the program's display at festivals and events, public slide shows about the program, a wide variety of brochures as well as a web site that grows regularly!

Today, with increased awareness and understanding, more people appreciate, and help to protect, our wildlife and habitat diversity.

Happy anniversary!

Is Anyone Watching? - Latest Survey Results

It was commonly believed that the economic benefits derived from people watching wildlife were small. However, with the publishing of The Importance of Wildlife to Canadians - Highlights of the 1981 National Survey, that belief was dispelled! Over the years a series of reports have been produced based on scientifically conducted surveys. We now know that a large percentage of the public watches wildlife and that their activities generate significant economic benefits.

The most recent report, The Importance of Nature to Canadians: Survey Highlights, has just been published by Environment Canada. Completed for the year 1996, this report is consistent with the results of previous reports.

Participation Rates

    Nearly one in five Canadians (18.6%) participated in wildlife viewing in Canada. For British Columbia the participation rate was 20.8%.

    The survey estimated participation rates for other nature-related activities. For residential wildlife-related activities, the Canadian rate was 56.9% and the BC rate was 62.1%. For recreational fishing the Canadian rate was 17.7% and the BC rate was 17.5%. For hunting the Canadian rate was 5.1% and the BC participation rate was 3.2%.

A Morning at the Pitt - Cranes, Swans, Eagles . . .

Ever wonder what you might see on a quiet mid-morning walk when the sun is shining? At the Pitt-Addington Marsh Wildlife Management Area, how does a pair of Sandhill Crane, numerous Bald Eagle, ducks of many species, a Belted Kingfisher, a Downy Woodpecker, several hummingbirds, a really large carp and a family of Mute Swan! And that was just for starters.

To this is added the chorus of sounds from frog croaks, the rattle of a rail and Marsh Wren and other songbird melodies, to the splash of a kingfisher diving in the water and the cry of Bald Eagle circling overhead.

Of particular interest on this visit were the sighting of a pair of Sandhill Crane in a field just outside the management area and of a pair of Mute Swan with 2 small, grey cygnets. A quick check of the bird list of the area shows no previous nesting record for Mute Swans!

At one viewpoint overlooking the marshes there was a flash of white as a Bald Eagle dove down to catch a quick meal. This was quickly consumed. Thank goodness for binoculars!

If you want to visit this area, take Lougheed Highway to Pitt Meadows, turn north onto Harris Road and follow the binocular logo signs. It is a 17 km drive from the highway to the paved parking area at the end of Rennie Road. From the parking area take the Dyke Nature Trail. A 45-minute walk takes you to the viewing tower where new interpretive signs provide information on the common wildlife and plant species.

A British Columbia Wildlife Watch bird checklist and a general and viewing information brochure are available for the management area.

Return of the Salmon - Sunday October 16th

The annual installment of the very popular "Return of the Salmon" event is set for Sunday, October 16th. This family event takes place at the Kanaka Creek fish fence located in Kanaka Creek Regional Park.

The focus of the event is to get you up close and personal with returning Chum and Coho Salmon. There are many activities for children, some displays and lots of opportunities to see salmon. Did you ever wonder what a fish fence was for? Well here's your chance to find out!

The fish fence is located along 240th Street in Maple Ridge. From Lougheed Highway east of Maple Ridge turn north onto 240th Street and continue to the bridge and the fish fence.

This event is organized by Greater Vancouver Regional District Parks. For more information contact the GVRD Parks East Area office at (604) 530-4983.

The Bell-Irving Hatchery is also open during the event. It is located on 256th Street with access off Dewdney Trunk Road well signed.

Is There Life After Spawning? - The Cycle of Life

Depending on which salmon species you are, you have spent up to four years in the ocean. You return to the very same river, stream, creek or waterway where you emerged from the gravel one spring day. Amazing! After spawning you will slowly die and eventually rot away.

What a waste! Or is it?

After leaving thousands of fertilized eggs with your mate you will play an important role in the life of your home river.

Many species of wildlife, including birds, mammals and insects, will find you a tasty meal. Life goes on! What doesn't get consumed may decompose into nutrients that enter the river and these are then eaten by water insects and very small water creatures that will be an important food source when your young emerge from the gravel next spring.

Nothing goes to waste. When only your bones are exposed small mammals, such as mice, voles and moles, may gnaw on your bones for calcium. Life goes on! In the end, anything remaining will return as nutrient to the soil or water.

So, next time you lament the apparent waste of all those fish that die after spawning, remember, when their life is over, they continue to provide life in their home river. Life goes on!

Desert Not a Dry Subject - New Centre

The South Okanagan contains some of the most threatened habitats in Canada. Due to efforts of the Osoyoos Desert Society another piece of critical habitat will be protected and enhanced.

The Desert Centre is a 26.8 ha (66 ac) site located about 5 km north of Osoyoos on Highway 97. It contains a unique desert community known as the antelope-brush ecosystem. This ecosystem is the northern most tip of the Sonora desert that starts in Mexico and extends through North America. This habitat is Canada's only arid desert!

The antelope-brush ecosystem of the South Okanagan is endangered, and over the past century, more than 60% of this habitat has been totally destroyed. Only 9% of what remains is relatively undisturbed.

On July 2nd, the first section of the boardwalk was officially opened. When completed the boardwalk will be about 1.5 km long and will keep visitors from impacting the fragile habitat. Interpretive kiosks offer a wealth of information on the site which is open all summer, seven days a week, from 8 am to 8 pm.

The general area is home to a diverse array of uniquely adapted wildlife species, including the Great Basin Spadefoot, Western Rattlesnake, Barred Tiger Salamander and Sun Scorpion to name just a few, all of which are either threatened or endangered.

Wildlife viewing opportunities are likely to be best during the cool morning or early evening hours. In fact, due to intense sunlight and high daytime temperatures, most wildlife activity will be at night.

Some 30% of British Columbia's endangered species (red-listed), over 50% of the province's vulnerable species (blue-listed), over 100 rare plants and more than 300 rare invertebrates are confined to this ecosystem. Very little of this habitat has been set aside, making the Desert Centre an important site.

In addition to the boardwalk and kiosks, a number of research studies are underway. The purpose of these is to develop techniques to restore the antelope-brush ecosystem. Many scientists are assisting in the planning and implementation of these studies. Some restoration projects have been started also.

Long term plans include the development of a visitor centre to provide more information on the wildlife and plant species of the area as well as to report on research and restoration project results.

Funds to complete projects have been provided by the Millennium Bureau of Canada, the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund and Environment Canada among others.

The Desert Centre represents eight years of work by volunteers. Be sure to include this site on your next trip to the South Okanagan.

For more information on the Desert Centre, or to book a tour time, contact the Osoyoos Desert Society [(250) 495-2470 or 1-877-899-0897; P.O. Box 123, Osoyoos, B.C. V0H 1V0] or visit their web site [e-mail]. Their web site is under development and will be expanded greatly in the near future.

Fish Presence - Year Long

Many people have learned that you should keep out of streams and creeks when fish are spawning. Besides being an offense to disturb spawning salmon, the deposit of fertilized eggs, called a redd, is easily disturbed from its gravel location. Throughout the winter and into spring the same caution must be taken until the young salmon emerge from the gravel.

But did you know that the streams and creeks are often the home of these small salmon for another 12 months? Some species of salmon fry, such as coho, will spend up to another year in that local stream or creek before migrating to the sea. That means they need clean, unsilted water to live in.

During that year the young salmon will feed and grow bigger. Cover under logs, branches and rock edges will be important as many other creatures will search them out as food. These young fish will also be present in the stream when the next generation of adults returns in the fall to spawn.

So, please, be careful in those salmon streams throughout the year, not just when you see fish spawning.

ORCA FM - Whale Radio

Something different came to the radio air waves in July 1998. A new "talk" show. There is no host but rather a whole bunch of on-line personalities. Killer Whale!

ORCA FM is the world's first Killer Whale radio station featuring the whines, whistles and clicks of wild whales as they travel, feed, play and rub in Johnstone Strait. Station CJKW is found at 88.5 on the FM dial and is broadcast live, 24 hours a day.

The ORCA FM signal can be picked up by any radio within a 10 km radius of Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve or heard at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre (VAMSC). But coming next month, on August 11th, you will be able to experience these underwater sounds on the internet at

This project was started by Dr. John Ford, who has been a marine mammal researcher for over 20 years. It is part of a big research project called WhaleLink which involves the establishment of a network of underwater listening posts (acoustic monitoring stations) at key Killer Whale "intersections" along the British Columbia coast. The information gathered will help to identify, track and monitor killer whale movements and their use of specific areas.

Each WhaleLink listening post consists of an underwater microphone, or hydrophone, attached by cable to a land-based device programmed to turn on when it "hears" killer whale calls. Once activated, the system transmits audio signals by cellular phone to the Vancouver Aquarium where Dr. Ford and his researchers "answer the phone".

If you want to learn more about these research projects, or about Killer Whale, visit the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre web site or contact VAMSC [(604) 659-3400; P.O. Box 3232, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 3X8]. Another good information source is the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program web site.

Bird Tracks

Porpoise Bay Provincial Park

    Located near Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast. During October and November this is a great site to get really up close to spawning Chum Salmon. The actual timing depends on tides and the water level in the creek. In some years most of the spawning has occurred in the first few weeks of October. A trail leads along Angus Creek and ends at the creek's estuary. Be sure to look for seals and many waterbirds in the marine waters along the park's shoreline. A British Columbia Wildlife Watch bird checklist is available for the park.

Puntledge River Hatchery

    Located a short drive from downtown Courtenay. Look for chinook salmon from mid September through November, Coho Salmon from mid September to mid December and Chum Salmon from mid October through November. From Highway 19 continue straight onto Cliffe Avenue. At the intersection with Old Island Highway turn left onto 5th Street and then right onto Lake Trail Road at the school grounds. Continue to Powerhouse Road, turn right and follow the signs to the hatchery entrance on the right. There is an upper site too.

Stamp River Provincial Park

    Located near Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. A fishway assists salmon on their migration. Look for Sockeye Salmon from late June to early September, Chinook Salmon from mid September to mid November and Coho Salmon from mid August to December. While the typical Sockeye run is about 50,000 fish, in some years it has numbered 300,000 fish. From Highway 4 just past downtown Port Alberni turn right onto Beaver Creek Road. The park entrance is a 13 km drive.