Six Fascinating Ocean Creatures Found in British Columbia’ Waters
Are you wondering what to expect when you dive the waters of BC? Well, you are in luck! We have compiled some of the miraculous sights you may experience when you book your dive trip to Vancouver Island! Although it is nearly impossible to short-list the incredible assortment of marine life and unique ecosystems waiting to be explored, we have listed six of the more commonly encountered life, along with a few of the rarities found in the beautiful green seas surrounding the coastlines of Vancouver Island and British Columbian coastline.
The largest and most diverse assortment of nudibranch species can be observed in our local waters. With such a variety, it is practically a guarantee you will encounter these colourful sea slugs on your dive. One of our favorites is the orange-peel nudibranch, which inhabits rocky areas in the shallow subtidal zone and is one of the largest nudibranchs in the world, reaching up to lengths of 50cm!
Giant Pacific Octopus
With three hearts, nine brains and blue blood, GPOs make for an extremely interesting animal that has captured the awe of people all over the globe. Although most often observed hunting during the night, these intelligent mollusks spend most of their daytime in dens, unless tempted out by curiosity or food. If you have ever looked into the eye of an octopus or had the privilege of watching their behavior, you quickly realize just how intelligent these fascinating creatures are. Octopuses and their kin (cuttlefish and squid) stand apart from other invertebrates, having evolved with much larger nervous systems and greater cognitive complexity. Here on Vancouver Island, giant pacific octopus are not only abundant, but are massive in size, making them one of the “must see” critters on your dive bucket list.
Ancient Glass Sponges
Once thought long extinct, living glass sponge reefs are mainly found off BC’s coast, with the only other known reef in the world existing in Alaskan waters. Since the discovery in the late 1980’s of one of the largest (over 1000km2) and oldest (9000 yrs) glass sponge reefs in Hecate Strait and Haida Gwaii, the discovery of 17 smaller reefs have been identified in the Strait of Georgia, Howe Sound, and Chatham Sound.
These ancient, delicate filter-feeding animals not only help store carbon and fertilize the ocean, they also provide vital habitat to a wide range of marine animals including endangered rockfish. A few lucky individuals have been able to dive these rare reefs as they are located at depths of more than 60 metres, and many of these divers now work tirelessly towards preserving these vulnerable ecosystems that can be accidentally destroyed by the fishing industry.
Stellar Sea Lions
Mass migrations of sea lions congregate on the rocky shorelines and islands in “haul outs” during the winter months, awaiting the arrival of the herring in early spring. While they wait for the annual feast to begin, these curious and playful animals are often known to approach divers underwater for a quick inspection before darting off to their next adventure. Although these charismatic creatures seem harmless when encountered, it’s important to treat them with the respect a large animal like this deserves.
Despite their sometimes-grumpy appearance, wolf eels are quite the romantics, as well as diligent parents. They have a monogamous relationship and tend to mate for life and live in the same cave together. They both equally protect their eggs and only one at a time leave the cave to feed. The wolf-eel’s jaw is powerful and has adapted to crush hard objects around its environment, including the spiny sea urchins, hard-shelled crustaceans, clams, snails, mussels, and several other fishes. Although these fish are sometimes referred to as “scary” they are gentle giants, reaching lengths of 2.5m and a maximum weight of 41lbs, that are blessed with a face that only a Diver could love!
Giant Plumose Anemones
These beautiful anemones can be white, reddish-yellow, or brown and have been referred to as the world's tallest polyp with specimens reaching up to 3 feet tall! Although anemones can look like plants, they are predatory invertebrate animals more closely related to corals and jellyfish. They attach themselves with sticky "feet” and use their flower-like tentacles to sting and capture prey, feeding on the small plankton in the water column. They are found in a wide arrange of habitats and you may see then clinging to shipwrecks, perched on edges of sheer walls, and just about anywhere they can stretch their tenacles into the nutrient rich currents.
We have so many breathtaking critters in our ocean, that no matter what site you dive here on Vancouver Island or surrounding waters, you are in for a treat. From discovering the plethora of nudibranch species, to encounters with massive GPOs or descending into the depths to visit the mysterious glass sponge reefs, there is always a fresh adventure awaiting under the waves.
Images by @seaprooftv, @maxwelhohn and @deepglasssponge