West Vancouver Island


Location: Central- south west coast of Vancouver Island including entrance to Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Swiftsure and La Perouse Banks.

ICA Criteria

#1) Endangered, threatened or vulnerable species
#2) Feeding concentration
#4) Migration corridor
#5) Species Diversity


Each winter and spring the population of North Pacific gray whales migrates along the shores of Vancouver Island between breeding grounds in Mexico and feeding grounds in northern seas.

A distinct group of several hundred of these whales leaves the migration and feeds along Vancouver Island coast through the summer season. This is known as the southern feeding group that ranges from northern California to southeast Alaska during summer.

Large concentrations of feeding humpback whales are found in this area, with highest densities shifting with their pilchard or herring prey. They are found from Vancouver Island inlets, to offshore banks, to the edge of continental shelf and southward into US waters.

This has been an important cetacean area for millennia as indicated by the unique whaling culture of the Nuu Chah Nulth of central-southern Vancouver Island and Cape Flattery. They hunted gray whales, humpback whales, right whales and others. Also, the whaling industry, based at Sechart in Barkley Sound, took thousands of whales from this area from 1905 to 1917.


Key Species

Canada (SARA) USA (ESA)
Gray whales Special Concern None
Humpback whales Threatened Endangered


Jim Darling

Jim Darling



Published Papers

Arima, E., and Hoover, A. 2011. The whaling people of the west coast of Vancouver Island and Cape Flattery. Royal BC Museum, Victoria, Canada, 272 pp.

Calambokidis, J., Darling, J.D., Deeke, V., Gerrin, P. Gosho, M., Megill, W., Tombach, C. M., Goley, D., Toropova, C., and Gisborne, B. 2002. Abundance, range and movements of a feeding aggregation of gray whales (Eschritius robustus) from California to southeast Alaska in 1998. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 4(3): 267-271.

Calambokidis, J., Steiger, G.H., Rasmussen, K., Urban, J., Balcomb, K.C., Ladron de Guevara, P., Salinas, M., Jacobsen, J.K., Baker, C.S. Herman, L.M., Cerchio, S., and Darling, J. 2000. Migratory destinations of humpback whales that feed off California, Oregon and Washington. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 192:295-304.

Darling, J.D. 1984. Gray whales off Vancouver Island, British Columbia. In: The Gray Whale Eschrictius robustus. Ed. by: M.L. Jones, S.L. Swartz., and S. Leatherwood. Academic Press, New York. pp. 267-287.

Darling, J.D., Keogh, K.E., and Steeves, T.M. 1998. Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) habitat utilization and prey species off Vancouver Island. B.C. Marine Mammal Science, 14(4): 692-720.

Duffus, D.A. 1996. The recreational use of grey whales in southern Clayoquot Sound, Canada. Applied Geography 16: 179-190.

Frasier, T.R., Koroscil, S.M., White, B.W. and Darling, J.D. 2011. Assessment of population substructure in relation to summer feeding ground use in the eastern North Pacific gray whale. Endangered Species Research, 14:39-48.

Hatler, D.F. and Darling, J.D. 1974. Recent observations of the gray whale in British Columbia. Canadian Field Naturalist 88: 449-459.

Kim, S.L., and Oliver, J.S. 1986. Side-scan sonar estimates of the utilization of gray whale feeding grounds along Vancouver Island, Canada. Continental Shelf Research 6: 639-654.

Murison, L.D., Murie, D.J., Morin, K.R., and Curiel, J.S. 1984. Foraging of the gray whale along the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. In: The Gray Whale Eschrictius robustus. Ed. by M.L. Jones, S. Leatherwood and S. Swartz. Academic Press, NY. pp. 451-463.

Oliver, J.S., Slattery, P.N., Silberstein, A., and O’Connor, E.F. 1984. Gray whale feeding on dense ampleiscid amphipod communities near Bamfield, British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 62: 41-49.

Pike, G.C., and MacAskie, I.B. 1969. Marine mammals of British Columbia. Bulletin 171. Fish. Res. Bd. Can. Ottawa. 55 pp.

Technical Reports

Ford, J.K.B., Abernethy, R.M., Phillips, A.V., Calambokidis, J., Ellis, G.M., and Nichol, L.M. Distribution and relative abundance of cetaceans in western Canadian waters from ship surveys, 2002-2008. Canadian Technical Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 2913. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Biological Station, Nanaimo, BC. 51 pp.

Nichol, L.M., Abernethy, R., Flostrand, L., Lee, T.S. and Ford, J.K.B. 2009. Information relevant to the identification of critical habitats of North Pacific humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in British Columbia. Can. Sci. Adv. Sec. Res. Doc. 2009/116.


Humpback Whale information