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Sea kayakers are frequently drawn to Johnstone Strait, because it is the location for kayakers to view orca whales in their natural environment. The Strait is a deep and narrow glacier-carved passage located between the east coast of Vancouver Island and the west edge of the British Columbia mainland. (click for Johnstone Strait Google map).
Kayakers embark on trips into the strait from Vancouver Island, frequently from Port McNeill (google map). Trips with kayak outfitters will commonly depart from Port McNeill via zodiac or other watercraft and deliver kayaking guests to one of several island base camps in the area.
Johnstone Strait is considered to be the best destination in the northern hemisphere for kayakers and others to observe wild orcas (also known as "killer whales" due to their voracious appetite for fish, sea lions and seals). These huge but sleek black and white colored mammals, each with a distinctive dorsal fin (used to identify and track them), congregate in the Strait each summer to feed on an abundant supply of salmon.
The number varies but there are roughly 200 resident orca whales and a large number of nonresident whales which frequent Johnstone Strait and the Inside Passage each summer.
In addition to the orcas, the Strait is rich with other marine life including minke, humpback and grey whales; dolphins; porpoises; and sea lions.
Keeping in mind that sea kayakers (and other boaters) must be aware of proper ecological considerations regarding human encounters with marine life, if you are fortunate enough to view a dorsal fin or a breaching orca from the perspective of a sea kayak you will have a lifelong memory.
Note that the photo above was taken (years ago) from Robson Bight, now a world famous ecological reserve within Johnstone Strait. Orca whales love to rub their skin along the pebble sea floor at the Bight. It is still unclear whether this behavior is functional - perhaps to remove parasites - or whether it's just for fun. Sea kayakers should note that the Bight is now an orca sanctuary - there is a boundary surrounding the Bight which is not open for paddling or camping. Check here for BC Parks information regarding the Bight and paddling restrictions.
Best selection of books on the Northwest.
The Wild Coast Volume 3: A Kayaking, Hiking and Recreation Guide for the South BC Coast and East Vancouver Island by John Kimantas. This book provides information for the entire BC coastline. Each trip includes details on hazards, geography, ecology, history, attractions and hikes for each location. Color maps and photography are also included. Order now...
Sea Kayak the Gulf Islands by Mary Ann Snowden. This guide leads paddlers of all levels to the best kayaking waters on the BC coast. Resources include 23 trips that are outlined with information on tides, currents, safety, charts and launching. Order now...
Paddling Through History: Sea Kayak Vancouver and Victoria by Aileen Stalker and Andrew Nolan. This inner city paddling guide enables you to explore the history with the story behind the people and places and explains the names and geology. This book is illustrated with maps and photographs. Order now...
Sea Kayak Around Vancouver Island by Doug Alderson. This guidebook has all the information needed for a weekend excursion to a summer tour. Each chapter covers a section of the island covering points of interest, access sites, safe travel routes and comfortable campsites. Order now...
Kayak Routes of the Pacific Northwest Coast: From Northern Oregon to British Columbia's North Coast, 2nd Edition by Peter McGee and John Dowd. This guidebook provides detailed information on more than 30 kayak routes featuring required skill levels, length of trip, hazards, weather, currents, ferry and air travel, rentals and tours. Eighteen regions are explored from Oregon to British Columbia. Order now...
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