Nature Canada

From Starfish to Orca Whales, Marine Life at East Point, Saturna Island

Image of Sofia Osborne

Sofia Osborne, Guest Blogger

This blog was written by guest blogger Sofia Osborne.

On an island of only about 350 people, Canada Parks Day on July 16 at East Point was downright crowded. But it makes sense. What better place to celebrate the beauty of nature than a hub for sea lions, seals, harbour porpoises, and whales?

About half of Saturna Island, the most eastern of the Gulf Islands off the coast of British Columbia, is protected as parks. East Point, part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, is a gentle slope covered in golden grass. It’s one of the best land based points for whale watching, particularly Orcas. The Southern Resident Orcas are regular visitors, as well are their mammal eating counterparts the Biggs, or Transient, Orcas. They often pass by incredibly close to the rocks, fishing and breaching.

Extending off the point is Boiling Reef, where currents criss-cross and Harbour Seals swim lazily, sometimes scrambling up onto the rocks when Transient Orcas are near. At the end of the point is a gull-covered rock monopolized by roaring Steller and California Sea Lions in the winter. If that’s not enough sea life for you, you might see the small dorsal fin of a Harbour Porpoise cutting through the water.

Image of ocean creatures brought from the ocean floor

Photo of sea creatures on display on Shell Beach. By Sofia Osborne

In this marine mammal paradise it’s easy to overlook what lies beneath the waves. But on Canada Parks Day, the Saturna Island Marine Research and Education Society (SIMRES) brought a team of divers out for their annual Intertidal Safari, focusing on the animals that don’t get as much recognition. The ocean floor divers had carefully plucked crabs, sea cucumbers, starfish, and more, bringing them to tanks on Shell Beach. Kids and adults alike were encouraged to connect with the invertebrates, touching the tooth-pick spikes of a sea urchin or the mysterious orange dots on a sea cucumber. Interpreters were there to explain more about the creatures, integral parts of East Point’s ecosystem that are often overlooked. They made certain that the animals were handled with respect and returned to the ocean.

Of course, not to be forgotten a male and a female Transient Orcas swam by, followed closely by whale watching boats. The crowd congregated to watch the small show, brought together by nature’s seemingly perfect timing.

How much do you know about your ecosystem, from the smallest invertebrates to the top predators, to our own human impact? From the old fog alarm building on East Point I watch every day as commercial ships move, larger than life, down Boundary Pass. I see whale watching boats chase playful Orcas just to get the perfect picture.

From this point at the heart of the Salish Sea, contemplating the life teeming around me, it became even more apparent to me that this marine world, beautiful and fragile, deserves our protection.

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