When you think of Canada, the word “dolphin” doesn’t spring immediately to mind. But lucky West Coast boaters do get to spot the Pacific white-sided dolphin. They’ve been common in B.C. waters since the 1980s and ’90s. Inquisitive by nature, like all dolphin species, they’ll regularly approach boats—and put on a Cirque du Soleil-worthy show: leaping, twisting, and somersaulting through the water. They’re also fond of “bow riding”: surfing on the waves and wakes of boats. With their white bellies and unusually large, curved dorsal fins, they’re easy to ID.
White-sided dolphins are gregarious, and tend to travel in groups of 10 to 50. Occasionally, groups will band together and swim in hordes of 2,000! That’s a lot of dolphin. White-sides are opportunistic predators, and feed on more than 60 species of fish. They’ll work together to corral prey: when hunting near shore, they go for schools of herring and anchovies, or larger fish such as pollock and salmon. Out in the open ocean, they dive for six minutes at a time to catch squid. Well, of course. Who doesn’t like calamari?
Like bats, white-sided dolphins use echolocation to find prey, sending out a series of rapid clicks and determining their target’s location when the sound bounces back. But they also have a finely-tuned sense of touch and can feel tiny water pressure changes, plus good eyesight both underwater and above the surface. White-sides are also known chatterboxes, talking to each other non-stop with high-pitched chirps, whistles, and trills.
Dolphins breed beginning in late spring, with females only reproducing once every three to five years. Calves are born in nine to 12 months. They’re already a metre long and weigh a few hundred pounds.