British Columbia

Barking, belligerence and body odour: Hundreds of sea lions swarm Cowichan Bay

Hundreds of sea lions descended upon the waters of Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island this fall. And while they come back to this area every year to grab some grub and lounge about, their sheer number has taken many locals and tourists by surprise.

At their peak, more than 300 sea lions were splashing about the bay

Sea lions in the Belle Chain Islets located in the Georgia Strait. In the Cowichan Bay, Simon Pidcock says their numbers are up by around 120. (Simon Pidcock, Ocean EcoVentures Cowichan Bay)

Hundreds of sea lions have descended upon the waters of Cowichan Bay off the east coast of southern Vancouver Island this fall. And while they return to this area every year to grab some grub and lounge about, their sheer numbers have taken many locals and tourists by surprise.

Simon Pidcock, owner of Ocean EcoVentures in Cowichan Bay, says at their peak, there were around 300 Steller and California sea lions splashing around the bay and camping out on the docks. 

He says those numbers are up by around 120 from past years.

Pidcock credits a stronger-than-normal chinook run in the Cowichan River for the blubbery abundance, providing a ready food source for the sea lions.

"We have a large river emptying into a bay — it's kind of like a smorgasbord," he said.

Salmon doesn't make up a huge part of a sea lion's diet, but Pidcock says when there's such an array of easy-to-catch food, the sea lions show up in numbers.

Sea lions in the Belle Chain Islets located in the Georgia Strait. Simon Pidcock credits a strong Chinook Salmon run in the Cowichan river for their numbers. (Racerocks.com)

Males duke it out

Unfortunately, the sea lions, who have made themselves at home on the docks of the marina, aren't making the best house guests, according to Pidcock. He says their vocalizing continues through all hours of the day — and night.

"We have a great hotel in Cowichan Bay and they do have optional ear plugs every time this year," said Pidcock.

He says it's predominantly males duking it out to claim the best piece of sun-soaked real estate.

And before you even hear them, one of your other senses will alert you to their presence.

"If you're downwind you definitely notice it as well, they are pretty smelly," he adds.

Sea lions in the Belle Chain Islets located in the Georgia Strait. Sea lions come to the Cowichan Bay for about two months every fall. (Simon Pidcock, Ocean EcoVentures Cowichan Bay)

'It's better than TV'

Yet, for all their faults, Pidcock says the sea lions have been a boon to tourism, as people come to the bay to witness the (in)famous visitors.

He says the bay offers a number of vantage points to closely watch them from land without disturbing them.

"It's better than TV, by all means — all the antics," said Pidcock.

However, he is quick to add that under law, boaters must keep a distance of 100 metres from the animals at all times.

"We're viewing them in their home and it's really good to give them that space."

Large groups of sea lions come to the bay for about two months every year.

You can listen to the full interview below;

On The Island's Gregor Craigie speaks with Simon Pidcock, owner of Ocean EcoVentures in Cowichan Bay. 5:33

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