An adult harbour seal paints the surface of the Sunset Beach tidal pool with ripples while hunting for breakfast.

The coastal area of the Pacific Northwest is home to a wide variety of aquatic mammals with the most common being the Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina). While many are mostly solitary aquatic hunters harbour seals often congregate on land in social groups called ‘haulouts’. Their primary food source is small to medium-sized fish, squid, octopus and shrimp. With this year’s unexpected population explosion in the herring schools in English Bay, I’ve often seen these gorgeous creatures hunting just off the shoreline in downtown Vancouver right after sunrise.

Hunted to near extinction 50 years ago these amazing animals were declared a protected species in the early 1970s and have since rebounded from a population low of 10,000 to now well over 100,000, 40,000 of whom make the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver and Vancouver Island their year-round home.

Their main predator is the Orca but thanks to their high intelligence, amazing hearing, powerful underwater vision, masterful underwater agility and with their ability to hold their breath for nearly 30 minutes (!!) harbour seals can quickly dive as deep as 500 meters and elude their hungry pursuers.

Philosophical tangent alert!

While many consider ‘art’ purely something humans do I’ve always thought that Mother Nature herself to be ‘Artist Prime’. Humans and harbour seals I suspect share at a deep level an appreciation of beauty and both of us are naturally drawn to recreating the beauty we see in the natural world. To me, there’s no better proof of this perspective than seeing the splendour of a sunset or watching the ripples in the water created by a harbour seal as it leisurely hunts herring.

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