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Sea lions making merry may signal Greater Victoria herring spawn

Locals hope their noisy neighbours are awaiting a feast
The Trial Islands off Oak Bay are a haul out site for sea lions for the second consecutive winter. (Photo by Jacques Sirois)

For the second noisy winter, Jacques Sirois holds out hope the raucous sea life party in his neighbourhood signals a blooming herring return.

In late 2022, the Oak Bay man noted sea lions “hauling out” on Trial Islands ecological reserve, where he serves as a co-warden. That winter, hundreds of them lounged about making noise near the much-photographed and iconic heritage lighthouse on the islands.

Regulars at places such as Race Rocks off the southernmost point of Vancouver Island at Metchosin, sea lions rarely hung out off south Oak Bay.

“This was a bit of a novelty item then, because we had not seen anything like this since 1996,” Sirois said.

READ ALSO: Noisy sealife moves off Oak Bay shores, but hope for healthy herring return remains

He hoped it indicated there would be localized herring spawns.

While that didn’t happen, Sirois still hopes this year’s sea lion shindig serves as a signal.

“For a second winter in a row we have a haul out site, and as many as 200 to 250 in late January,” he said. “They are loud at night and early in the morning, they’ve been waking me up at five in the morning.”

The first few sea lions showed up Nov. 21, 2023 and the crowd grew steadily to a peak population late last month, then dropping to about 100 to 150 in early February. They’re often a noisy bunch, made up of primarily Steller sea lions, with the occasional California sea lion hanging out.

READ ALSO: Sea lion-versus-octopus battle filmed off B.C.’s south coast

The cacophony makes Sirois happy.

“I understand salmon fishermen hate them, but to me it’s music to my ears because it means there may be some hope for the herring,” he said. “I can’t see any other reason for them to be here. It’s herring season and it may tell us that herring will spawn again in Greater Victoria this year, like they did in 2022.”

That spring there were two small spawning events near Fisgard lighthouse and Esquimalt Lagoon after many years without.

“There are people alive today who remember raking herring in the 1940s,” Sirois said. “We hope to see pacific herring spawn in Greater Victoria. I’m concerned about the lack of herring and this gives us a reason to hope there is some sort of recovery.”

READ ALSO: Red herring? Facing off over the sustainability of B.C.’s herring fishery

While he awaits that potential, other wildlife indicators are putting on a display.

“It’s just Mother Nature doing its thing in the city,” he said with a chuckle.

The usual bald eagle population of two or three in the area has skyrocketed to 11 in a day, a couple hundred seals are hanging about, and luring in the transient, killer whales that have recently become a more common sight in area.

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The Trial Islands off Oak Bay are a haul out site for sea lions for the second consecutive winter. (Photo by Jacques Sirois)

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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