9 Amazing Animal Encounters You Could Have in the Harbour City

There’s nothing like seeing your first whale or bald eagle in the wild and there is a good chance of doing just that in Nanaimo. We are lucky to have some amazing species that call the air and water around Nanaimo home, allowing locals and visitors alike to experience some amazing animal encounters.

Here are some of Nanaimo’s favourite species and where you’ll have the best chance of spotting them in their natural habitat. Remember the best way to respect these animals is to observe from a distance.

1. Orcas & humpback whales

Take a whale-watching tour departing from the harbour to see these majestic creatures from April through October. Enjoy the views while an on-board naturalist or biologist explains the whales’ activities and how they relate to the local ecosystem.

2. Bald eagles

Look for bald eagles perched in trees along the coastline nearly year-round. They’re frequently seen at Neck Point Park. In late fall, salmon spawning draws them to Nanaimo’s rivers and estuaries. Listen out for their distinctive cry for the first sign they are nearby.

3. Harbour seals

These playful pups of the sea regularly pop up their rounded heads in the downtown harbour. Spot them from the seawall path or while kayaking around Departure Bay’s little islands.

4. Sea lions

Larger and with a pointier snout than harbour seals, sea lions are often seen in springtime, feeding on the herring run. They can be spotted swimming offshore at Neck Point or at rest in a “raft” in Departure Bay. Also often spotted resting on the log booms in the south end near Dodds Narrows.

5. Otters

It’s not uncommon to see otters scampering up from the harbour channel to steal the salmon and cod scraps left behind at the Brechin Boat Ramp fish cleaning station.

6. Salmon

In the fall, head to Nanaimo River or Bowen Park’s Millstone River fish ladder to watch the spawn. Kids can see and learn about salmon life cycle stages at the Nanaimo River Hatchery.

7. Blonde raccoons

Saysutshun (Newcastle Island) is home to rare blonde raccoons whose light colouring is due to a recessive gene. Kayakers occasionally catch them digging for clams on beaches.

8. Blacktail deer

Smaller than whitetail deer, this species is commonly found lounging or munching on golf courses and private gardens in the Hammond Bay and Departure Bay areas. 

9. Black bear

Residents see the occasional black bear in remote, forested areas off of Jingle Pot Road and near Lantzville. Hibernation happens from November to May.