The spring herring spawn on eastern Vancouver Island is one of nature’s most amazing spectacles. The sheer abundance of marine life and milky turquoise colour of the water attracts visitors from far and wide. Here’s our tips on how you can experience this exciting and fleeting event this year.
WHAT IS THE HERRING SPAWN?
The herring spawn (or herring run) happens every spring on eastern Vancouver Island. Adult Pacific herring congregate in huge numbers along the shallow, coastal shorelines.
Females release up to 20,000 eggs each into the water column, and males spread sperm to fertilize the eggs. This turns the swirling waters a milky turquoise colour. The sticky eggs then settle onto kelp, eelgrass, and rocks where they incubate for 11-40 days before hatching.
The spawn attracts a plethora of marine life, and the feeding frenzy begins. Thousands of seabirds including gulls, eagles, and ducks gather to feed on herring and their eggs. Steller and California sea lions bark and roar as they feast on the large schools of herring. Even bears and wolves can be spotted on beaches eating the eggs at low tide.
Occasionally you can see humpback whales in the area, feeding on the herring. Or grey whales circling close to shore on beaches, sometimes for hours on end. They too are enjoying a nutrient-rich feast on the eggs! If you’re really lucky, Bigg’s (transient) killer whales can be seen close to the spawning events, attracted by the abundance of seals and sea lions to prey on.
When is it?
The herring spawn occurs every spring between February and April, usually peaking in March.
The exact date varies from year to year, and the entire spawning event only lasts about 2-3 weeks, with individual spawning sites lasting 2-4 days. Being such a short-lived event, it can be difficult to be in the right place at the right time!
Where is it?
Locations also vary from year to year!
Typically on eastern Vancouver Island, the spawning occurs in the shallow coastal shorelines between the Comox Valley and Nanaimo. Click the button below for a list of our favourite shore-based viewing areas on Vancouver Island.
HOW TO FIND A SPAWN site
Visit the beaches we recommend for viewing. Once you see an area with milky turquoise water and a chaotic feeding frenzy of marine life, you know you’ve found a herring spawn site.
Keep in mind, it can be difficult to find a spawning site, since each spawning site only lasts a few days. Most people do a lot of driving around, listening for the barks and roars of sea lions, cries of gulls, and watching for herring fishing boats. There can be a lot of trial and error, and some days you might not find anything!
We recommend talking to locals and monitoring Facebook pages like the Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings for updates on locations and timing.
TIPS ON HOW TO VIEW THE HERRING SPAWN
- Shore-based viewing is an incredible way to experience the energy and excitement of the annual event. Bring binoculars or a camera with a good zoom lens, take a seat on a chair or log, and enjoy. View our list of shore-based viewing areas here.
- If you have a paddleboard, kayak, or canoe, get on the water! Paddling through the milky turquoise water is the perfect way to immerse yourself into this natural wonder.
- At low tide, look for herring eggs on the beach. They’ll be on kelp, eelgrass, and rocks. But be very careful not to step on any – these little eggs play a huge role in maintaining a healthy marine food chain.
Please note: you are visitors in this environment. Please use respect and caution when around any wildlife feeding on the herring run. Enjoy the event, but from a safe and respectful distance.
The Marine Mammal Regulations imposed by the Government of Canada state that you keep a minimum distance of 100m of all marine mammals (including seals and sea lions), and 400m from all killer whales (from coastal waters south of Campbell River to north of Ucluelet).
READ MORE about the herring spawn
The herring spawn (or herring run) occurs every spring on the eastern shores of Vancouver Island between February and April. The exact time it begins varies
The yearly Pacific herring spawn on Vancouver Island is one of the most important natural events in the Pacific Northwest. These small but mighty fish
Would you rather view the herring spawn from the water?
Book a private tour with us, and bring your friends and family along for a herring spawn tour they will not soon forget!
- Knowledgeable and experienced captain and crew
- Room for maximum 12 guests
- Heated cabin with a washroom
- Large back deck for excellent viewing opportunities
- Snacks and drinks