Whale Watching in and around Vancouver Island
Throughout Vancouver Island whale watching tour companies generally operate between May and October. Excursions can be booked on a variety of boats including kayaks, rigid hull zodiacs, or passenger cruise vessels.
Whether you are in the area on business or simply for recreation, you shouldn't miss the opportunity to visit some of the most popular residents of the Island … the whales!
Whale Watching Tour Companies generally operate between May and October. Excursions can be booked on a variety of boats including kayaks, rigid hull zodiacs, or passenger cruise vessels.
Whale Watching Victoria and Gulf Islands
This is the most popular area to whale watch, especially the area around Haro Strait and Juan de Fuca Strait on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Trips and tours are just an easy jaunt booking out of Victoria.
Species to see ... A variety of whale types frequent these waters including orcas (also known as killer whales), gray whales, minke whales, and humpback whales. Other marine animal species you will see in the area include Dall’s porpoises, Pacific white-sided dolphins, California sea lions, Stellar’s sea lions, harbour seals, and elephant seals. There are also hundreds of marine bird species to discover.
Time to go
Peak viewing season is from the end of April until the end of October. However, you can easily join a tour year-round since there is always a lot to see.
Whale Watching Northern Island and Johnstone Strait
At the north end of Vancouver Island, a number of prime whale-watching areas exist. Many of the small communities operate whale-watching tours, including communities of Port McNeill, Port Hardy, Alert Bay, Sointula & Telegraph Cove.
Species to see
Here you will find transient orcas, migrating gray whales, and entertaining humpback whales. Many of these whale species summer in the Strait.You will also see Dall’s porpoises, harbour seals, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and seals. This is also an important area for some of the greatest salmon fishing the Island has to offer.
Time to go
There are 19 pods containing over 170 orcas that summer in the Strait. Thus, you should try to visit this area between April and October. By the end of this period, the weather is quite temperamental and though you may still see a number of whale and other animal species, your comfort may be compromised in doing so at this time of year.
Whale Watching Pacific Rim, Tofino and Ucluelet
This famous west coast whale-watching area is known for its migrating gray whale population each March and April. The area is rugged and wild, containing many sounds filled with bays, coves, inlets, and channels.
Species to see
Though the most popular species of whale to see is the gray, you’ll also see the occasional humpback. Don’t miss the sea otters, California sea lions, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and many bird species.
Time to go
The best time to see the gray whale is during their annual migration between March and April. However, whale-watching occurs on the Pacific Rim throughout the summer. Some 40 or 50 gray whales stop to spend the summer feeding off this coast.
Types of Whales You'll See
Orcas (Killer whales) ...The killer whale is perhaps the most recognized, and revered, member of the whale population. With its distinctive dorsal fin standing erect on its back, orcas can be identified easily and are most commonly seen in the Puget Sound and northeast Vancouver Island near Johnstone Strait and Telegraph Cove. Orcas average 23 to 27 feet and between 8 and 11 tonnes, much smaller than their gray whale counterparts. They are swift swimmers, often averaging speeds of 50 kilometres per hour or more.
They are fun to watch due to their speed and agility. They blow water as high as 10 feet into the air and make loud clicks, whistles, and even screams. They eat anything that swims or floats, apart from humans, and their diet includes seabirds, turtles, seals, and fish, particularly salmon.
Killer whales are often distinguished as either fish-eating, traveling in large pods, or as mammal-eating that travel in smaller groups. In all, 260 killer whales frequent the waters off of Vancouver Island.
Gray Whales ... Primarily seen on Vancouver Island’s west coast, Tofino and Ucluelet are the two favourite gray whale watching communities on the Island. Gray whales range between 35 and 50 feet long and between 28 and 38 tonnes (the females are longer and heavier on average). During March and April, more than 20,000 gray whales migrate past the Pacific Rim on their way to Alaska from their breeding grounds in Baja California. The gray whales are bottom-feeders and get much of their food from the crustaceans in the mud of shallow coastal waters.
Humpback Whales Humpbacks are identified by their unique black and white pattern. The average size of a humpback varies from 47 to 49 feet and 25 to 45 tonnes. Though they are less abundant than other whales, they are still mainly seen along the west coast and northern parts of Vancouver Island. Humpbacks are spectacular to watch for their acrobatics, blow hole spraying, and repeated breaching. The feed on fish and are usually found in small groups. Now there are less than 2,000 humpback whales in the northern Pacific and they are an endangered species.
In order to enhance your whale-watching experience, you’ll need to know a couple of key terms.
Pod: one or more matrilines that usually travel together.
Matrilines: the basic family unit of resident killer whales composed of a mature female and her immediate descendants, sometimes including descendant offspring;
Community: comprises all pods that travel together; pods from different communities never travel together.
Clan: one or more pods that share a related dialect or the sound that they make.
Whale Watching Guidelines ... For the safety of both whales and watchers
- Be cautious and courteous remember you are visiting the whale in its home!
- Slow down when around whales and never go within 100 meters of a whale or it's pod.
- Stay on the offshore side of the whales.
- Stay out of a whale’s path and never approach a whale from directly in front of behind. It’s best to travel parallel and at speeds slower than the whale itself is traveling and of course it probably goes without saying that you should never feed or swim with the whales.
- BIRDS are impacted greatly by high speed craft and often do not have a chance to take flight.
- Take your garbage with you as the impact we have on bird and sea life is all our responsibilities.
- Guidelines on whale watching as well as for other marine species: National Marine Fisheries Services