Whale Watching Around Vancouver Island
Alive with marine life, the nutrient-rich and sheltered waters around Vancouver Island offer up some of the world’s highest density and most accessible whale watching. Both the sheltered east and the open west coast are home to these amazing marine mammals, but the inland side is the most accessible and predictable place to see orcas (killer whales) in their natural habitat.
The sheltered waters of the Salish Sea are a sea adventurer’s paradise. These nutrient-rich waters have enough plankton to feed the world’s largest marine mammals and the marine ecosystem is home to an astonishing diversity of saltwater inhabitants. No wonder that, in 2010, Travel + Leisure magazine named Vancouver Island one of North America’s best whale watching spots!
The Northern resident (fish-eating) population of orcas typically return to the Johnstone Strait and Blackfish Archipelago around the middle of June and are known to stay in the area well into the winter months. Transient (mammal eating) orcas also frequent this area and are most often seen in the spring, fall and winter. Vancouver Island’s northeast coast is home to about 250 orcas, as well as minke and humpback whales. The whales frequent the waters around the Broughton Archipelago Provincial Park, BC’s largest marine park, and the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, a sanctuary for orcas.
Wildlife and whale watching tours depart from Campbell River, Telegraph Cove, Port McNeill and Alert Bay daily from May until October. Besides orcas, the tours also often provide a chance to see humpback whales, minke whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall's porpoise and Steller sea lions, among other marine creatures.
Heading out on a guided tour is the best of both worlds, really. It’s a true Canadian wilderness adventure with the comforts of covered vessels with warm, spacious cabins. Trained marine naturalists offer up a smorgasbord of fascinating information about the animals, their habitat, and the natural and human history of the region.
Pacific Rim Whale Watching
Each spring, between 18,000 and 22,000 Pacific Gray whales migrate along the western shores of the Island as they head north on their annual migration from their breeding grounds off the Baja Peninsula to their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas near Alaska. The whales can be seen from shore in March and April, particularly from vantage points atop rocky headlands along the Pacific Rim. The Wild Pacific Trail at Ucluelet is a popular viewpoint, along with the Wickaninnish Centre in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, which has telescopes.
An increasing number of Humpback whales and orcas are now calling Clayoquot Sound home and can be seen throughout the year. Whale watching excursions from Ucluelet and Tofino are a terrific way to get even closer to these amazing mammals. Operators respect regulations that restrict how close they can get, and are careful not to disturb the activities of the whales. They are dedicated to conservation, respect and education.
Pacific Rim tours frequently encounter other marine mammals, including sea lions and harbour seals. During the Pacific Rim Whale Festival in March, Tofino, Ucluelet and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve offer a wide range of events providing entertaining and educational activities for all.