Are you wondering is whale watching worth it on Vancouver Island?
Growing up and living in Vancouver, you would hear about whales all the time being spotted off the coast of Vancouver Island during certain months.
Vancouver Island is a hotspot for whale watching almost year-round. The stunning photos or videos scientists or people would capture and share on the news were incredible.
In this blog post, I will talk about the best tour and other information for when you go whale watching on Vancouver Island.
Is Whale Watching Worth It On Vancouver Island?
To answer your question, yes! If you want to go whale watching, do it! Seeing these beautiful mammals in their native habitats is a lifetime experience you will never forget.
Believe it or not, whale watching is a popular tourist attraction when you visit Vancouver Island. In addition, geographically, Vancouver Island in a rich biodiversity for feeding and migration, so you are bound to see different types of whales 95% of the time.
Best Time For Whale Watching Vancouver Island
Depending on which location you travel to on Vancouver Island and what time of year plays a huge role in which types of whales you will see.
March to October is the overall general best time for whale watching on Vancouver Island. However, there are specific months when you can see specific types of whales.
What Type Of Whales Will You See
Periodically, the pattern of seeing whales can change slightly during the months. So, there is a possibility of seeing whales earlier or later than expected. It is all up to the whales!
Killer Whales – May To October
First and foremost, the most popular whale you will see are Killer Whales, aka Orcas. The Transient and Southern Resident Killer Whales are well known to Vancouver Island.
💡 Fun Fact: Southern Resident Killer Whales are mainly found off British Columbia, Washington and Oregon coasts.
Transient Killer Whales are excellent predators. They eat other mammals, for example, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins, and other species of whales.
On the other hand, Southern Resident Killer Whales eat fish and small amounts of squid. However, their favourite type of fish is the Chinook Salmon. The high amount of fat and the largest out of the salmon species is why they favour the Chinook.
Unfortunately, the Southern Resident Killer Whale population is endangered. Therefore, you most likely will miss seeing them on your whale watching tour as they are rare to see nowadays.
But it is not impossible! A small pod of them is divided into three (family relations) so that scientists can keep track of them; J, K, and L Pod. Not too long ago – if I remember correctly, J Pod was spotted hunting for food around their habitat on Vancouver Island.
Vocalization is another crucial factor in identifying which pod of Killer Whales are in the area.
Humpback Whales – July To October
The largest whale you will see along Vancouver Island is the Humpback Whale. During the summer, Humpback Whales stop to feed in British Columbia. Then, once it gets colder, they will migrate toward tropical water (Hawaii and sometimes Mexico) for mating.
Humpbacks are known to breach the surface and use their spectacular, powerful tails to slap the water.
They are also known for their songs, low vocal register with changing frequency and amplitude, which can last around 10 to 20 minutes.
The best location on Vancouver Island to see Humpback Whales is further north. But the best areas to spot them up north are Telegraph Cove and Port McNeil.
Grey Whales – Late February To April (Migration Period)
Grey Whales are also known to frequent Vancouver Island on their migration route. Usually, the coast of Vancouver Island is in the middle of their route, either from Alaska to the Baja Coast of California (Mexico) or vice versa.
Scars left on their bodies by parasites are how you can identify a Grey Whale. The parasites drop off their bodies in colder waters (Vancouver Island and Alaska).
Usually, Grey Whales like to travel in small groups. Roughly a couple hundred will stop along Vancouver Island for feeding. They are the only whales that feed at the bottom of the ocean.
The island’s West side is the best location to see Grey Whales. The best areas to spot them are Ucluelet, Tofino, and Sooke (closer to the South of the island).
Porpoises are common to see while you are on your whale watching tour. Unfortunately, they often get their identities mixed up by people, so here are the two different porpoises and how to differentiate them.
Harbour Porpoise – Spring/Fall
Harbour Porpoises are commonly spotted along Vancouver Island. Dark brown or grey bodies and light grey bellies are the best way to identify them. They are the smallest *cetacean in British Columbia.
Likely to travel in small groups, usually two to five, unless near a forging area. They have triangular dorsal fins the same colour as their bodies.
Dall’s Porpoise – Late Summer Early Fall
Dall’s Porpoises are the second most commonly found porpoises on the coast of Vancouver Island. They have black bodies with white patches along their lower flanks to identify them. Like the Harbour Porpoise, they have a triangular dorsal fin but black with a white tip.
Their tails are usually outlined in white. Sometimes they can also look chunky.
Likely to travel in groups of two to 10, they are the fastest *cetacean in British Columbia at speeds up to 55 km/hour.
*Cetacean – marine mammal, including whale, dolphin, or porpoise.
The best tour for whale watching is this half-day whale watching tour out of Victoria. It is open year-round and highly rated, and many people rave about the excellent tour.
It is a three to four-hour adventure along Haro Strait on a semi-covered vessel. Not only will you see whales but also other marine life in their native habitats, for example, sea lions hanging out or birds flying overhead.
Included in this exertion are a captain and a crew of three-four knowledgeable and entertaining people — a free photo package of your trip, your group, and wildlife. And children’s colouring books and educational guides.
However, the best parts included in this half-day whale watching tour are complimentary beverages on board the vessel, washrooms, and a *Lifetime Whale Sighting Guarantee!
Sometimes Mother Nature has other plans. *A Lifetime Whale Sighting Guarantee means that in an unlikely situation where there were no whale sightings on your trip. You are offered to join another whale watching tour for free.
What To Wear & Bring For Whale Watching Season
Here are some suggestions on what to bring for your whale watching tour on Vancouver Island.
✔ Seasickness medication (for motion sickness): First things first, if you are prone to motion sickness, I highly recommend getting Gravol – for my fellow non-Canadians reading this, Dramamine.
Remember to double-check and make sure it is non-drowsy; otherwise, you might accidentally fall asleep on your tour!
✔ Binoculars: An absolute must on any whale watching trip is to bring binoculars. You will want to take advantage of what is on the horizon and look closely at the whales.
✔ Warm clothing: It will be windy and cold. I suggested wearing a few layers with a windbreaker or a warm waterproof jacket on top and long pants. Bring a toque or beanie if you want to stay warmer.
✔ Proper shoes: The last thing you want is to slip and fall on board. So make sure to wear close toes shoes!
How To Get To Vancouver Island
How to get to Vancouver Island is easy. But suppose you are travelling to the island to go whale watching. In that case, you should make a Vancouver Island road trip to ensure you get the whole island experience.
One way of getting to Vancouver Island is using the B.C. Ferries. From Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay will get you to Victoria. Or the other route Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, will get you to Nanaimo.
The second way of getting to the island is flying. You can fly out from Harbour Air which is a seaplane.
However, most people tend to take the ferry route because it is the primary connection to the island.
Is Whale Watching Worth It On Vancouver Island? – FAQs
What To Look For When Whale Watching?
There are a few things to look for when whale watching. First, scan the horizon and look for any breaks in the water. Spouts or blows are the most distinctive when looking for whales. Dorsal fins and tail flukes are also something to look for too.
Blows are the best way to know that there are whales in the area; they are all distinctive.
Grey Whales have a double-blow-hole, making their spouts look like a heart shape or a “V.” Humpbacks usually have a tall column-shaped blow. And Killer Whales have a wide-bushy blow.
Does Time Of Day Matter For Whale Watching
The short answer is no. The time of day does not matter for whale watching. Whales are doing their thing all hours of the day and night. But tours have their hours for when they operate (lol).
However, morning or sunset hours tend to have calmer waters and quieter if you prefer less commercial activity and choppy water.
Is Whale Watching Dangerous
Whale watching is a very safe industry. Tour vessels and operators are trained and aware of the steps to ensure that the whales and your safety come first.
However, when choosing a whale watching tour worldwide, please select a responsible and reputable one.
Conclusion: Is Whale Watching Worth It On Vancouver Island?
So, is whale watching worth it on Vancouver Island? Yes, it is! Whales are beautiful and majestic mammals. I hope you take the chance to see these whales in their native habitats on Vancouver Island.
Have a good day 🙂