When I traveled to Vancouver Island in June, what I wanted more than anything was to see whales. I have done whale watching before on the east coast in Halifax and St Johns, but the west coast was supposed to be so much better.
Before driving out to the island, I researched extensively the best spots to see whales and the best companies to tour with. I was impressed with the level of ethics that goes into modern day whale watching. There are guidelines in place to keep the whales safe, which, as an animal lover and naturalist, I truly appreciate. It made me feel good about going out, knowing that these companies do all that they can to give the whales their space and avoid collisions.
This shows how boats are required to position themselves around whales
A boat that has spotted whales will fly this flag to alert other boats in the areas.
The first place on Vancouver Island that I went whale watching was in Tofino with Ocean Outfitters. Tofino has so many whale watching companies, and they are all similarly priced, so my reason for picking Ocean Outfitters was actually their store front. The atmosphere in the shop welcomes you; there is a coffee bar in the corner with plush leather couches and beautiful photo adorn the walls. They offer an amazing selection of local interest books (I buy a couple every time I visit Tofino!) as well as great selection of gear and clothing. As a social media specialist, their marketing is stunning. Their logo is aboslutely beautiful and perfectly suits the company and pays homage to the history and culture of the west coast. In a town where whale tours are the life blood of so many companies, Ocean Outfitters stands out as the cream of the crop.
The tour starts at their shop front, getting outfitted in an ocean survival suit and an introduction to your skipper. For the tour, I chose to go out on the smallest boat, the 12 person zodiac. It promised to offer the most up-close-and-personal whale experience. The skipper knew where the whales had been spotted that day and where they were feeding, so he could bring us out to a known whale hot spot. As the skipper toured the boat out of the harbor and up along the coast, he pointed out land features and talked about some of the local wildlife, answering peoples questions. We hadn’t been out on the water long before the skipper slowed the boat down and told us to keep our eyes peeled for blow spouts, the distinctive jet of water that comes from a whale breathing as they breach the surface. Sure enough, within a minute or two, a blow spout was spotted a couple hundred meters from the boat!
Our skipper explained that what we were seeing was a grey whale feeding. It was feeding on the bottom, so it would dive down, coming back to the surface every few minutes for a breath. Everyone on the boat got good at recognizing the pattern: Blow spot meant that the whale was about to dive again, so watch for the whales back!
We visited a number of different whales up along the coast at various feeding spots, never staying for too long at any one spot so as not to disturb the whales. The boat ride was absolutely gorgeous, and is a great way to view the coast line around Tofino. I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone visiting Tofino. Be sure to pick up on of Ocean Outfitters rad hats in store! It is my favorite souvenir from Tofino.
Whale watching location number two of the trip was in Victoria. I had never visited the city before, but everything about it screamed ‘come here to see whales!’
See what I mean?
My tour operator of choice in Victoria was Prince of Whales Whale Watching. With a name like that, how could you go wrong?
Once again, I chose to go out on the smallest boat, another 12 person zodiac. This tour is definitely more commercial and less personal than the tour in Tofino, but no less awesome. Our skipper was hilarious, cracking jokes and pointing out landmarks as he steered us out to the open ocean.
A couple of porpoises made a brief appearance.
The weather that day was very moody, but the ocean was perfectly calm and made for gorgeous photos. The first half an hour or so was uneventful as we travelled out in search of whales; a couple of porpoises popped up near the boat but then nothing. Until… splash!
Straight ahead of us something very large had just jumped out of the water.
And then there it was again! The skipper explained to us that what we were seeing was a juvenile humpback whale who was feeling particularly playful that day. The juvenile and his mother were feeding at the surface and the little guy was putting on a show.
Look at that giant mouth!
Just because the boats won’t approach a whale, doesn’t mean that the whales don’t get close! When the whale tour boats see whales, they stop a couple hundred meters away to give the whales their space; they cut the engine and sit tight and the whales will swim upto, under and past the boats in close proximity!
After seeing a number of different humpback whales, our skipper turned the boat back towards the shore, but not straight back to the harbor. He toured us around Race Rocks Marine Ecological reserve, a haven for a huge variety of ocean life!
California and stellar sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters were just a few of the animals that we spotted around the islands that are known as Race Rocks.
A picturesque lighthouse at the research station on Race Rocks
The tour with Prince of Whales was incredible. Everything went perfectly right, the weather was good, the ocean was beautiful and the wildlife was abundant. Definitely add this to your west coast bucket list.
The biggest disappointment of the trip was not seeing Orcas, but the rest of the wildlife more than made up for that, and hey there is always next time! The best way to end a day on the water? With a trip to the Vancouver Island brewery; Their Black Betty Blackberry Saison is legitimately the BEST beer I have ever had.