Vancouver Island is one of the best places for whale watching in the wild. In addition to resident and transient orcas (killer whales), there is also a chance of seeing humpback, gray and minke species. The best time of the year for sightings is between May and October although it is possible to see them any time of the year.
Most of the whale watching companies have some sort of sighting guarantee that will enable you to come back for a complementary tour in the event of a no-whale trip.
We utilized such a guarantee ourselves when my family went whale watching out of Tofino a number of years ago. We spent an exhilarating half day out on the water searching for the elusive wild animals but came up short. About 5 years later we were able to take advantage of our guarantee and had success. It doesn’t matter how many times you see whales in their natural habitat, it is always a thrill – even for us locals!
Of course, when you go whale watching what you’re really doing is going on a marine adventure with the chance to also see seals, sea lions, bald eagles, cormorants and sea otters. You never know what you’ll see when you’re out on the water.
Honestly, they’re all pretty good. Everyone in this business is here because of their love of the sea, they are knowledgeable of the region and the creatures who call it home and are passionate about sharing it with their guests. Factors that may help you decide is your schedule, your location (a couple companies do offer a shuttle service) and the type of boat/experience you are looking for.
The two main types of boats used for whale watching here on Vancouver Island are referred to as closed or a covered vessel, or an open one. Closed or covered vessels include catamarans, sport fishing vessels and yachts while the open boats most commonly used for marine tours are zodiacs. Regardless of which boat you choose; the sights are the same.
Covered vessels are perfect for those who like to travel comfortably. They usually have a heated interior, washroom facilities and multiple viewing elevations allowing you to walk between vantage points and move indoors and outdoors at your convenience. They are recommended for children, for people with mobility concerns, for photographers and for those who don’t want to wear a cruiser suit. It’s also a good choice when the weather isn’t so nice.
A zodiac is a fast and exhilarating ride for the full salt-air thrill-seekers. Because it can be a little bumpy as you skim the ocean’s surface, it is not recommended for people with back or bone density issues or for pregnant women. It is surprisingly stable though and is recommended for people who may experience sea sickness.
You will experience the spray from the ocean and you can expect to be splashed at some point along the route. For this reason, be sure to talk to your captain before you leave if you have valuables – or a camera – that need to be secured in dry storage before you head out. You will be provided a Transport Canada-approved flotation suit (those full-length orange suits) to protect you from the ocean spray and help keep you warm. These are required on all zodiac tours.
Victoria is home to an extremely busy marine area. In addition to all the sea mammals and sea birds you might see while whale watching, you will have a front-seat view of sea planes landing and taking off, commercial fishing vessels, tugs, naval ships, yachts and sailboats, kite boarders, paddle boarders and kayakers, lighthouses and incredible mountain vistas. Book your once-in-a-lifetime marine adventure today.
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