A few years back I had a family member visit Vancouver from Europe. While she was here, she hopped on a ferry and went to Vancouver Island to go whale watching. As my relative raved about the beautiful orcas they saw that day, it occurred to me that I had never seen killer whales myself, despite having spent my entire life in Vancouver.
Last week I set out to change that, and spent an afternoon with B.C. Whale Tours in Victoria. The entire experience was amazing and I was surprised at just how much ocean wildlife there is so close to the harbour in Victoria.
An Afternoon with B.C. Whale Tours
The tour started from the harbour, downtown Victoria. After a quick chat with our captain, we boarded the vessel and were on our way.
B.C. Whale Tours operates four custom-built boats, designed to be as environmentally-friendly as possible. The boats are also fast, making the trip itself a lot of fun! Our boat had 4 rows of comfortable outdoor seating, a few indoor seats available with the captain’s chair, and a small bathroom.
As we left the harbour we had a great view of downtown Victoria. The harbour was active with river otters, harbour seals, sea planes taxiing for take off.
Our first stop was the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve, which is a Marine Protected Area at the eastern entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the Salish Sea.
Because of the location in a high tidal current area, there is an exceptional variety of marine life to be found, including marine mammals, sea birds, fish, marine invertebrates, and marine algae and sea grass. It is a haulout area for California and Northern sealions and a birthing rookery for Harbour seals and it is also the most northerly birthing colony on the Pacific Coast of North America for the elephant seal. [source]
Sidenote: There are webcams you can control from your computer set up on the island – check it out here.
Here we saw bald eagles, a golden eagle, harbour seals, steller sea lions, California sea lions, and elephant seals. Perhaps coolest of all, we got to hang out with a sea otter happily bathing in the sun!
The captain was very knowledgeable about the area and all the animals, explaining interesting facts about their behaviors and answering our questions. Seeing these massive animals so close and in such abundance was remarkable, and worth the tour in itself. However, we still had some whales to see…
The captain had some intel about two humpbacks in the area so we set off to see if we could find them. After zipping over to the area we saw a tail in the distance plunge into the water. We went ahead of its course and waited… Two minutes…. 4 minutes…. 8 minutes…. It was down deep below the surface feeding, and we had no idea when or where it would surface again…
After what felt like an eternity of anxiously awaiting… fwooosshhh!… the sound of the blowhole came up right behind the boat. The massive humpback whale took a quick breath of air and ever so gracefully arched its back and slipped its tail back into the ocean. Their grace has to be seen. Pictures and videos can never do such an encounter justice.
It was like this for the next 45 minutes with two humpbacks. Mamma humpack and her calf happily fed and swam around the boat. At one point the mother humpback surfaced a few dozen feet to the side of the boat, and a few seconds later the calf surfaced underneath the bow of the boat. It surfaced with such precision that if it was any closer it would have literally bumped the boat. It was unbelievable.
We said our goodbyes to the humpbacks and headed back to the dock.
While I unfortunately didn’t see any orcas (it’s a tad early in the season – although you are still likely to see them on any given outing), it was an unforgettable experience. You can check out some of the amazing photos B.C. Whale Tours has on Instagram and Facebook for proof of some of the encounters they have almost every day. Actually, don’t look at them, they’ll just make you jealous.
Overall, I can’t recommend an outing with B.C. Whale Tours enough. We were on the water for 4 hours and the time flew by. It’s tremendous value for the money.
If you book online for the month of May, you can use the code LUNA for a local’s rate!
Check out the full-resolution photos from the tour here.