When Is the Best Time
The orcas usually approach the bay to rub against the pebbled beach in shallow water close to the shoreline, in as little as 1.8 m (6 feet) of water. It can be very close to the beach during high tide. The sea should be smooth and avoid windy days.
The chance to spot them increases if you stay overnight at the campground at Bere Point Regional Park. Select an ocean view site at this excellently located campground. It is serviced during summer only.
In the evening, we spotted humpback whales, and in the morning, we heard orcas rubbing on the pebbles. This rubbing ritual lasts from 15 minutes until 2 hours sometimes. Four different types of orcas occur here around Vancouver Island.
The rubbing ones are the northern residents. It is still unknown where the behaviour comes from. Is it a form of socializing or to get rid of parasites?
If you like to know more about the orcas and other occurring whales around Vancouver Island, check my Vancouver Island Whale Watching article.
Weather and Season Details
The precipitation of Vancouver Island's east coast is just 700-800 mm per year. In contrast, the west coast of the island is exposed to moisture-packed winds blowing from the Pacific Ocean and receives plenty of precipitation from October to March. Summers are in general, relatively dry.
Spring is always a great time to visit Vancouver Island. Daily temperatures range from 11-15 ºC. It's a great time for wildlife viewing. The Pacify grey whales are on their route to Alaska, Grizzly and black bears finish their hibernation looking for food along the shoreline.
From June through September, Vancouver Island is typically sunny and mild, the temperature at Malcolm Island ranges from 15-17°C but can occasionally reach 25°C.
Autumn (late September-October)
In fall, you may experience fog, especially in the morning, which could last until mid-day or even afternoon. The temperature is, on average, around 12°C during the day.
Vancouver Island enjoys a moderate and mild winter in most regions. Therefore outdoor activities such as fishing and hiking in the south-coastal areas are possible, even in January.
Best Months to Visit
Location and Tips
Spotting the orca rubbing behaviour or seeing whales offshore is a memorable experience. You could see humpback whales swimming close to the shoreline and listen to breathing orcas enjoying the pebbled beach.
The Orca's move their bodies against the pebbles on the beach. They are often rolling upside down, rubbing them along it. The accepted hypothesis why these whales rub on these specific beaches is that it’s a cultural behaviour for the Northern Resident Community of Orcas. Bere Point Beach is made up of millions of small smooth pebbles covering a long, wide gradual slope. Perfect conditions for an orca to rub themselves up against without harm.
To get the best experience and cause no disturbance to the whales, simply sit down, remain quiet, and watch the wonder happen. Orca Rubbing Beach and Bere Point Campsite Location Google Maps
A similar orca behaviour can be seen at Hanson Island. If you cannot make it to the island, check out the webcam. However, to experience orcas rubbing in this outstanding nature is simply unique.
Besides the orca's, eagles, dolphins, porpoise, sea lions, and humpback whales frequent the area.
Facts About Orcas and Killer Whales
The Orca is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family, of which it is the largest member. You can distinguish between four main types, the northern and southern residents, the transient (also called Bigg's), and the offshore whales. Although all belong to the same species, their social behaviour, diet, and look are different.
- Northern Resident Orcas can be found from Alaska to the coast of BC (British Columbia). They are salmon specialists, and chinook salmon make up the majority of their diet year-round. These whales rely on echolocation to find their prey. They follow the annual salmon migration and are the only orca community that rubs on the British Columbia coast.
- Southern Resident Orcas can be found from Central Vancouver Island to Puget Sound (Washington State). They are also fish eaters.
- Transient Orcas live along the west coast of North America, from California to Alaska. They are mammal-eaters, specializing in marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins, and sometimes calves or youngsters of grey whales and humpback whales. That's the reason that they are called "Killer Whale".
- The fourth type is the Offshore Orca, which lives in the northeast Pacific and feeds primarily from schooling fish.
Facts About Malcolm Island
"Malcolm Island is a place where humans go to create lasting memories." Situated off the northeast shore of Vancouver Island, you will find this hidden gem. It's relatively small in size (24 km (14 miles) long and 3 km (1.8 miles ) wide at its narrowest point. But Malcolm Island offers breath-taking scenery, tranquillity, great outdoor experiences, many wildlife viewing opportunities, and fascinating history.
BC Ferry to Malcolm Island
The ferry at Port McNeil departs year around several times to Sointula, the main town on Malcolm Island. The trip takes about half an hour and costs around 55 CAD (car + 2 person)
If you want to leave the Island, you should arrive early at the ferry terminal because the space for cars is limited. To get the early morning ferry at 7:55 am is almost impossible because many people park their car in the queue the evening before. During the summer months, BC Ferries uses a small ferry (~25 cars) compared to the wintertime when a larger ferry (~40 cars) is used. This makes the situation even worse.
There are only a few possibilities to stay overnight on Malcolm Island. You can either camp or stay in one of the view guesthouses. The chance to spot the rubbing orcas increases if you overnight at the campground at Bere Point Regional Park and select an ocean view site. Our favourite guesthouse is the Ocean Front Hotel. The view from your room and patio to the sea is spectacular. Request a room with a fireplace. Check out the high tide and spend some time at the orca rubbing beach at this specific time.
Bere Point Regional Park is about 6 km out of Sointula, where the ferry arrives. You need to pass Solintula and drive a view kilometres on a gravel road. It offers 27 campsites, with 11 offering a stunning view across Queen Charlotte Strait. It is directly located close to the Beautiful Beach, which can be hiked via the Beautiful Bay Trail.
The campground doesn't provide power and has pit toilets only. You need to bring adequate drinking water. The campground is serviced during summer only. Another option is the Harmony Shores Campground.
Public showers, washrooms, laundry facilities, and water are available at Rough Bay harbour, which you pass when driving to Bere Point. Although the oceanfront sites cost 4 CAD more (2017), it's worth getting one of them. You should choose site 1-11 or A-E. Reservation campground Bere Point
There are several lovely picnic day-use areas at Bere Point for public use if you can't stay overnight.
If you get hungry, don't miss the Burger Barn at the Marina; it opens seasonal from Thursday to Monday. They offer fresh local seafood burgers with fries and homemade coleslaw.
The Co-Op store is closed on Sundays and Mondays, but you may get what you need at the Co-Op Gas Station which is open daily.
Three orca pictures were taken by my friend Chris