Vancouver Island Whale Watching - Orcas

Vancouver Island Whale Watching - Orcas

Canada
Canada

When Is the Best Time

Vancouver Island, where you experience the sheer beauty and wilderness of mother nature. Besides, it is one of the top locations in the world to spot orcas close either on a whale-watching cruise or even in a kayak. Due to the high number of orcas around Vancouver Island, it’s almost guaranteed to spot them when you come in the right season. 

Whale Watching Season | Overview

Pod of Orcas at a whale watching trip on the east site of Vancouver Island

The best time for whale watching around Vancouver Island is from May to October. You can watch orcas, humpbacks, gray whales, and minkes around the island. Tours are usually offered from March onwards. Read my full guide on when to spot all these cetaceans exactly and where.

Transient Orcas

Big transient orca in the Johnston Strait

Transient feed on marine mammals like seals, dolphins, and even whale calves. Around 30 pods of the transient orcas occur here, but they are smaller in number. Roughly 160 orcas all together; usually spotted from May to October.

Resident Orcas (Southern and Northern)

Resident Orcas in the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Southern are best seen from May to September/October. They are feeding mainly on fish. It’s a feast when the migrating salmon arrives in the Strait of Georgia to the Gulf Islands. These islands are located between Vancouver and Victoria. Three pods occur around Victoria, roughly 100 whales.

Orcas close to the shore of Vancouver Island

Northern residents are often easier to spot in the later summer months of July, August, and the beginning of September when they feed in the Johnstone Strait. The pods are smaller than in the south but overall a higher number of orcas; more than 200 whales.

Humpback Whales

Humpbacks breaching

They are most common from April to November in the Strait of Georgia. North of Vancouver Island, but we also spotted them on a whale watching trip from Victoria. Humpbacks are easier to see because of their white flukes and belly. It’s a memorable experience to see these whales breaching.

Gray Whales

Over 20k Gray Whales migrate from Mexico to the Bering Sea in Alaska to their summer feeding grounds in March and April, fewer already in May. Some stay around Vancouver Island. When they migrate back to Mexico, they can be seen best in November. Mostly they are spotted along the west coast seldom in the east. They feed in shallow waters. These whales look utterly prehistoric if you get the rare chance of seeing them breaching. Difficult to spot due to their colour. Unfortunately, I hadn't spotted any gray whale yet.

Other Sightings

Sea Lions on Race Rocks Lighthouse Island

Dolphins, seals and, sea lions are spotted around Vancouver Island often. However, minke, beluga, fin whale, and porpoises occur but rare to spot—highest chance to spot a Minke around Victoria. The Minke whales prefer the tropical waters the reason you may spot them in the warmer summer months around Vancouver Island only. Though I went on many whale watching trips around the globe and I hadn't spotted any in my life.

A group of orcas close to a guided kayak tour at Vancouver Island
What a thrilling experience to watch orcas up close from a kayak just next to you.

Amazing Trips from Victoria, Vancouver Island

 

 

Weather Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island in the early morning with mist on the surface of the sea

The weather has a huge impact if whales can be spotted well. It is much easier on a calm day without high waves and a clear sky. Vancouver Island experiences much rainfall in the west in autumn and winter. At the same time, the east and especially the area of Victoria is drier. The climate is mild in comparison to the rest of Canada. Continue reading for my climate details and the amount of precipitation you have to expect.

Spring (April-June)

Spring at Vancouver Island - Landscape with fisher boat and lighthouse

Days can be pleasant in April around 15°C/59°F, May, and June already above 20°C/68°F but also around 10°C/50°F. Usually, it’s partly cloudy or overcast. Nights are cold in April, on average around 7°C/45°F, May, and June roughly 10°C/. June is a lovely month for Vancouver Island before the peak season starts. Decreasing rainfall in spring, nevertheless, be prepared for all weather types.

Summer (July-September)

Summer on Vancouver Island - Mystic Beach

Summer is a wonderful time; the driest and sunniest of the year. However, July and August are the busiest due to the school holidays. It’s still pleasant until mid-September and quieter. Day temperatures are on average around 20°C/68°F often topping 25°C/77°F. Nights are colder around 12°C/54°F usually.

Autumn (late September-October)

Rainforest in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve late September

It’s a short transition from summer to winter. However, the fall foliage is spectacular on Vancouver Island. Mean day temperatures in October are above 10°C/50°F but can reach almost 20°C/68°F at the beginning. Nights are cool below 10°C/50°F.

Winter (November-March)

Tofino; MacKenzie Beach during winter after heavy rainfall with purple coloured sunset

From November to March, day temperatures range between 10-8°C to 50-46°F. It’s rather wet during winter. November experiences most of the precipitation. Nights are chilly but usually above freezing. Clear or cloudy skies occur, but it’s often overcast at this time of the year. It is snowing in higher elevation on the mountain range.

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Best Months to Visit

Jan
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May
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Oct
Nov
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Location and Tips

Vancouver Island, Victoria
Canada
Canada

Vancouver Island part of British Colombia is 469 km (291 mi) long and wide maximum of 100 km (62 mi). Whale Watching tours are operated from Victoria, the towns of Ucluelet, Tofino on the west coast, and the east coast from Nanaimo, Campbell River, and Telegraph Cove. Most tour operators are located in Victoria.

Ferry Details for Vancouver Island

BC Ferry to Vancouver Island

The ferry crossing from Vancouver to Victoria takes 1.5 hours, to Nanaimo 2 hours. You can also get to Victoria from the US from Port Angeles in the Olympic National Parc in the State of Washington. That takes a little more than 1.5 h. You may think it is not necessary to book the ferry in advance, but even after the busy peak season in July and August, ferries can be still fully booked.

Ferry Terminal BC Ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island

It’s already time-consuming arriving an hour before departure at the ferry terminal and waiting for boarding with your rental or own car. It’s your only guarantee to get space on it at your wished time of day. If booking in advance, you also get the lowest fares. Weekdays are cheaper than weekends. When we travelled to Vancouver Island to the port of Nanaimo, it was still super busy in September.

Facts About the Orcas

Orca at Vancouver Island

The estimated world orca population is 40-60k. Orcas are toothed whales belonging to the dolphin family. Except for the killer whales, orcas live in strong social groups/pods their entire life. Males are on average 5.8-6.7 meters (19-22 ft.) long and females 4.9-5.8 meters  (16-19 ft.). The male dorsal fins are larger than the female fins. There are four different types of orcas around Vancouver Island:

  • Northern Residents
    These types of orcas are famous for their rubbing behaviour on pebbles. They are fish especially salmon eaters. These orcas are found from Alaska to the coast of BC.
  • Southern Residents
    They occur from Central Vancouver Island to Puget Sound in the US (Washington State). They are also fish eaters.
  • Offshore Orcas
    These orcas occur off the west coast. They are closely related to the resident populations. Usually, they travel in huge groups of up to 60 individuals. Also, the offshore orcas are fish eaters.
  • Transient Orcas – Killer Whales
    These orcas occur in small groups from California to Alaska. Their preferred prey are marine mammals like seals, sea lions, dolphins, and even calves or young whales.

Some pictures are provided by my friend and photographer Chris. I took all the other pictures. I have the copyright for those pictures.  If you like to use one of them get in contact with me.

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Created by
Micha Herber-Bleich
Micha Herber-Bleich
I love adventurous trips and my husband…