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Whale watching on Vancouver Island

whales/tofino-beach[1]
My first mistake about Vancouver Island was thinking that it is similar in size to the Isle of Wight; actually it is nearly as big as England. However with a population of just 700,000, about half of whom live in Victoria, there is a lot of empty space here (though it is mostly filled with trees). There are some 4-500 cougars, 140 wolves and several thousand black bears. In fact it is thought that Vancouver Island has the highest density of bears and cougars in the world.

There are also whales, a lot of whales at certain times of the year. There are resident pods of Orca that live here all year round, plus in summer (May – October) many thousands of gray whales pass along the west coast, and many stay for the duration. Humpbacks also put in regular appearances during the summer. But not only do you have a choice of whales, there are different ways to see them too.

There are four main ways to watch the whales of Vancouver Island.

1. Travel to the Island by Ferry

Sitting on the upper deck at dusk as a pod of 30 Orca swim past in the other direction is a top way to travel.
Chance of seeing Orca. 5-10%.

2. From The Shore

There are plenty of vantage points around the coast where you can see whales from the shore. At certain times of the year, you don’t need a vantage point on some stretches of the coast. There are plenty of whales, Grey, Humpback and Orca, (I know I Know, technically they are not whales, but dolphins) as well as other fantastic sea life. There are plenty of seal colonies around the coast, but the underwater life is quite spectacular. The rocks and jetties are just festooned with sealife, urchins, anemones, and the most amazing display of starfish. Now when I was at school, all starfish were orange, had 6 arms and were about 8 inches across. Around the coast of Vancouver Island there are many varieties, different colours, and sizes, with the most amazing being the sunstar, with as many as 24 arms and up to 3 feet across.
Chance of seeing whales 10-20%
 
Whale watching in Canada. Courtesy of the CTC.
3. Whale Watch Boat.
There is a choice of venues for whale watch boats, but the main sites are Victoria and Tofino. From Victoria you will see Orca, and usually plenty of them. From Tofino, at the right time of year, you will see Grey whales, and if you are lucky Humpbacks and occasionally Orca too. The Grey whales appear from the south on their huge migration from their winter grounds off California. Many pass by but the inlets of the west coast of Vancouver Island provide shelter and feeding grounds for several hundred throughout the summer. The other benefit of Tofino is the landscape of forest clad mountains with a spectacular backdrop of Rocky peaks. There are plenty of seals and sea birds, as well as spectacular marine life (See above). And if you are really in luck, you might get a glimpse of a bear or two as they come down to search for seafood titbits on the shore.
Chance of seeing whales 95%.
 
4. Sea Kayak.
The most tiring, but definitely most rewarding. The sealife on the rocks is quite extraordinary, and you are that much closer when you are in a canoe. Yet the excitement of kayaking where there are 3-4 30+ ton whales frolicking in the shadows is just something quite extraordinary.
Chance of seeing Whales 50-80%.