Dec. 16, 2020

Given everything going on in the world these days, we’re all looking for a safe and fun diversion this holiday season. Somewhere we can take our family or small social bubble. Somewhere in the fresh air away from crowds. Somewhere that will help us happily kick 2020 out the door!

Look no further than our big blue back yard—also known as the Salish Sea!

For Eagle Wing Whale and Wildlife Tours, this is our winter wildlife viewing season, with plenty of unforgettable viewing opportunities in and around the waters off southern Vancouver Island. You’ll be surprised at how much there is to see out there! More on that in a minute.

But first, know that safety is always our number one priority. Our extensive COVID-19 safety measures—praised by our guests over the summer and fall—remain in place and are as thorough as ever. They’re regularly reviewed and updated as new information comes in from public health authorities.

Learn more about what we’re doing to keep everyone safe—and what you as a guest can do to help—in Our Safety Pledge.

Also know that we’re continuing to offer a 20% discount for residents of the 13 municipalities within Greater Victoria, and a 10% discount for others. We offer gift certificates too!

Now back to the wildlife. And the fun diversion. What might you see out there? Here are our top seven winter wildlife wonders.

  1. Killer whales
Bigg’s killer whales / Photo by Selena Rhodes Scofield, Eagle Wing Tours

Well yeah, who doesn’t get excited seeing these guys? We certainly do. Roughly one in three of our winter wildlife tours encounter killer whales, also known as orcas. For our month by month whale sightings stats, read this.

There are two ecotypes of killer whale we see in the Salish Sea. They don’t hang out together, they act and sound different. They eat from completely different menus.

Bigg’s or transient killer whales chow down on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions and porpoises. They travel in small family groups and can show up anywhere, at any time of year. We’ve had lots of transient encounters in recent winters.

Southern resident killer whales eat fish and travel in large family groups known as pods. There are 74 whales in this critically endangered population, in three pods we call J, K and L. Residents are not often seen near Victoria in the winter, especially in recent years when salmon returns have been so poor. We don’t intentionally watch this ecotype, and focus instead on Bigg’s killer whales and other types of whales.

  1. Humpback whales
Humpback whale / Photo by Karac Lindsay, Eagle Wing Tours

There’s a very good chance to see humpback whales in December, especially this year with a dozen or so feeding in an area just west of Victoria. In January, we see them on roughly one in four tours!

Humpbacks are awesome. They’re the size of a city bus—just add a tail and two very long pectoral flippers, and you get the picture. We see humpbacks in the Salish Sea most months of the year, but most of them head to places like Mexico or Hawaii for the winter. Smart. Except they don’t eat there. Which is why a few of them linger in the Salish Sea as long as they can, scooping up those last few fish and krill calories before journeying south.

  1. Porpoises
Bow-riding Dall’s porpoise / Eagle Wing Tours

We get two types of porpoise in this region. The teeny and bashful “now you see me, now you don’t” harbour porpoise is a year-round resident.

The more extroverted Dall’s porpoise can also be seen any month of the year. If they’re feeling playful, these black and white speed demons will ride the bow waves of our boat, just for fun. They’ll put a smile on your face, guaranteed!

  1. Sea lions and seals
Steller sea lions / / Photo by Brendon Bissonnette, Eagle Wing Tours
Elephant seals: male (big guy), females and nursing pup (lower right)/ / Photo by Brendon Bissonnette, Eagle Wing Tours

In winter and early spring, hundreds of male Steller and California sea lions gather at several haulout sites near Victoria. Where are the girls, you ask? There are a few here, but most of them remain with their kids (born in the summer) back near the breeding grounds, which are north for Stellers and south for Californias. Meanwhile, the boys spend their days here dozing, getting fatter and bickering over rock space. Doesn’t sound fair at all.

Pudgy, doe-eyed harbour seals dot the rocks on many islands and reefs throughout this region. They’re here all year, much to our delight — and the delight of transient killer whales who see them as very tasty “rock sausages.”

Massive and goofy-looking elephant seals — the largest seal in the northern hemisphere — are seen in the Salish Sea, especially at Race Rocks. And especially in the winter, which is an important time for them. Breeding season runs from December to February and in the last few years we’ve had several squeaky pups born at Race Rocks!

  1. Sea otter
Ollie the sea otter on the rocks (left) with harbour seals
Photo by Valerie Shore, Eagle Wing Tours

What has a whiskered beaver-like face, is wrapped in the thickest fur coat in the animal kingdom and uses his chest as a dinner plate? Oh, and he has his own Facebook page, too. It’s our local sea otter celebrity, Ollie, who has made Race Rocks Ecological Reserve his home for the last few years.

Although we don’t see Ollie on every tour, he always puts smiles on our faces when we do. And in the winter, we often see him do something sea otters rarely do—he climbs out onto the rocks to hang with the seals or sea lions. We’re always astonished at how big he is!

  1. Bird, birds, birds…
Bald eagles at Race Rocks / Photo by Valerie Shore, Eagle Wing Tours

With a wingspan of more than two metres, striking yellow beak and talons, and dapper black and white plumage, an adult bald eagle is a regal sight. When they’re not at the rivers ripping apart rotting salmon (yuck), we often see them in the winter months perched atop a tall tree or rock, or plucking a fish out of the water. Or terrorizing gulls, which don’t like getting eaten, understandably.

This region is a birder’s paradise, especially in winter when we get an A-Z assortment of feathered friends. Not literally, but you know what we mean. Auklets, cormorants, geese, grebes, herons, loons, mergansers, murres, oystercatchers, phalaropes, peregrine falcons, pigeon guillemots, and gulls and ducks galore.

  1. The stunning view
Sunset at Race Rocks Ecological Reserve / Photo by Valerie Shore, Eagle Wing Tours

What’s this doing on a list of wildlife, you ask? Well, don’t get so wrapped up in gawking at the animals that you forget to savour the spectacular West Coast scenery surrounding you. Trust us, it’s the best therapy for your soul ever!

To book your winter wildlife tour, give us a call or book online!