Published by Mika

Planning your whale-watching tour

When is the best time of day to go whale-watching?

What’s the best time of year to see orcas?

Which kind of boat is better—open or covered?

These are common questions from our guests, who often start planning their trips to Vancouver Island a year or more in advance. Flights, hotels, and transportation all need to be sorted out, but let’s look at the most important thing—the whales!

What kind of whales do we see and when? Whale sightings around the Salish Sea are changing. A few years ago, salmon-eating resident orcas were regularly spotted from May through October, feeding on chinook salmon, their staple diet. But due to a drastic decline in the abundance of chinook salmon in recent years, we’re seeing them less often. When they do appear it tends to be later in the season.

On the other hand, we’re having record sightings of mammal-eating transient (aka Bigg’s) orcas feeding on seals, sea lions, porpoise and occasionally, larger whales. Transient orcas can be seen anywhere in the Salish Sea, at any time of year.

(For more information on the different orca ecotypes in this region, see “Why are there so many different types of killer whales?”)

Humpback whales have made a spectacular comeback in the Salish Sea over the last 20 years. In recent years, we’ve seen up to 60+ animals on some tours, especially in late summer and fall. Most humpbacks go south to places like Mexico and Hawaii in the winter, although in recent years a few hardy individuals seem to be sticking around all year!

On our spring, summer and fall tours we may also see minke and gray whales, and even an occasional fin whale! We also get two types of porpoise—shy harbour porpoises and extroverted Dall’s porpoises, which often like to ride our bow wave!

How do we find the whales? As our vessels get ready to leave the dock in the morning, we consider sightings from the previous day. We also use our knowledge of the travel habits of the whales to decide where to start searching. We coordinate with other companies to cover more area, and we all share sightings information.

We also have an extensive network of people who call in with sightings from shore, ferries, fishing boats, private vessels and sometimes even float planes. This ensures a high sightings success rate. We’re usually able to find whales very early in the day.

When is the best time of day to go? The whales aren’t more active at any particular time of day, so we suggest choosing a tour that works best for your schedule and booking well in advance.

We strongly recommend leaving yourself a bit of free time after the tour. Our company is well-known for extending tours as needed—depending on weather, and location and behaviour of the whales—to ensure you get an amazing experience. We’ll literally go the extra mile (or 50!) as needed. Nature is flexible, and so are we!

When it comes to boats, we have two different styles to choose from: open and semi-coveredEach one offers something a little different.

Looking for a thrilling ride through the Salish Sea and the exhilaration of salt spray on your face? Check out our high-speed open scarabs. New hairdo guaranteed.

Does your preference lean toward comfort and warmth? Our semi-covered catamarans give you the best of both worlds, with a heated indoor cabin, as well as plenty of viewing space on the outer decks.

All vessels are equipped with washrooms (marine heads) and you’re invited to bring food and non-alcoholic drinks with you as well. We offer extra gear to keep you warm—stylish cruiser suits on the open boats, and windbreaker jackets on the catamarans. Hats, gloves and sunglasses are available as well.

We’ve crunched the numbers from the past year and they’re presented below to help you plan your next trip to Victoria. Keep in mind that our whale guarantee runs from May 15 to Oct. 31.

  • Whale-Watching Tours (May-October): whales spotted 99.5% of days
  • Winter Wildlife Tours (November-April): whales spotted 70.5% of days