Vancouver Island part of British Colombia is 469 km (291 mi) long and wide maximum 100 km (62 mi).
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
The best time for whale watching around Vancouver Island is from March to October. You can watch orcas, humpbacks, grey whales, and minkes around the island. Orcas are usually best seen from May to October. However, read our full guide when to spot all these cetaceans exactly and where.
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)
Southern are best seen from May to Sep/Oct. 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.
Northern residents are often easier to spot in the later summer months of July, August, and 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; 16 pods and more than 200 whales.
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.
Over 20k Grey 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. These whales look utterly prehistoric if you get the rare chance of seeing them breaching. Difficult to spot due to their colour.
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.
Weather - Climate Vancouver Island
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 our climate details and how much precipitation you have to expect.
Days can be pleasant in April around 15°C, May, and June already above 20°C but also around 10°C. Usually, it’s partly cloudy or overcast. Nights are cold in April, on average around 7°C, 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 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 lovely until mid-September and quieter. Day temps are on average around 20°C often warm above 25°C. Nights are colder around 12°C usually.
Autumn (late September-October)
It’s a short transition from summer to winter. However, the fall foliage is spectacular on Vancouver Island. Mean day temps in October are above 10°C but can reach almost 20°C at the beginning. Nights are cool below 10°C.
From November to March, day temps range on average from 8°C to 10°C. It’s rather wet during winter. November experiences most of the precipitation. Nights are cold but usually above 0°C. Clear or cloudy skies occur, but it’s often overcast at this time of the year. Snow occurs in higher elevation on the mountain range.
Is Whale Watching in San Diego Worth It?
This is our complete San Diego whale watching guide with tips for each season and month. San Diego one of the best locations on the West Coast of the U.S. for whale watching, as 70 miles of coastline in this area is directly in their migration path. Migrating whales can be found off shore year-round and, depending on the season, different types of whales are more prominent than others. Get up close and personal with these incredible creatures with a cruise that specializes in whale watching and knows where to go for the best chances of connecting with the whales.
Whale Watching Season | Overview
The whale watching season in San Diego is split into two parts: You can spot gray whales in winter and spring. Usually from mid-December until late April. Blue whale sightings are possible in the summer from May to August. You can see Humpback whales, fin whales, and minke whales year-round.
The best time for whale watching in San Diego is in the morning. The sea is usually calmer compared to other times of the day. Also, perfect sea and weather conditions make it easier to spot whales from a greater distance. The season doesn’t matter so much, as whales can be spotted here at any time of the year.
Disclaimer: Although San Diego is one of the best areas for whale watching activities, we and the tour operators cannot guarantee stunnning whale sightings at certain times. Wildlife on our planet is not 100% predictable. However, tour operators usually offer a free voucher for another tour in the seldom case no sightings happened.
Recommended Whale Watching Tour | Pre-Book
The image above takes you to our preferred tour! While almost every whale watching tour operator is great in San Diego, we prefer the Hornblower Tours for three reasons:
- They have the largest boat which makes it less likely to get seasick
- They probably have the most experienced captain
- Their staff is extremely professional, knowledgable and very friendly
Reserve a spot here: San Diego Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruises by Hornblower (via GetYourGuide with excellent service). Important: Pre-booking is highly recommended(!), as tours sell out quickly and you run the risk of not getting a spot. Read more details about the Hornblower Tour and other tour tips in our Whale Watching Tour Tips section below.
Monthly Reports | San Diego Whale Sightings and Weather
In January, you can spot gray whales, humpback whales, dolphins, and other whales. Weather: 66°F (average high) and 6 rainy days. Typical sightings: ‘A pair of gray whales popped up. They were surfacing for breathes and then went for deep dives. Fascinating! We also saw a pod of about 50 Risso Dolphins and over 200 common dolphins acting playful’
In February, you’ll most likely see gray whales and dolphins on a tour, maybe Humpback and others as well. Weather: 66°F (average high) and 7 rainy days. Typical sightings: ‘On the morning tour we encountered a total of 4 southbound gray whales, as well as a few Pacific White-Sided Dolphins and at least 20 common dolphins around our boat’
In March, gray whales are still migrating along the coast. Humpback whales, dolphins and other types of whales are possible. Weather: 67°F (average high) and 7 rainy days. Typical sightings: ‘We saw three northbound gray whales, two adults, and a calf. Throughout the day we encountered a total of 14 gray whales, at least 10 of them in close proximity to the boat. Unforgettable!’
In April, you usually have the last chance to see a gray whale on its migration. You may even spot a baby gray whale with its mother. Additionally, dolphins and perhaps Humpbacks or fin whales are possible, sometimes even a blue whale already (but, that’s kind of rare in April). Weather: 68°F (average high) and 4 rainy days. Typical sightings: ‘We spotted one northbound gray whale on its migration. It surfaced quite often. What a sight! On the way back we were accompanied by a pod of 100+ dolphins.’
In May, the blue whale season usually officially begins with many of them circling not too far from the San Diego coast. The largest creature ever existed on our planet! Weather: 70°F (average high) and 3 rainy days. Sighting Example: ‘On our morning trip we encountered a total of three blue whales and one fin whale, as well as a megapod of common dolphins. One of the blue whales seemed comfortable close to our boat which provided excellent looks and resulted in a great experience!’
June is another month with great opportunities for blue whale sightings, as it’s still their peak season. Weather: 72°F (average high) and 1 rainy day. Typical sighting: ‘We encountered one blue whale not too far from us. This one spent quite a while at the surface for excellent photo opportunities. And again, a pod of at least 50+ playful dolphins. A great trip!’
In July, you can not only see blue whales, it’s possible to spot fin whales and humpbacks in San Diego water. Weather: 75°F (average high) and 1 rainy day. Sighting report: ‘We came across three different whales: One humpback, one blue whale, and one Bryde’s whale! All three were amazing, but the highlight was the blue whale. It was so close and then even swam underneath our boat for 3(!) times. What an exciting close-up encounter!’
August is the last month where you have a good chance to spot the incredible blue whales Other whale sightings are possible as well. Weather: 79°F (average high) and 1 rainy day. A sightings report from a day in August: ‘No signs of a blue whale today. However, we saw a minke whale and a humpback. The minke whale was really close to our boat and was even swimming belly-up! What an amazing experience to watch! We also saw two big pods of playful dolphins.’
In September, you might still see blue whales, but it’s not very likely to spot them on one single tour at this time of the year. Weather: 77°F (average high) and 1 rainy day. Sighting report from one tour: ‘Again a calm sea and great visibility on our morning tour. That’s why we could easily spot some spouts in a distance. Two humpback whales produced these. Both were later close enough to our vessel for stunning photos and an unforgettable sight. Additionally, we happened to come across a megapod of about 1000 common dolphins!’
In October, you may come across humpback whales and possibly some rare whale sightings, as well as pods of dolphins of course. Weather: 75°F (average high) and 3 rainy days. Sighting example: ‘A passenger spotted a spout in a greater distance. We identified a humpback whale which approached our boat later, providing a stunning sight! We also saw pods of dolphins and one hammerhead shark during our tour.’
November has a good chance of seeing humpback whales as they migrate south. While rare, it’s also possible to spot exotic species like killer whales. Weather: 70°F (average high) and 4 rainy days. Sightings report: ‘The weather and sea conditions, as well as the sightings, were spectacular today. We encountered a total of eight(!) humpback whales on our morning tour. We observed their mighty spouts and took some incredible photos!’
In December, you can spot gray whales again, as they leave their feeding area in Alaska waters, migrating to the south along the coast. To spot them join a tour from mid-December. Before that, it’s more likely to see a humpback whale. Weather: 66°F (average high) and 6 rainy days. Sighting report: ‘Besides pods of dolphins greeting us, we spotted two southbound gray whales on this tour right before Christmas. They didn’t get too close to our boat but we were able to take enough amazing photos!’
Winter and Spring Whale Watching
A gray whale in San Diego waters
- Season/Months: Mid-December until late April
- Whales: Gray Whale
- Recent Sighting Record: It’s not uncommon that you may see a pair of gray whales. It gets even better: Recently in a January, the passengers on one tour spotted 20(!) gray whales. That’s absolutely breathtaking!
Every winter and into spring, the magnificent gray whale (up to 20,000 of them!) migrates south from Alaska down to Baja, California. That’s about 10,000 miles. The gray whale is huge – about the width of a basketball court (50 feet) and weighing up to 40 tons. To see them in the wild is truly a treat. Their goal is to reach the warmer waters so that the females can give birth to their calves. Then, when their offspring are strong enough, they head back north to Alaska around April.
San Diego whale watching in January is when things just start to heat up in the whale-watching world. A telltale sign that the Grey Whale is close by is the spout of water you will see off in the distance. The curious ones will come right up to the boat, and your heart wells with excitement to see such a humongous and mysterious creature so close in the flesh. Other Baleen whales and Toothed whales are also common sightings. And let’s not forget the harbor seals, green sea turtles and many species of birds that may choose to say “Hi!” to you along the way.
Further, in the winter season, the whale watching in March is when things start to slow down for gray whale sightings as they start their journey back up north. But that’s not to say that things cannot be any less exciting! You just never know when you will come across one or an entire pod of them. You might even see moms with their calves in April.
Summer and Fall Whale Watching
A nearby blue whale. Stunning!
- Season/Months: May until August
- Whales: Blue Whale [Fin Whale: Peak Season, Bryde’s Whale (rare) in July/August/September]
“Look! That blue whale just surfaced right beside us, so close to the boat! WOW!!” That’s what I said to my teammate when we went on a tour in August three years ago. It was so stunning!
Each summer the blue whale migration brings hundreds of blue whales near the coast of San Diego. You can spot blue whales usually from May until August. Sometimes they can even be seen as early as April or later in September when the blue whale season ends. Theoretically, you may also spot them at any other time of the year near San Diego, but that’s not very likely.
The blue whale is even larger than the gray whale. In fact, it’s the largest animal on earth and even larger than a dinosaur! San Diego sees the largest group of 2,000 to 3,000 blue whales feeding off the coast during the summer months. They can get as long as 100 feet and spout columns of water up to 30 feet. So, you can imagine that this is a great way to spot one, even from miles away! These guys will migrate from Antarctica to California. That means pods of blue whales pass by the coast of San Diego as they travel further north. Blue whales are usually found further out to sea, whereas the gray whale tends to keep closer into the shores of California.
Year-Round Whale Watching | + Dolphins
A humpback whale near San Diego
- Whales: Humpback Whale, Fin Whale, Minke Whale
- Dolphins: Common Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, Risso's Dolphins
- Recent Sighting Record: Usually it’s possible to come across one, two or even three Humpbacks on a single tour. However, a recent record for humpback whales was 7 on a tour in December 2017. Once we saw a humpback breaching at least 10 times throughout the tour!
- Recent Dolphin Sighting Record: Often you see dozens of dolphins. However, once there was megapod of about 1000 dolphins spotted on one tour!
Surfacing juvenile humpback whales are common during every season. They might even hang out in the same area of water for weeks. One of the glorious things to witness is a pod of dolphins feeding right alongside a whale or two. Humpbacks tend to move around the water a bit more than others, sometimes even zig-zagging close to your boat. Their spouting and particularly their breaching behavior are truly spectacular. Regardless if they are up close near the boat or in the distance. While you can spot humpbacks throughout the year, there is often a peak in March and April for them.
Minke whales are smaller and are able to swim underneath the boat as they are checking out the tourists (that is, if they are so inclined!) They have white sides and “Minke Mittens” which are white on its flippers.
Fin whales can be seen in San Diego waters especially in the summer months. They’re incredible it is the second-largest species on our planet after the blue whale! Its color is black or dark brownish-grey. However, the underside is white.
More ocean life: On a tour, you can experience even more fascinating ocean life such as White-sided Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, and the Common Dolphin. They are usually sighted on a boat tour every season. The only dolphins that are not all-year-round are the white-sided variety, which typically show up in the winter months. They migrate down here from the Pacific Northwest waters. Dolphins are very playful and eager to interact with the tour boats. Risso’s dolphins can also be found, although they are rarer in these waters. You may also witness sea lions, several species of sharks and many different sea birds. The Mola Mola fish, a species of ocean sunfish, is also spotted in summer off the shores of San Diego.
Rare Sightings | Orca (Killer Whale), False Killer Whale, Pilot Whale, etc.
On a San Diego whale watching tour you could even see some rare species. Some of them are spotted less than 6 times a year and some every other year only.
Tarifa is the Southernmost town on the European continent and known worldwide as the capital of wind. Tarifa is popular for whale and specifically orca watching in the Strait of Gibraltar.
Whale watching tours are offered from April to October. The duration of the orca whale watching trips in the morning during summer is roughly 3 hours. All other trips are approximately 2 hours long. The years 2018 and 2019 were different; fewer orca sightings. Instead, more sperm whales were spotted in May and June. Very unusual orcas were spotted again in October. Therefore, we can give you an idea of what you may see and when, but marine life is not predictable and guaranteed. It's always worth a try. We recommend booking at least two trips at different times of the day. One thing is guaranteed; YOU get addicted to it.
Tarifa is the capital city of wind. From time to time the Levante is too strong that neither fisher boats nor whale-watching boats can leave the harbour. In 2018 July was perfect with almost none wind, but instead, in August the boats couldn't leave the harbour for 17 days. Whereas in 2019 the Levante occurred less often and more exciting whale watching trips were possible. If there is too much fog in the morning whale watching trips are also cancelled. Book your trip in advance and confirm a day before.
Dolphins and Pilot Whales
Dolphins and Pilot Whales can be seen throughout the year. Pilot whales are night active diving deep for hunting their prey like squid. At daytime, they rest on the surface of the sea.
Orcas follow the tuna migration into the Mediterranean Sea and out. They come for the tuna in June and can be spotted until August. The tuna is too fast for them to catch with 90 km/h and orcas are clever. They only appear when the fishermen are out in the sea, and they try to catch their tuna from the hook. Tours are offered in July and August in the morning and last for about 3 hours all other whale watching tours last around 2 hours. In 2018 the orcas were spotted from the end of June until mid-July only. Instead, 2016 was an outstanding year for orcas. The big surprise there were sightings in October in 2018 which is unusual. Therefore, we can give you an idea when you might spot them, but wildlife is not predictable and guaranteed.
They can be spotted from April to August. They appear at the surface for about 8 minutes to breathe before diving again. 2018 and 2019 were exceptional years with plenty of sightings in 2018 in May and June for 12 days and 2019 from mid-September for eleven days.
They cross the Strait and can sometimes be spotted. In 2016 firmm had 27 sightings in one whale watching season. In 2019 they were already spotted on the first whale watching tour at the beginning of April.
The summer is the busiest time like elsewhere in Europe. Prices for hotels and apartments are on the highest level, and advanced booking is essential. Most of the rental houses are offered from Saturday to Saturday. Spring, September, and October are less busy and less expensive. However, the orca season runs from July to August only.
Where to Stay in Tarifa
It depends on what you like to experience in this region. If you just come for one day for whale watching it doesn't make sense to stay here. We spend a whole week in this area. Therefore, we'd chosen one of the many rental flats. Bookmark the link for the best-rated apartments around Tarifa. Don't miss the gorgeous Bolonia Beach and Dune. The dune is one of the largest shifting dunes in Europe.