Vancouver Island Whale Watching - Orcas
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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.
Vancouver Island part of British Colombia is 469 km (291 mi) long and wide maximum 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
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.
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 traveled to Vancouver Island to the port of Nanaimo, it was still super busy in September.
Facts About the Orcas
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 eater. They 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.