With three distinct coastlines (bordered by the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic oceans) totalling over 200,000 km, Canada is one of the best places in the world to see whales in the wild. People travel from around the world just to see them, so we’re incredibly lucky to have these amazing creatures in our own backyard. We’re excited to offer several tours in 2021 that include whale watching in some of the best places across Canada. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see them for yourself!
What kind of whales are found in Canada?
There are over 30 species of cetaceans (the scientific term for the group of marine mammals that includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises) in Canadian waters. All cetaceans are divided into two groups: toothed whales (odontocetes) and baleen whales (mysticetes). The main difference between them is how they catch their food. Toothed whales have teeth they use to catch fish, squid, and occasionally mammals or birds. Instead of teeth, baleen whales have multiple rows of keratinous plates known as baleen. These plates function like a sieve to trap zooplankton and other small, schooling fish.
The most common toothed whales in Canada include sperm whales, orcas (killer whales) beluga whales, narwhals, and beaked whales, as well as all dolphins and porpoises.
The most common baleen whales in Canadian waters include humpback whales, grey whales, minke whales, fin whales, blue whales, wright whales, and sei whales.
All about orcas
Orcas (killer whales) are one of the most widely recognized marine mammal species in the world thanks to their unique colouring and star status. But did you know the orca is actually the largest species of dolphin? The coast of BC is one of the best places to see them in the wild because it’s home to three distinctly different types of killer whales: resident, Bigg’s, and offshore. These three groups do not interbreed, have completely different diets, and even sound different.
Resident killer whales are separated into two populations, northern residents and southern residents. As indicated by their name, northern resident killer whales are most commonly seen around northern Vancouver Island and along B.C.’s Central and North Coasts. Southern resident killer whales are commonly seen in the Salish Sea within the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and around the San Juan Islands. Both types of residents only eat fish, preferably salmon.
Bigg’s (formerly called transient) killer whales range all along the western coast of North America, from Alaska to southern California. They are found along the B.C. coast year-round, and are often sighted nearshore where harbour seals, sea lions, and harbour porpoise (their prey) are most common.
Offshore killer whales do not enter coastal areas frequently and encounters are less likely on a whale watching tour. They eat only fish but their diet is dominated by sharks.
What is the best place and time of year to see whales in the wild?
Well, the answer to that questions depends on which species you are most interested in, as each has their own migration pattern. It’s important to remember that whales are wild animals, and it’s impossible to predict their location with 100% accuracy. While sightings can’t be guaranteed, you can improve your chances by choosing a knowledgeable whale watching outfitter and doing some research on the best time to spot the species you’re interested in.
Whale watch with us!
Check out some of our upcoming tours that include a whale watching component. We’ve done all the research for you and have chosen an advantageous time of year and knowledgeable, safe, ethical whale watching outfitters for each tour. Whenever possible we also choose private charters to ensure the tour can cater specifically to our group.
Look for Whales at Both Ends of Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island from Toe to Tip – May 2021
On this tour we’ll not only explore all the highlights of Vancouver Island from toe to tip, but we’ll also enjoy two privately chartered whale watching tours at both ends of the island. Our first excursion takes us off the coast of Victoria as we cruise past the southernmost point of Vancouver Island at Race Rocks. This protected area is home to plenty of marine wildlife including orca and humpback whales. At the north end of the island we board a five-hour private charter looking for orca and minke whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall’s porpoises, Steller sea lions, and a great variety of sea birds. The vessel is equipped with a hydrophone (an underwater microphone), so we can listen to the whales’ vocalizations.
Itinerary from BC Interior: May 16 (9 days) or May 23 (9 days)
Itinerary from Vancouver Island: May 17 (8 days) or May 24 (8 days)
Itinerary from Lower Mainland: May 16 (9 days) or May 23 (9 days)
Have a Beluga Encounter in Churchill, Manitoba
Churchill Beluga Whales – July 2021
Churchill is perhaps best known as the polar bear capital of Canada, but it’s also a prime spot for viewing beluga whales at the estuary of the Churchill River near Hudson Bay. In July and August, thousands of belugas migrate into the warm, shallow waters of the Churchill River estuary in order to feed and calf. Although this tour features beluga whales, you’ll also gain a full perspective of the region, history, and eco-systems. As well as two boat excursions to see the belugas up close, we include a Tundra Buggy ride to experience the Arctic environment, a tour of Prince of Wales Fort, museum visits, a town tour, and a dog carting excursion. Our Churchill tour operator has been arranging tours here for three decades and boasts excellent naturalist guides with extensive knowledge in the natural and cultural heritage of the region. You might even have the opportunity to see the first of the summer polar bears as they begin their migration into the area.
Itinerary from BC Interior: July 30 (9 Days)
Itinerary from Vancouver Island: July 30 (9 Days)
Itinerary from Lower Mainland: July 30 (9 Days)
Enjoy a Getaway Dedicated to Whale Watching on Vancouver Island
Victoria Whale Watching – August 2021
As the name suggests, the main focus of this tour is whale watching and it features three private charter cruises to view marine life in the Salish Sea. We begin with a four-hour cruise from Vancouver to Victoria where we explore the southern Gulf Islands and look for resident orca pods, migrating gray whales, or maybe minke or humpbacks. Our second cruise takes us from Victoria to Race Rocks, with opportunities for spotting even more whales and marine life. Our last cruise takes us back to Vancouver and gives us one last chance for a close encounter. This tour is a wonderful summer getaway for those who love the ocean and have whale watching on their bucket list.
Itinerary from BC Interior: August 24 (5 Days)
Itinerary from Lower Mainland: August 25 (3 Days)
Explore Vancouver Island from the Water
Vancouver Island with Small Ships – September 2021
(The Vancouver Island Departure of this tour is called Telegraph Cove and Zeballos Cruise)
To explore Vancouver Island properly, you have to get out of your car and head out on the water. This tour features a private cruise from Gold River to Zeballos, a whale-watching excursion at Telegraph Cove, and a cruise from Port Alberni to Bamfield through Alberni Inlet. At Telegraph Cove, we board a 70-person semicovered, custom-built vessel for a three-hour fully-guided whale and marine wildlife viewing excursion. We head out into Johnstone Strait and navigate the Broughton archipelago in search of orcas and humpback whales. Marine mammal experts are on board to bring the animals’ stories to life from the comfort of the cruiser. We’ll also have a chance to visit the Whale Interpretive Centre on Telegraph Cove’s boardwalk. The Centre is home to one of the best collections of marine mammal skeletons in British Columbia.
Itinerary from BC Interior: September 18, 2021 (7 Days)
Itinerary from Vancouver Island: September 18 (4 Days)
Itinerary from Lower Mainland: September 19 (6 Days)
Spot Whales, Puffins, and Icebergs in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve
Newfoundland Only – May/June 2022
Join one of our Newfoundland Only tours this May and June and you’ll be in for a treat. As part of our comprehensive tour of Newfoundland, we’ll enjoy a whale and puffin watching cruise in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve near St. John’s. These protected waters are one of the best feeding areas for whales in Atlantic Canada, most commonly humpback whales and minke whales. Immense numbers of seabirds also nest here during the spring and the reserve is home to North America’s largest Atlantic puffin colony. And don’t forget the icebergs, which should be plentiful at this time of year. Come with us and experience whale, puffin, and iceberg viewing in a single trip!
Contact Us to Find Out More!
If you love whales as much as we do, we hope you’ll join us on one of these special tours! Click on the links above or call your local office to get more information about any of these tours.