Whether they are orca, gray or humpback whales, Vancouver Island has become one of the most famous whale watching destinations in the world.
Nearly 500 killer whales are found in British Columbia waters, while thousands of gray whales pass along the west coast on their way to feeding grounds off Alaska. Humpbacks whales also wander in and out of the west coast’s shoreline looking for nutritious feeding grounds.
There are dozens of whale watching charter companies on Vancouver Island. Most of these companies are located in three distinct pockets of whale activity: Victoria, Telegraph Cove, and Tofino / Ucluelet.
What type of vessel will we travel in?
There are two main types of boats that whale watching companies use on Vancouver Island:
- Open Boats with Inflatable Pontoons
If you are a young adventure seeking traveler, this “Zodiac” style of open boat may be your best option. These tours usually seat 12 passengers and can be a little bouncy, so they are not recommended for folks with bad backs. Your whale watching company will outfit each passenger with a full floater suit, which will add to the exhilaration of the trip because it makes you feel like a true explorer. The advantages of this type of vessel are open air seating and a little more speed and action than other vessels. The disadvantages are the potential for back trouble and if it rains, you will get soaked.
- Covered Aluminum Vessels
These boats tend to be larger and may carry more passengers than a Zodiac: anywhere from 12 to around 100 passengers. There is usually an open air deck or viewing area, which can make it a bit easier to photograph whales during the tour. Obviously these types of boats are better suited for bad weather, and they usually provide a smoother ride and easier loading, which makes covered whale watching vessels the first choice for older passengers.
What will we see?
In Victoria and the Telegraph Cove area one can expect to see the the wolves of the sea: orca whales (akakiller whales).
Along the west coast of the island near Tofino or Ucluelet, you are likely to spot gray whales, but a keen-eyed observer may spot humpbacks and possibly orcas as well.
For more about the difference in these destinations, see our whale watching locations page.
Remember that a whale watching trip isn’t just about seeing leviathans. Expect to see other sea mammals and lots of sea faring birds as well.
How much does it cost?
We knew you would ask. Expect prices to vary depending on the tour’s location and the type of vessel you travel in. We have seen whale watching charters for as low as $70, but this is usually a discounted rate. With taxes and fuel charges included you should expect to pay about $100 per passenger.