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Looking for the Wild Things on a Campbell River Marine Wildlife Tour

If you need a nature fix, Vancouver Island and the Discovery Islands off its east coast are an ideal destination. The ocean here is known for its wild currents, whirlpools and standing waves. It’s also an area that is spectacularly good for viewing seabirds and marine life.

The currents are wild in the Discovery Islands so it’s worthwhile to go with someone who knows the waters well

A three hour wildlife tour run by Painter’s Lodge takes you from Campbell River down the length of Quadra Island through the Penn Islands, then north to Sonora Island before turning back towards Campbell River via the area that once was home to the infamous Ripple Rock. (In 1958 it was the site of the largest non-nuclear explosion in the world when a large submerged outcrop was blasted to smithereens to make the passage through the waters less treacherous.) There are a number of stops along the way, with the humpback whale decidedly the star of the show.

Humpback whales can show up at any time – or not at all. On our three hour outing we saw them in a couple of different spots. Never did they breach but they certainly made their presence known. I’m thrilled that they are back in the Discovery Islands. The last time I kayaked here in 2008 there were none. Now there are close to a dozen whales and as we were told by our guide Robin Pears, “they just started making a comeback about five years ago.”

A couple of blows off in the distance and we knew we were in luck for whale sightings

This group of whale watchers got really lucky

Look at the position of the whale in relation to the shore

In between whale sightings we’re happy to get close to bald eagles especially around Jimmy Judd Island. The fishing is obviously very good here as there are bald eagles in what looks like every second tree. It’s in this area we also see 100 plus seals hanging out on an island across from the high-end Sonora Resort.

I never tire of looking at the bald eagles

There are over 100 seals on an island across from Sonora Resort

Although the focus of the wildlife tour was not on seabirds, they were certainly in abundance especially the handsome Bonaparte’s gull. I also saw pigeon guillemots, mergansers and a great blue heron.

Bonaparte’s gulls – including the inmatures were around in huge numbers – also near Sonora Resort

We did see a couple of sea lions and I for one was happy to observe them from a distance. I’ve seen how aggressive they can get from the seat of a kayak and appreciate their 500 plus pounds from a distance. Although I didn’t see the Pacific white-sided dolphin on the wildlife tour, I did the next day when I was out fishing.

Don’t get too close to these sea lions

It’s always a thrill to see nature in the wild. In three hours we got a big dose of it – comfortably as we were all suited up in dry suits that kept us warm, even in a light drizzle. As a kayaker I particularly enjoyed exploring waters I would never venture into without tide charts and a tremendous amount of planning.

There are several other companies offering tours including Adventure Quest Canada and Campbell River Whale Watching and Adventure Tours. Tours with a whale watching focus tend to be around five hours in length.

  • Written by Leigh McAdam, of HikeBikeTravel.com