Vancouver Island plays host to many exhilarating experiences, but few compare to the thrill of seeing whales in the wild. Visitors with the right plans and a dash of luck can see several whale species, including orca, humpback, grey, and minke whales.
Visitors have their best chance of seeing gray whales in March and April, while humpback, minke and orca whales are most often seen May through October. Whales are rarely seen from the shore so those who dream of spotting these incredible ocean animals should book a whale watching tour with a reputable, local company.
Protected Southern Resident Orcas
The deep Pacific waters surrounding Vancouver Island are home to many whales, but none are as protected or beloved as the Southern Resident Orcas. The endangered resident orcas have captured the hearts of people all across the globe and have habits unlike any other whales.
The 76 resident orcas live in one of three pods: J pod, K pod, and L pod, and pods currently range in size from 18 to 35 members. The southern residents don’t interact or breed with other types of orca whales, even if they cross paths, and the orcas spend their lives in the Salish Sea’s coastal waterways.
They also have unusual eating patterns. While transient orcas eat marine mammals and off-shore orcas eat a variety of fish and sharks, resident orcas’ primarily eat Chinook salmon. This lack of variety in their diet makes them dependent on healthy Chinook populations.
As a result of their particular behaviours, resident orcas are sensitive to breeding and environmental challenges. They have struggled to survive in recent years and their population has been in decline since 1995. Today, the number of resident orcas is at an all-time low.
Fortunately, Vancouver Island residents and visitors are committed to making small changes with big impacts. Conservationists, human residents, and local companies are working together to protect the whales from harm, maintain their habitat and food supply, and ultimately prevent extinction. Two new resident orca calves were born this year, giving hope for the whales’ future.
New Regulations Set To Foster Mindful Ocean Travel
Vancouver Island’s resident orcas have inspired new government regulations to help protect the orcas and other whale populations. Between June and October, vessels must not enter any interim sanctuary zones or intentionally come within 400 metres of resident or transient orcas. Ocean visitors are also encouraged to reduce aquatic noise near whales.
Responsible whale watching companies have welcomed these changes, respecting the efforts to protect these marine animals. Members of the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) have taken their efforts one step further and signed an agreement that prohibits tours focused on the resident orcas.
“PWWA members have supported science-based efforts and research to understand and limit the effect of vessel traffic on killer whales. We remain the quietest vessels on the water and the sentinels of the sea for whales through our science-based vessel management plan,’’ said Alan McGillivray, PWWA co-founder and owner of Prince of Whales.
The PWWA is a collective of whale watching companies that protect sensitive whale populations through education, guidelines, and advocacy. Members of the PWWA act as role models within their communities and set the standard for responsible eco-tourism.
In exchange for their whale-friendly ways, environmentally responsible companies can get a permit that allows their guests to come within 200 metres of non-resident orcas. Companies with this permit have a proven track record and ensure encounters are positive for their guests and whales alike.
Prince Of Whales’ new Telegraph Cove location
Whale-Friendly Tours By Prince of Whales
Prince of Whales allows visitors to fulfill their dream of seeing whales in a responsible and respectful way. The local, family-owned business has connected visitors with wild whales for more than a decade and each experience is built with a deep respect for the whales.
Prince of Whales is passionate about protecting and conserving these incredible ocean animals, and sharing their beauty with the world. The company participates in ongoing environmental discussions and helped formed the policies that protect whales today. Their team has also introduced paperless offices, provided extensive funding to whale research organizations, and is in the process of transitioning to new catamarans with quieter acoustics.
Prince of Whales’ whale watching trips last between 3 and 4 hours, with romantic sunset tours available in the peak summer months. Prince of Whales is also the only company that has combined Victoria whale watching with a trip to The Butchart Gardens, a breathtaking national historic site.
Prince of Whales has implemented a Whale Sighting Guarantee to ensure everyone has the opportunity to see whales in their natural, wild habitat. If the marine mammals are elusive for any reason, guests are welcome to join another upcoming tour free of charge.