Whale Watching - A Bucket List Item
I love whales! I have wanted to go whale watching my entire life. Our trip up the coast of the Pacific Northwest was the perfect opportunity to see some whales. We decided that Victoria, British Columbia in Canada would be the best location on this trip. I had our tickets bought for the excursion well in advance.
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Wet and wild!
Determined to have the best whale watching experience I could, I set out to research and review all of our options before committing to any tours. I found Orca Spirit Adventures to be our best bet. Their location was great, they provided pick-up and drop-off from our lodging and most importantly they are dedicated to eco-tourism, sustainability and respect for all animals. This trip to Victoria, BC took place in 2015 and after a quick search it looks as if they still operating with this mindset and provide the same opportunities to see some outstanding wildlife.
They offer many tour options and a wide range of boats to choose from. After reviewing the boats there was really only one option I could say “yes” to – that I had to say “yes” to – the Zodiak! The Zodiaks have a rigid hull and inflatable sides. You are closer to the water (where whales live) and you get to wear a survival suit! They are open air boats meaning you might get some spray. Not to mention they hold a maximum of 12 passengers (over the age of 6)! So, an adventurous boat, no crowds and an outfit that could save my life… we haven’t seen a single whale and I am already having a blast!
Now, you can opt for the covered boats, with heat, bathrooms and hot chocolate, or you can choose to truly live and skip your way across the water in a tiny boat reminiscent of a pool floaty. Had we not seen any whales I would have enjoyed the boat ride alone. Unfortunately, I had some convincing to do. My husband was not all about it. He reminded me that we were going in October and that it would be cold on the open ocean. However, I had already made up my mind so I bought the tickets anyways.
Pay Attention to the Seasons
Whales and dolphins are wild animals with their own schedules and to-do lists. We were visiting in late October which is the end of high season. I was sad to learn that humpback whales are usually making their way south around this time of year. Humpbacks happen to be my favorite whales and while I was looking forward to seeing orcas in the wild, my heart was set on the humpbacks. Another good thing about the tour company we picked is that they offer a “whale guarantee”! If your tour does not spot a whale they will take you back out again for free. That could be the next day or the following year as it is a life-time guarantee.
Put Your Wildlife Eyes On
Our tour started off great, we had a total of 6 passengers and an awesome female tour guide. She was very informative and told us all about the different orca pods that live in the bay and surrounding areas. The waters were a little choppy and the Zodiak didn’t provide the smoothest ride. Remember we are going for adventure here, not luxury or comfort. There were many times when we were up and off our seats. It was awesome! I suggest packing a dry bag for your camera. Use caution when operating your camera. Maybe not while zooming across waves, one big jump could send it flying!
As we headed out towards the open water she mentioned that the sightings have been low lately with many of the whales/dolphins starting to migrate and that we were probably too late for the humpback whales. Just as I started to feel a little bit of disappointment we saw our first orca! What an amazing experience! We were a respectable distance from the whales but thanks to the Zodiak I felt so close. You could see so many of their features. They were so beautiful and powerful. I loved them all.
Soon we were noticing orcas all around us, there were so many! I was in awe and honestly a little nervous (they are called killer whales for a reason). However, they are not whales. Orcas actually belong to the dolphin family. Our guide told us how to tell the difference between males and females (the male dorsal fins are much bigger). She then explained to us that since she had seen a member from each of the resident pods, as well as some traveling orcas, that we were in the presence of around 90 orcas! She said she had not seen this many individuals out on a trip in quite a while. She could tell them apart and even had names for each of them. I believed her and I, too, want to be on a first-name basis with a whole bunch of killer whales.
Dreams really do come true!
After everyone on the boat had taken a million pictures each, our tour guide asked if we would like to move on in hopes of seeing a humpback whale or if we would like to stay put and enjoy the current situation (which was very good indeed). I nervously looked around hoping that the others on the boat would want to go off looking for my favorite whales. Then in unison everyone said, “humpback whales”! We started towards an area with the best chances, stopping every once in a while to radio out to boats in the area for updates. We got a tip that some humpbacks had been spotted! We took off, the ocean spraying all around the boat. I was so hopeful and so excited! I could barely contain myself.
We were eagerly scanning the horizon when a massive humpback whale rocketed out of the water, twirled in the air and then landed on the surface, creating a giant splash! A humpback whale breached in front of my very own eyes! I couldn’t believe it. In all actuality the whale was quite a ways from our boat and due to the distance didn’t really seem all that big, but you know they are the size of a bus, so my mind filled in the gaps.
We spent a while longer casually following the two humpback whales. This is not the easiest thing to do since they only surface, on average, every 7-15 minutes. The waits were so worth it, even if it was just to catch a glimpse of them. No more spectacular breaches, just a lot of dorsal fins and tails. I wanted to jump in the water and get a good look at them - I was wearing a survival suit after all...
I am so happy I had this opportunity to experience these gentle giants, not to mention all of the orcas. It was a great day for whale watching, even the guide who does this daily was very impressed with the amount of whales that were visible. I believe this was a top ten life experience for me and I highly recommend it. I also believe that when participating in tours involving wildlife it is best to do so responsibly, with respect and care for the animals involved as well as their habitat.
Inspiration - Whale Watching Tour Off Vancouver Island
Seeing that humpback whale come up and out of the water is a scene I will never forget. Never. The colors of this trip include the many dark shades of the ocean, mixed with an overcast sky and almost misty shorelines. Along with the fog I found pops of color. Brilliant trees with their fall foliage, the brightly colored boats and our large, loud and very orange survival suits.
Cheers! To survival!
This trip took place during the fall of 2015. When planning your own adventures, please be sure to check for any current travel alerts or changes in destination conditions first. Keep in mind that businesses mentioned may no longer exist or offer the same products recommended in this post.