02 Apr Have a Whale of a Time
The nutrient rich and sheltered waters around Vancouver Island abound with marine life, and provide some f the world’s highest density and most accessible whale watching. Both the sheltered east and the open west coast are home to these amazing marine mammals.
The calm, protected waters along Vancouver Island’s northeast coast is the most accessible and predictable areas to see orcas (AKA “killer whales”) in their natural environment. The Northern resident (fish-eating) population of orcas typically return to the Johnstone Strait and Blackfish Archipelago around the middle of June and are known to stay in the area well into the winter months. Transient (mammal eating) orcas also frequent this area and are most often seen in the spring, fall and winter.
Wildlife and whale watching tours depart from Telegraph Cove, Port McNeill and Alert Bay from May until October. Other marine mammals that visit this area include humpback whales, minke whales, Pacific whie-sided dolphins, Dall’s porpoise and Steller sea lions. This area is on the Pacific flyway, making it a great place to see migrating sea and shore birds.
Campbell River (less than 2 hours drive) has become a hub for the tour through the calm waters of Discovery Passage, Johnstone Strait and other nearby inlets in pursuit of wildlife and adventure. This dynamic, inland coastal environment is home ot some of the most spectacular wildlife in the world, in the water and on the land.
Qualified, experienced operators offer a variety of excursions to see whales, grizzly and black bears, and often learn about First Nations culture and local history. Some of the tours combine the wildlife adventures with the thrill of five sets of tidal rapids and some of the fastest ocean currents in the world, some reaching 15.5 knots! Although the water may move quickly, there’s very little of the rolling motion that occurs on open water, minimizing the possibility of sea sickness.
Each Spring, between 18,000 to 22,000 Pacific Gray whales migrate along the western shores of the Island as they head north on their annual migration from their breeding grounds off the Baja Peninsula to their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Sea, near Alaska.
Whales can be seen from shore in March and April, mostly from on top of the rocky headlands along the Pacific Rim. The Wild Pacific Trail at Ucluelet is a popular viewpoint. An increasing number of Humpback whales and orcas are now calling Clayquot Sound home and can be seen throughout the year. But it’s not just about whales. Sea lions, seals, bears, bald eagles, and sea otters are often encountered.
Back on the southeast side of the Island, the sheltered waters of the Salish Sea (where Sunrise Ridge is located) are a sea adventurer’s paradise. These nutrient rich waters have enough plankton to feed the world’s largest marine mammals and the marine ecosystem is home to an astonishing diversity of saltwater inhabitants. Into all the bounty, ships have been sunk to become artificial reefs and, combined with exceptional clarity and visibility in the cooler months, it’s clear to see why the waters that surround Vancouver Island have been named the best scuba diving destination in North America. World famous oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau, rated these water as the best cold water diving destination in the world behind only the Red Sea.