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Given a temperate climate and forest, mountain, and marine environments teeming with life, it's no surprise that wildlife-watching is an important pastime and growing business in and around Vancouver. Many people walk the ocean foreshores or park and mountain trails, binoculars or scopes in hand, looking for exceptional or rare birds. Others venture onto the water to see seals, sea lions, and whales—as well as the birds that inhabit the maritime world.
Sewell's Marina. This marina near the protected waters of Howe Sound runs year-round, two-hour ecotours of the surrounding marine and coastal mountain habitat. Sightings range from swimming seals to soaring eagles. High-speed rigid inflatable hulls are used. 6409 Bay St., Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver, BC, V7W 3H5. 604/921–3474. www.sewellsmarina.com.
Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park. Between mid-November and mid-February, the world's largest concentration of bald eagles gathers to feed on salmon at Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park, about an hour north of Vancouver on the scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway. The Brackendale Art Gallery has a teahouse that's a good place to stop along the way. Government Rd., off Hwy. 99, Brackendale, BC, V0N 1H0.
Canadian Outback Adventures. This outfit runs "eagle safari" trips that allow you to watch and photograph eagles from a slow-moving raft on the Cheakamus River. Transportation from Vancouver is available. 332 East Esplanade, North Vancouver, BC, V7L 1A4. 604/921–7250 or 800/565–8735. www.canadianoutback.com.
George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. More than 260 species of migratory birds visit this 850-acre site on Westham Island, about an hour south of Vancouver. A seasonal highlight is the arrival of an estimated 80,000 Lesser Snow Geese in the late fall. 5191 Robertson Rd., Delta, BC, V4K 1R7. 604/946–6980. www.reifelbirdsanctuary.com. C$4. Daily 9–4.
Vancouver All-Terrain Adventures. Day trips to Brackendale include pickup in Vancouver in a four-wheel drive, and an option to watch the eagles by raft or horseback. 375 West 2nd Ave., Olympic Village, Vancouver, BC, V5Y 1C9. 778/371–7830 or 888/754–5601. www.all-terrain.com.
In April and early May thousands of male California sea lions and larger Steller sea lions settle on rocks near the mouth of the Fraser River to feed on the eulachon, a member of the smelt family. Sightseeing boats make the short trip from Steveston into the estuary.
Steveston Seabreeze Adventures. From docks in Steveston village in Richmond, south of Vancouver, Seabreeze motors into the sea lion's natural habitat. During the autumn bird migratory season, Seabreeze also takes bird-watchers by boat along the Fraser Estuary to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island. 12551 No. 1 Rd., Richmond, BC, V7E 1T7. 604/272–7200. www.seabreezeadventures.ca.
Between April and October pods of orca whales travel through the Strait of Georgia, near Vancouver. The area is also home to harbor seals, elephant seals, bald eagles, minke whales, porpoises, and a wealth of birdlife. Other migrating whales include humpbacks and grays.
Lotus Land Tours. High-speed covered boats take you out to watch for whales and other wildlife in the Strait of Georgia. The five-hour cruise costs C$175 per adult and includes lunch and a pickup anywhere in Vancouver. The company also offers kayaking tours in Indian Arm and the Gulf Islands, as well as white-water rafting trips on the Elaho and Squamish rivers. 1251 Cardero St., West End, Vancouver, BC, V6G 2H9. 604/684–4922 or 800/528–3531. www.lotuslandtours.com.
Prince of Whales. This established Victoria operator runs four-hour trips from Vancouver's downtown waterfront (near Waterfront Station) across the Georgia Strait in season. 812 Wharf St., Victoria, BC, V8W 1T3. 888/383–4884. www.princeofwhales.com.
Wild Whales Vancouver. Boats leave Granville Island in search of orca pods in the Georgia Strait, often traveling as far as Victoria. Rates are C$125 for a three- to seven-hour trip in either an open or glass-domed boat. Each boat leaves once daily, April through October, conditions permitting. 1806 Mast Tower Rd., Granville Island, Vancouver, BC, V6H 4B6. 604/699–2011. www.whalesvancouver.ca.