BC Whale Watching

Old Jan 31st, 2024, 12:13 PM
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BC Whale Watching

An introduction to BC whale watching. All questions are welcome.

Most people,including locals, have difficulty understanding our whales and where to see them. Geography and ecology on the east side of Vancouver Island is like no other in the world and unless you understand this, along with the population dynamics of local whales and how they interact with their environment, “where” cannot be intelligently answered.

This is the Salish Sea http://tinyurl.com/3d5enecj
These are busiest BC tour locations https://tinyurl.com/4r632yxu
Common location of whales. H = humpback; K = killer. https://tinyurl.com/4s5fphak
Make note of place names and bodies of water.

Bigg’s killer whales thrive on harbour seals. Of 120.000 BC harbour seals, most are located in Georgia Strait. 80% of a humpback whale’s diet is krill and Georgia Strait has one of the largest krill biomasses on the planet. Hence, both species are found in Georgia Strait and indeed throughout the Salish Sea from Tacoma to Campbell River and beyond, right up to Alaska. In 2023, more than 400 humpbacks and 1,400 individual Bigg’s were seen in the Salish Sea.

Bigg’s killer whales can cover the entire length of the Salish Sea in one or two days and there are four established summer humpback foraging areas between Victoria and Campbell River, so whales are likely to be found anywhere in the Salish Sea at any time. Most of the Salish Sea whales enter through the Strait of Juan de Fuca; humpbacks establishing a fairly localized foraging area and killer whales constantly moving, to and from the ocean and circumnavigating Vancouver Island.

Operators from all locations will usually see whales on each tour, but there is a big difference in quality of tours. Of the five main whale watching centres, only the operators in Campbell River travel to and see the same whales, on a daily basis. Victoria, Steveston, Vancouver and Nanaimo, consistently go to the nearest locations and only occasionally do more than a few attend the same sightings. At no time do they “all go to the same location.” Furthermore, Steveston, south of Vancouver, is the most central of all locations, being able to cover the largest area to the north (Squamish), south (Bellingham) and west, into the chain of Gulf Islands, all within an hour’s reach.

This explains how different the tours can be: http://tinyurl.com/5acvfwmm

Through many seasons, I studied our whales and the whale watching industry. I am very familiar with all the companies, their business models, and boats. There are more than 35 whale watch companies on the BC coast and several more in Washington’s Puget Sound. To the end of 2023, I had been on 24 tours with 19 different companies.


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