When is the best time of year to go whale watching in Vancouver?
Hint: It depends…
Whale watching is a truly unforgettable experience and Vancouver, BC is one of the best places in the world to watch their activity. On your tour, you will see a wide range of marine wildlife, but throughout the year your chances of seeing whales off the coast vary widely.
Its difficult to pin down a perfect time to go as observations can change from one day to another. With that being said, visiting Vancouver in certain seasons gives you a much higher chance of getting to see these beautiful animals in their natural habitat.
Why does the time of year change the chances of seeing whales on your tour?
Many species of whale can be spotted throughout the San Juan and Gulf Islands but they do not stay put all year long. As the temperatures in the water and the concentration of food in area changes, the whales migrate.
What types of whales will you see?
Many varieties of whales pass through the waters of Vancouver’s west coast including humpbacks, orcas, grey whales and minke whales. Each passes through the seas at slightly different times of the year but overall whale watching season is considered to run from March to October.
The best time of year to see orca
Though they are not technically a whale, orcas are often considered the main attraction of whale watching tours. There are two central residents of orca off the Vancouver coast, the southern and northern.
The best time to spot the southern residents is May to October when they come to feed on the salmon migrating from the Strait of Georgia to the Gulf Islands.
The northern residents are often easier to spot in the later summer months of July and August when they feed in the Johnstone Strait.
Humpback whale sightings have been steadily increasing over the years; now they are regularly seen off the Georgia Strait. These huge yet graceful beasts can often be the whale easiest to spot due to their large size, and contrasting dark body and white belly. They can be seen almost any time of year but with the most common sighting happening in April – November.
Grey Whale Migration
Each spring the grey whales can be seen on their migration from the Coast of Mexico to the Bearing Sea. Some 20,000 grey whales make the journey to their summer feeding grounds. They can be difficult to spot but if you are lucky while you are watching them one will breach the water; a truly fantastic sight. The grey whales can be observed all the way up until May.
What other factors affect your chances of you observing whales?
The weather has a significant effect on whale behaviour and your chances of observing them at sea. Whales are sea mammals and as such need to come to the surface of the water for oxygen no matter the weather. Ideally though, on the day your tour goes out, you would want calm waters, clear skies, no fog, and sun that is not blinding to increase the likelihood of seeing them.
Whales, like much sea life, take advantage of the currents in the waters they inhabit to ease their travel meaning the direction of the tides can affect the location of the whales.
Another reason movements of whales in the Vancouver area can often be tracked with the changing of the tides is because of the prey they hunt. The tides will often influence the location of their preferred food and whales will travel to areas where they can easily feed on large concentrations of prey.
Minke whale, beluga whales and fin whales all feed on capelin. At certain times of the year, capelin spawn on the beaches and migrate to the area in the thousands. This makes it a perfect time to spot these species of whale as they come close to the shores to feed on the capelin.
Finding the various types of whales out on your tour can almost feel like a treasure hunt. Some are rare occurrences only possible to see a few months a year, other more common and seen most of the summer months. When planning your whale watching tour think carefully about species of whale you would most like to see and plan accordingly.
If you are looking to book your spot or group for an upcoming whale watching adventure, be sure to check out our online booking feature which makes booking easy! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send us a message or call 604-868-1755.
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See you out on the water!