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Whale Populations in BC Ocean Waters

Whale Flipper


Whale watching in Vancouver BC is some of the best in the world. Part of this is because of the extensive range of whales that pass through its ocean waters throughout the year.

Although there is a wide range of whales in the BC area, not all have thriving populations, and some have become endangered. These whales are not often seen on whale watching tours and only through further conservation efforts can we ensure that they will be here for future generations to watch at in wonder.


What whales populate the BC ocean waters?

Four of the most common types of whale in the BC ocean waters are the minke, grey, humpback and fin whale. This is quite extraordinary as these are all large whales whos populations were nearly hunted to extinction around the world. Now they are thriving again and swim along the coastal waters of Vancouver in their summer migrations.  

Humpback Whales

Humpback whale populations are on the rise off the coast of British Columbia. Since 2013 sightings of these magnificent creatures have become more common. Their population has dramatically recovered over the past 20/30 years, and we are starting to see more and more of them.

It’s a fascinating development as at one point many scientists thought we would lose them in the area altogether. When commercial whaling ended there were just 1,500 of these stunning mammals left in the entire North Pacific, today there are well over 20,000. They migrate along the whole North Pacific, but if you want to see them in BC, they are most commonly sighted in the Strait of Georgia and Howe Sound.

Minke Whale

The Minke Whale is the smallest baleen whale at just 7-9 metres long. Unlike the humpback whale, minke whales were never hunted by commercial whalers, so their populations in the North Pacific never became endangered. Although their populations thrive and have done so for a long time, they are not spotted as commonly as you might think.

They are fast swimmers, able to cover great distances in a small amount of time. They also do not stay near the surface of the ocean for very long, only taking one or two quick breaths then diving straight back under the water. If you want to see minke whales on your whale watching tour in BC, you will have to have a lot of patience and a sharp eye. They often travel solo as well and can take up to 10 minutes between each breathe, making it difficult to keep track of them if you are lucky enough to see one.

Grey Whales

The most commonly spotted whale in BC is the Grey Whale. They can be seen around Vancouver Island as well as other areas off the coast during the summer months. The grey whale population, like the humpback, was extensively hunted during the 19th and 20th century but they have come back from the brink of extinction. There are 2 populations in the North Pacific, one covering China, Japan and Korea and the other going from Mexico up to Alaska. The latter is called the Eastern population and migrates along the BC ocean waters. This population has now seen a recovery, and it has an estimated at 18,000 to 24,000 whales.


Although not technically whales, we can’t talk about whale populations in BC without bringing up Orcas. They are in fact part of the dolphin family, but are one of the most magnificent creatures you can see in our vast oceans and a big draw for many tourists visiting Vancouver.  

Unfortunately, killer whale populations are dwindling in BC, with one believed to have died just last month. The community of killer whales in the BC area is called the Southern Resident Community, it is the smallest killer whale community in the North Pacific with just 75 members. These members are in 3 separate pods, but they all inhabit the same waters, in the summer they can most commonly be spotted in the Georgia Strait.

This community is currently on the endangered species list. For thousands of years, orca has been a symbol of unspoiled nature, freedom and strength for the people of British Columbia and it is vital that we do what we can to protect them.


BC is a beautiful place and home to some of the most beautiful creatures in our oceans. There are many excellent and thriving populations of whales here, each unique and wondrous. Ready to bump whale watching in the BC ocean waters to the top of your bucket list? Call us at 604-868-1755 or drop an email to to book your tour today.

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See you out on the water!

Jesse Finkle