Vancouver Island is one of the best whale watching locations in the world. We are very lucky to have many marine mammals living around or passing by our beautiful island: the magnificent orcas (or killer whales), humpback, minke and gray whales, as well as many other marine animals like sea lions, seals, otters, and a wide variety of seabirds. There are plenty of locations on Vancouver Island where you can go whale watching. In this article, we give you all the information you need to plan your whale watching trip at the right time.
Best time to See Orcas on Vancouver Island: All Year-Round
You can find different killer whale ecotypes (populations) around Vancouver Island with their own prey preferences, morphology, and behaviours. There are the nomadic orcas, called transients, and the sedentary orcas called residents. Orca is the only known species with different genetically distinct populations in the same geographic region.
Transient Killer Whales
Transients, also referred to as Bigg’s killer whales, move north and south along the coast from Alaska to California. They are mammal hunters (seals, porpoises, sea lions, and sometimes other whales) and cover large areas looking for prey.
You can see them all year round in the Vancouver Island waters. We tend to say they are not so “transient” anymore as they become more common than the residents along some parts of the BC coast. The Pacific Whale Watch Association registered 1067 unique transient sightings in the Salish Sea last year, breaking the 2019 record of 747 sightings.
Resident Killer Whales
Southern resident killer whales (SRKW) are found from spring to fall in the Salish Sea near the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands when they come to feed on the migrating salmon. They mainly eat Chinook Salmon, which represents 90% of their diet in summer. The lack of salmon causes the decline of the southern residents’ population. They are listed as endangered, and professional whale watching companies aren’t allowed to view them since 2018.
Northern Resident Killer Whales are a larger group than the southern residents. They also feed exclusively on fish and follow the Pacific salmon migrations stretching from Vancouver Island to Alaska. Northern residents can be frequently seen around the northern half of Vancouver Island from June to October.
Best Time to See Humpback Whale on Vancouver Island: Spring and Summer
Humpback whales made a significant comeback around Vancouver Island in the past few years. They come here to spend springs and summers feeding in our cool waters, and travel all the way to the warmer waters of Mexico and Hawaii to mate and give birth. The best time to see Humpback whales on Vancouver Island is from April through October, but they can still be spotted year-round as some may leave later in the winter, which can overlap with those returning.
Best Time to See Minke Whales on Vancouver Island: Spring and Summer
Minke whales frequent the Pacific Northwest during spring and summer to feed, they are attracted to the region by the abundance of small bait fish. The best time to see Minke whales is between May and October. There is a small resident population in the Salish Sea, near the San Juan Islands, where they can be seen all year round.
Best Time to See Gray Whales on Vancouver Island: Spring
Like the Humpbacks, Gray whales spend winter breeding and birthing in Mexican waters and summer feeding in the Arctic. Each spring, around 20,000 gray whales move past the western shore of Vancouver Island on their way north. A few hundred break off their migration to feed for 2 or 3 months along the west coast of Vancouver Island. They also love to go to the Salish Sea to feast on ghost shrimp. The best time to see them is from March to June.
Some shorten their long journey and become “residents” of the Pacific Rim area to feed throughout the summer.
The Weather on Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is well known for having some of Canada’s warmest and most temperate weather. The island experiences moderate sunny summers and mild, rainy winters. The southern tip of the island (Saanich peninsula) is the mildest area in all of Canada and gets 50% less rain than the city of Vancouver.
The enjoyable climate, combined with stunning natural landscapes and wildlife, makes Vancouver Island the perfect destination for outdoor activities such as wildlife watching, hiking, kayaking, swimming, scuba diving, etc. We welcome visitors year-round, but the best time to visit the island is during the warmer and drier months of April through October.
The best months to go whale watching on Vancouver Island are from April to October. You have a better chance to spot baleen whales and enjoy nice weather on your tour. Since the whales travel unpredictably through different areas looking for food, there isn’t a best month or time of day to see them. But In summer, there are more boats on the waters (whale watching and leisure), which means more sightings reported and more chances to see the whales on your tour.
We have a 95% whale sighting rate throughout the year. On the rare occasion that we might not see a whale, you are welcome to join us on another tour free of charge. Book now!