Best time to travel to British Columbia

Whale Watching in British Columbia 2024

One of the best places in the world to spot killer, gray or humpback whales

Best time: March–October (best options in mid-July–October)

Whale Watching
Whale Watching
Whale Watching
Whale Watching
Whale Watching
Whale Watching

British Columbia is one of the world’s best locations for whale watching. Thousands of whales migrate through the Vancouver coastal waters every year from March to October. The greatest variety is observed between mid-July and October. Many whale species use these northern waterways as their feeding grounds, including humpback, orca, gray, and minke whales. So don't hesitate to book a tour to observe gentle giants in their natural habitat. Many operators offer whale watching excursions around the Gulf Islands and San Juan islands. You can also spot whales from a kayak or seaplane.

Many whale watching tours leave directly from Victoria's beautiful Inner Harbour. Choose between a high-speed zodiac or a comfortable cruiser boat to search for whales in the Gulf and the San Juan Islands.

One of the best spots is in Sooke, located an hour northwest of Victoria. Local boats take tourists on a whale-watching trip into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, boasting a large resident whale population.

Orcas are the most numerous whales seen in the waters around Vancouver Island. There are resident pods of 100 of these whales feeding on salmon in the Strait of Georgia, the Johnstone Strait, and the Gulf Islands, and also smaller pods of migrating orcas. Additionally, nature lovers can spot sea lions, otters, dolphins, and birds.

During a whale-watching season, tours regularly depart from the Coal Harbour in downtown Vancouver into Haro Strait and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Other locations are Granville Island and Richmond’s Steveston Village. Boats usually head to the southern Gulf and San Juan islands. Sometimes you can see a whale in False Creek or English Bay. The success rate of Vancouver whale-watching tours is around 90% from June through October.

Wildlife enthusiasts can head to Tofino to combine whale-watching with a ground excursion on the beautiful shores of Clayoquot Sound. Bears and eagles often come out of the forest to feed on the beaches. This area is famous for gray whales, but also migrating orcas and humpbacks. Nearby Ucluelet has several operators that go to Barkley Sound to spot gray whale pods that feed there.

Telegraph Cove on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island is famous for its orcas' population. There is also the Whale Centre with lots of information on sea mammals and other marine life. Around 200 orcas use sheltered waters of Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago to feed on fish and krill. Humpbacks are also seen in the area, as well as sea lions and porpoises. Take a kayak trip with First Nations to be closer to local sea life.

Prince Rupert on the northern coast of British Columbia is a 16 hour drive from Vancouver. But it will be faster on a ferry from Port Hardy in the north of Vancouver Island. A remote protected area boasts fantastic wildlife. The Inside Passage attracts gray whales, orcas, and humpbacks. There is also the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary to see onshore. Mid-July through October is the best time to explore Prince Rupert.

Practical info

When can whales be spotted in Vancouver coastal waters?

Whales migrate through Vancouver coastal waters from March to October, with the peak variety between mid-July and October. The best places for whale watching tours are the southern Gulf and San Juan Islands during summer. Whale enthusiasts can observe resident orcas and humpbacks, as well as gray and minke whales that migrate. Show more

What are some departure points for whale-watching tours in Vancouver?

Whale watching tours leave from Victoria's Inner Harbour in Southern Vancouver Island, Vancouver's Coal Harbour, Steveston Village, Granville Island, and Sooke. Telegraph Cove and Tofino are also popular departure points for whale watching tours in the northern and western parts of Vancouver Island. The Strait of Juan de Fuca is home to a significant resident whale population, making it a prime destination for local boat tours. Show more

What are the other marine animals that whale watchers are likely to see in BC?

Whale watching tours in BC offer more than just whale sightings. Tourists can spot sea lions, otters, dolphins, and birds. Brown bears and eagles that feed on beaches near Tofino are a common sight. Orcas, humpbacks, sea lions, and porpoises can be seen while on a whale-watching tour in the Johnstone Strait and Broughton Archipelago. Show more

What's the best place to combine whale-watching with a land excursion in BC?

Tofino is one of the best destinations to combine whale watching with a land excursion. Brown bears, eagles, and various whale species are all visible on the beaches near Tofino. Clayoquot Sound is another popular attraction in the area. Mid-July through October is the optimal time to visit Prince Rupert to explore the Inside Passage, where tourists can watch gray whales, orcas, and humpbacks feeding on fish and krill. Show more

What is the optimal time to explore Prince Rupert?

The prime time to visit Prince Rupert is mid-July through October, when gray whales, orcas, and humpbacks are feeding on fish and krill. Prince Rupert is an isolated ecosystem with an abundance of wildlife; the Inside Passage and Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary are great places to explore and observe orcas, humpbacks, sea lions, porpoises, and grizzly bears. Travel time to Prince Rupert is 16 hours by car from Port Hardy in Vancouver Island's north, whereas a ferry would be faster. Show more

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Authors: Olha Savych