Whale Watching Vancouver Style

Whale Watching Vancouver Adventure: Trip review by Paul Kennell, Photos courtesy Joan Lopez – Vancouver Whale Watch (photos were taken with a 300mm zoom lens and may have been cropped to enhance detail)

Orca doing a forward breach - photo by Joan LopezWhen is the best time for whale watching Vancouver, you ask?

While the whale watching season typically goes from April to October, we went on an awesome trip on August 8th with Vancouver Whale Watch and there were orca whales everywhere!

My son, father-in-law, and I took a leisurely drive out to the historical fishing town of Steveston, ensuring we got there early enough to cruise the docks and check out all the fresh seafood that was available right off the recently docked fishing boats.

On board the Vancouver Whale Watch ExplorathorWe had heard so many good things about Vancouver Whale Watch that we wanted to ensure we booked our trip with them. Lucky for us, they took possession of their brand new custom whale watching Vancouver boat, The Explorathor, just a few weeks earlier.

This new boat provided us with a great ride, and also had an open viewing deck for watching the whales up on the second level.

We went to their office about 25 minutes before the departure time and were provided with a bright yellow, sporty set of all weather gear, and were told to go down to the boat which we were happy to do.

On board the Vancouver Whale Watch ExplorathorBefore we left they told us the whales were recently spotted very close to where we were, so we should have lots of great whale watching time!

This was apparently because we currently have millions (over 25 million sockeye expected) of the resident orca’s favorite food, sockeye salmon, running from the ocean into the mighty Fraser River. They hang out by the line where the salt water mixes with the fresh water before beginning their journey upstream to spawn. And this is where the orcas love to hang out and eat!!

Within a few minutes, Captain John welcomed us aboard, and Joan, the on-board naturalist, made her rounds introducing herself to all the passengers and ensuring we were all comfortable and ready to go.

harbour Seals and Sea Gulls - photo by Joan LopezWhile we waited for six late-comers to arrive, she made sure to tell us that if anyone had any questions about our whale watching Vancouver trip, they were free to ask.

Once again we were told the whales were close, right by the BC Ferry terminal in Tsawwassen about 25 minutes away. Hmm – I thought we’d be going on a wilderness trek through the Gulf Islands in search of whales?

On the way out we saw a number of seals watching us speed by, herons along the shore line, and even some bald eagles could be seen in the distance.

Orca whales everywhere!

Within minutes we could see several other whale watching Vancouver boats, including their other boat, The Express, that left several minutes before us. And as we looked past the boats, we could see a number of orca dorsal fins piercing the water. We were here already and everyone was instantly excited.

Spy hopping orca - photo by Joan LopezWhile hardly the view I imagined with the Roberts Bank Coal Port and the ferry terminal as the back drop to the amazing whales we were watching, it was none-the-less spectacular watching about 30 orcas from babies to Granny and Ruffles with their 5 foot high dorsal fins breaking the surface every few seconds.

Captain John ensured he followed all the whale watching rules by keeping at least 100 meters away and by not getting between the orcas and the shore, while our friendly Naturalist told us who some of the whales were, how they can identify them, and what pod they were from.

While all three pods of resident orcas had been in the area for the past few days, it seems today’s show was being performed by residents of the J and L pods.

Orcas in Active Pass - photo by Joan LopezThe whale show was very impressive, with everyone in the boat ooohing and aaahing as the orcas swam by, performed front and sideways breaches, did a little spy-hopping, foraged for food and tossed the salmon in the air – didn’t anyone tell them not to play with their food?

The crowd, with people from Russia, the UK, China, USA, other parts of Canada, and a few other locals such as ourselves, were all thrilled with the whale watching and with the number of whales that surrounded us.

Captain John would move the Explorathor every few minutes, so that we would be ahead of the whales and could watch them come towards us, as they headed towards Point Roberts, providing a show for many along the way.

At Cooldives, we get many requests for divers who want to scuba dive or snorkel with orcas.

Bald eagles in British ColumbiaIt seems these ‘killers’ are actually not very fond of hanging out with divers, and generally will not frequent areas where divers are in the water. Joan also confirmed that the whales seem to dislike the air bubbles, but even avoid the area when re-breathers are being used.

After several hours of watching and following, it was time to head back to Steveston. Along the way, we stopped and watched a group of young Stellar Sea Lions suntan on a buoy by the ferry terminal, and also stopped to get some amazing pictures of a Bald Eagle that was perched on an old mooring stand of some sort, that only had one of three logs left supporting it. I guess the eagle was full because there were young Sockeye jumping around the base of the mooring and the eagle didn’t seem to care.

Juvenile stellar sea lions by a BC ferryAfter a few minutes, we departed and were soon pulling back into the dock at Steveston. Our first whale watching Vancouver adventure was over already.

After thanking our host and ensuring we provided a gratuity for their excellent service, we made our way back to the office to return our gear, and then stopped for some of Steveston’s famous Fish & Chips before heading back home.

What an excellent Vancouver whale watching adventure – thanks Vancouver Whale Watch and crew!

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