Whale Watching in Vancouver: The Complete Guide

Where and How to Spot Whales in British Columbia

Whale watching in BC
Resident orcas can be seen close to Vancouver.

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British Columbia is one of the world’s most famous places for whale watching and the city of Vancouver is the perfect place to start your whale watching tour during the summer months, whether you take a trip from downtown or a scenic suburb near Vancouver International Airport. Book directly with a tour provider or ask your concierge to arrange a hotel pick-up to take part on a whale watching trip in Vancouver, BC.

Whale Watching Seasons

Vancouver, British Columbia is one of the best places in the world to see whales between March and October, when thousands of the majestic mammals migrate through the waters surrounding the Canadian West Coast city. Resident and transient orcas can be seen on an expedition around the Gulf and San Juan Islands, as well as slightly less-common humpback whales, gray whales, and minke whales. Migration patterns can vary but resident pods reliably show up and transient whales are often passing through the region.

Types of Whales

Mighty white and black orcas (aka killer whales) are one of the main attractions in the area. Nearby Vancouver Island is home to a resident pod of nearly 100 orcas and small pods of transient orcas that travel north from Baja to Alaska along the coastline. May until October is the prime time to see the southern pod of resident orcas feeding on salmon in the Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia near Vancouver. Later in the summer, the northern pod of resident orcas can be seen feeding on fish in the Johnstone Strait.

In addition to the whales, the Pacific Ocean around Vancouver is also home to seals, dolphins and sea lions, as well as seabirds, such as tufted puffins and nesting bald eagles.

Types of Whale Watching Trips

Whale watching trip options range from high-speed zodiac trips in full-on survival suits to covered boats that can seat a larger number of people and travel at a slower speed. Kayak and seaplane trips (even the BC Ferry ride to Victoria) are other ways to see the whales and wildlife.

Choose your tour based on your level of fitness (e.g will it be difficult to get on and off a smaller boat or zodiac) and level of comfort that you require. High-speed zodiacs are more agile when it comes to viewing wildlife but you’ll be in for a bumpier ride — by law all boats must stay at least 100 meters away from whales and 200 meters away from orcas.

What To Expect

Trips include a safety briefing before you get kitted out in survival suits or lifejackets, and find out more about your vessel from your captain. Then it’s time to head out to the Strait of Georgia, often taking a trip towards Victoria on Vancouver Island. Most whale watching trips are three to five hours and tour providers will allow you to come back again if no whales are spotted on your trip. Check with your tour provider but most boats, even the faster jet boats, provide washroom facilities. Tour companies can also let you know about accessible options.

Where To Leave From

Leaving from Granville Island or Coal Harbour is convenient for downtown transit but taking a trip from Horseshoe Bay or Steveston as a departure point means that you will be spending more time looking for whales but see fewer scenic views of the city on your way to the Strait of Georgia.

Tour Providers

Wild Whales tours leave from Granville Island. Founded by fisherman Roger Obayashi, in 2003, the tours are in jet-propelled boats to enable close encounters with the whales and other wildlife. Prince of Whales is one of the region’s most well-known whale watching tour companies and, as well as a base in Victoria, the company is based in the Westin Bayshore hotel in Coal Harbour. Featuring bigger boats, Prince of Whales is ideal for people looking for covered boats with ample viewing areas. It’s also possible to combine a whale watching tour with a day trip to Victoria, or even Seattle. 

Steveston Seabreeze Adventures operates from the charming village of Steveston, near Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport. Situated close to the confluence of the Fraser River and the Pacific, the whale watching tour has a 95 percent success rate in spotting the mighty mammals. Boats have indoor and outdoor viewing areas.