Vancouver Island Whale Watching: the Best Time for Amazing Sightings

Whale Watching

If seeing whales in their natural habitat is something you have always wanted to do, then planning a trip to do so is easier than you might think. During your trip to Vancouver Island, it is well worth taking in one of the many tours available along the coast of Vancouver Island and keeping your full attention on the water. The tours range in price from about$100 to $130, and some even include lunch for longer tours. Often companies offer the promise of guaranteed sightings –if you have no luck you are offered free return visits until you see a whale.

Visitors are always on hoping for orca sightings, but the Island also boasts regular sightings of pacific grey whales, humpback whales, and numerous types of dolphins and porpoises as well. As we all know, there are no guarantees that you will see any animal in the wild, but whale watching tour companies work with each other, as well as other marine traffic, helicopters and local airlines to maximize your odds.You can further increase your chances of a successful whale encounter by planning your trip to match the best whale watching seasons.

The Iconic Killer Whale: Pick the Best Time of Year to Spot Orcas

If you are on the north end of the island from July-September, orcas, or killer whales, are often seen in the Johnstone Strait area.This iconic black and white creature with its tall dorsal fin, almost like a maritime top hat, has both delighted tourists and been studied scientifically for years. Most of us assume that the orca is a whale, but here’s a little known fact: they are actually a breed of very large dolphins! Orcas are highly social, living with the same pod their whole lives.

If you are on the south end of the island, the seas around Victoria and the San Juan Islands are home to several orca pods. From May to September, these local groups are a familiar sight. Some tour companies carry underwater microphones, so you can listen for the high squeaks and burbles of these playful orcas. Also notice that the eldest female of the pod will be leading the way through the cool, clear blue.

See the Spectacular Grey Whale Migration past Vancouver Island

The west coast of the island is where to catch a glimpse of the grey whales as they migrate between Mexico and the Bering Sea, although they have occasionally been seen on the inner coastline near Campbell River and Vancouver’s False Creek. The whales migrate 8000 – 1100 km every spring and fall. As a mid-point on the trip, the best chance to see them pass Vancouver Island is around April and November of every year.

Look carefully, because they’re hard to spot without the dorsal fin. If you’re very lucky, a whale will breach while you’re watching: a truly awesome sight! With their gnarled, mottled skin, they look almost prehistoric and totally unique.

See an Unforgettable Show when Searching for Humpback Whales

My personal favorite is the humpback whale. They are recognizable because of the contrast between their dark, barnacled body and white flukes and belly.These whales are one of the most vocal, communicating with eerie, complex songs.For being such huge animals, they are known for gracefully leaping out of the ocean: breaching effortlessly, splashing and slapping the water with their massive tails. Humpback whales have given me some of the most amazing whale watching experiences of my life.

Chance of Spotting Rarer Species Add an Extra Thrill to Whale Watching

When whale watching near Victoria, keep an eye out for the lesser known minke whale. These small baleen whales can be seen around the globe, but are often more elusive in the Vancouver Island area. The rarity of local sightings make for an exciting show if one is lucky.

Recent fisheries studies have shown that blue whales have been coming back north to BC’s West Coast. Blue whales, the largest mammals on the planet, were nearly hunted to extinction along the British Columbia coastline.

Whether you are on a tour on doing your own thing, finding the different types of whales around Vancouver Island is certainly a treasure hunt. There are a few other uncommon types swimming along out there, and I’d say that finding a rare type would make the day even more amazing.

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Amazing Vancouver Island and a clickable link back to this page.

Publisher of Amazing Vancouver Island. Doug grew up in Kamloops and Vancouver. He is also the President of KIAI Angency, an Internet Marketing and Branding agency in Vancouver. He is an avid photographer and you can see his many pix of Vancouver Island on Flickr.


  1. Please advise the best time of year to see the Grey Whale, Humpback Whale, Minke Whales as I am thinking of travelling to Vancouver Island between April and July 2019.

  2. We are visiting Vancouver Island in July. While I would love to see any whale, seeing a humpback breech is a dream. Is there an area where the chances of seeing humpbacks are better than others?

  3. If you like to see breaching humpbacks, in my opinion, one of the best locations is the Ningaloo Reef in Australia. Tours are offered from August to October. I made many whale watching trips in my life, two in Ningaloo, and that was the best experience ever. The humpbacks were breaching 30-40 times on both trips. However, Vancouver Island is one of the most beautiful Islands in the world and an exceptional place to spot huge pods of orcas.


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