The seas around Vancouver are home to 81 resident killer whales (or orcas) and hundreds of transient killer whales that prowl the waters at various times of the year. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see orcas from the decks of the BC Ferries vessels that criss-cross the Georgia Strait or even from land.
But to get an up-close view, there’s really only one option: whale watching tours. During the March-October season, multiple tour companies based in Coal Harbour, Granville Island and Steveston specialize in tracking down pods of orcas and other types of whales and giving wildlife lovers a chance to view them from a safe distance. Options range from speedy zodiac boats that zip over the waves to larger covered cruisers for whale watching in style.
I recently rode along on a Prince of Whales boat for what they call the Ultimate Day Tour, which combines whale watching with sightseeing on Vancouver Island. Spoiler alert: We didn’t see any orcas. But we did see another member of the whale family, one that makes the killer whale look almost puny by comparison.
The 62-foot covered cruiser Ocean Magic departs from Coal Harbour at 9 a.m.
Bundled up passengers crowd the top deck as the boat leaves Burrard Inlet.
Massive container ships wait in English Bay to enter Burrard Inlet.
The boat reaches speeds of up to 28 knots (around 52 kilometres per hour) as it races across Georgia Strait.
The first leg of the journey consists of a four-hour tour across the Georgia Strait and into the Gulf Islands, where most whales are seen.
Active Pass, the narrow waterway between Mayne and Galiano Islands is a hotbed of wildlife.
A colony of seals lounges on a small rocky island in the middle of Active Pass.
Naturalist Wilma Fuchs (in black) describes the various whales seen near Vancouver, including killer, humpback grey and minke whales.
Facing uncommonly cold June conditions, passengers retreat to the covered deck to warm up.
The tour crosses paths with BC Ferries ships at multiple points during the day.
Not far from Victoria, a whale is finally spotted – not an orca, but a humpback whale and its calf.
Humpback whales grow to 12-16 metres and weigh around 36,000 kilograms – making them two-three times as large as orcas.
After the sighting, the captain speeds into Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
Passengers disembark in Victoria at 1 p.m. to spend a few hours exploring B.C.’s capital city.
The neo-baroque B.C. Parliament, completed in 1897, presides over Victoria’s harbour.
During the summer, Victoria is bustling with events and activities (like the World Naked Bike Ride in June).
A shuttle bus takes guests onto Butchart Gardens in nearby Brentwood Bay.
The gardens feature 55 acres of meticulously manicured grounds, including the spectacular Sunken Garden, built over an old quarry.
The Prince of Whales boat picks up guests around 5 p.m. from a secluded cove deep inside Butchart Gardens.
The boat traces the channel between Vancouver and Salt Spring Islands as it returns to Vancouver.
After a two-hour ride back to Vancouver, guests are dropped off at Coal Harbour at around 7:30 p.m.
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