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A Guide To Whale Watching In Vancouver For Nature Lovers

The final part of my Canada series is now here! This one is dedicated to Vancouver whale watching. There’s something incredibly beautiful about seeing these massive yet graceful creatures glide through the water.

If you’re going to be spending a fair amount of time in the city, and like spending time outdoors, be sure to check out my Vancouver bucket list and guides to the best hikes and waterfalls in Vancouver.

Come with me to explore whale watching trips in Vancouver!

One of the killer whales we saw during our whale watching tour in Vancouver

One of the killer whales we saw during our whale watching tour in Vancouver

Which whales can be found in Vancouver?

There is a great variety of whales that make their way along Vancouver’s coastline, frolicking in their natural habitat. You can expect to see killer whales, humpback whales, gray whales, and minke whales at different times of the year.

When can you see whales in Vancouver?

The best time to see whales in Vancouver depends on which type of whale you’re hoping to see. It’s important to note that the time of the year is not the only thing that affects whale sightings.

The tide and weather conditions also play an important role. But being in the right area at the right time does increase your chances of seeing whales drastically.

Here’s when you should go whale watching in Vancouver, depending on the type of whale you’re wanting to see:

Killer Whales (Orcas)

The best time to see an orca in Vancouver is between May and October. They come to the Vancouver area to feed on the salmon that migrates to the Gulf Islands from the Strait of Georgia.

Although killer whales are not technically whales, they are the most commonly spotted large creature on many tours. They have become quite accustomed to human activity in the area so aren’t afraid to reveal themselves.

In fact, it seems as if they enjoy the attention.

Killer whales that we saw hunting during our Vancouver whale watching tour

Killer whales that we saw hunting during our Vancouver whale watching tour

Humpback Whales

The number of humpback whales that reside along Vancouver’s coastline has increased dramatically in recent years. They can be spotted in the area all year round.

But the most sightings of these big creatures happen between April and November.

Humpback whales are the second-most common whale sighting, this is because of their immense size and two-toned colouring that makes them easier to spot.

Gray Whales

The gray whale is particularly difficult to spot, as they tend to stay well below the surface.

However, around 20,000 of them migrate past Vancouver between January and May, so your chances of spotting them are far greater during this time.

Minke Whales

Most sightings of minke whales happen between May and October. And usually happen in particularly shallow waters (at a depth of less than 200-metres).

Minke whales are not very abundant in this area. However, sightings aren’t a rarity – so keep your eyes peeled for these massive creatures.

Whale watching tour in Pico Island

Whale watching tour in Pico Island

Best places to whale watch, Vancouver

Granville Island and Coal Harbour are popular spots for whale watching tours to depart from, since they’re easy to get to from downtown Vancouver. Leaving from Horseshoe Bay and Steveston is also quite popular.

These leaving points mean you spend a lot more time looking for whales. But you lose the scenic views of the city on the way to the Strait of Georgia.

Tour companies generally dictate which area you’ll leave from. This often changes depending on the time of year. Often tours that leave from Vancouver Harbour will take you in amongst the islands to see whales.

Or they’ll take you to Victoria while you do some whale spotting along the way.

A whale tail poking out of the sea - Image by Dassel, Pixabay

A whale tail poking out of the sea

Best whale watching tours, Vancouver

When you decide to go whale watching from Vancouver, it’s far easier to go on a guided tour. Your guides have a wealth of information for you to tap into, and they know the best spots around Vancouver for whale watching.

Here are a few of the best whale watching tours in Vancouver.

Boat Tour From Vancouver: Whales, Victoria, Butchart Gardens

Why not kill three birds with one stone on this boat tour from Vancouver?

The 95-passenger boat will take you around Stanley Park and then head to the Strait of Georgia. Spend 4 hours on the water, keeping your eyes peeled for orcas and other marine wildlife.

You’ll arrive in Victoria just in time for lunch and be given a little free time to explore the area before heading to the historical Butchart Gardens.

These gardens are filled with Hummingbirds, butterflies and beautiful flowers all worth photographing. After exploring the sunken gardens you’ll hop back on a cruise ship before reaching Vancouver 2.5 hours later.

Click here to see the latest prices and availability for the boat tour from Vancouver!

The whale we spotted while sailing to Isla Tortuga from Montezuma

A playful whale jumping around in the sea

Vancouver Whale Watching Safari

This 3-hour whale watching safari will see you heading into the ocean on a speedboat to see whales close-up. You can expect to see killer whales, seals, sea lions, and many other forms of marine wildlife. Even bald eagles can be spotted.

A visit to Granville Island is included in the trip and adds a little extra excitement to the day.

Click here to save your spot on the 3-hour whale watching safari!

From Vancouver: Victoria Whale Watching Adventure

This 8-hour whale watching adventure starts with a 3-hour whale-watching expedition in which you’re more than likely to spot killer whales among other species of whale.

What makes this tour especially unique is that you’ll get the chance to fly in a seaplane from Vancouver Harbour to Victoria.

This gives you the chance to enjoy spectacular views of the Gulf Islands from above. Be sure to take your camera and accessories along for the ride as you’ll get some breath-taking photos from the plane.

If you have a GoPro or action sports camera it’ll be the perfect opportunity to put it to use.

Click here to book your whale watching adventure!

Sea lions chilling in the sun

Sea lions chilling in the sun

Vancouver, BC: Half-Day Whale Watching Tour

This half-day whale watching tour lasts for 3-6 hours and allows you to get an up-close and personal look at some of Vancouver’s friendliest whales.

There are plenty of viewing platforms on the boat, enabling you to get the best sightings at all times.

During the cruise, the crew will teach you about local geology and the marine life that you’re likely to see along the way. Apart from the marine wildlife, take in stunning views of the Gulf Islands, San Juan Islands, as well as Howe Sound.

For your own peace of mind, know that the 62-foot vessel you’ll be travelling in was designed to minimise the ecological footprint. So you’ll be doing your part to ensure eco-friendly travel is the way forward.

Click here to book your half-day whale watching tour!

Humpback whale jumping out of the water - photo by Dassel, Pixabay

Humpback whale jumping out of the water

Vancouver to Victoria One-Way Whale Watching Cruise

If you’re going to be travelling from Vancouver to Victoria, why not make an adventure of it and take a one-way whale-watching cruise to your next destination.

You’ll be travelling at a comfortable 30 knots in a Salish Sea Dream vessel that makes the entire experience feel a little more luxurious.

Along with 93 other passengers, you’ll get to look out for 4 different varieties of whale – namely killer, humpback, minke, and gray.

You’ll also need to keep your eyes peeled for sea lions, seals, and porpoises as they often playfully swim alongside the boat.

This 4-hour voyage is an absolute adventure and a necessity for anyone who was planning on travelling to Victoria as their next destination. There’s surely no better way to see wild whales in Vancouver.

Click here to save your spot on your whale watching tour & cruise to Victoria!

The fin of a white whale - Photo by Matt Hardy on Scopio

The fin of a white whale – Photo by Matt Hardy on Scopio

Vancouver Island: Half-Day Whale and Wildlife Adventure Tour

This half-day whale and wildlife adventure tour gives you a chance to explore the Salish Sea with a professional guide.

Take in unparalleled views of the surrounding islands while you learn about marine wildlife from your knowledgeable guide.

This tour is unique in that you’ll get to explore the quaint fishing village of Cowichan Bay as well. Grab a coffee and some baked goods to go so you have plenty of snacks for the cruise.

The guides onboard the boat are all experts in their own fields – photography, whale research, and conservation.

Incredible photo opportunities present themselves throughout the journey so be sure to have your camera ready at all times.

Whales can appear and just as quickly disappear in the blink of an eye, so you’ll need to remain prepared.

Click here to book your half-day whale and wildlife adventure tour!

A killer whale - one of the whales you can spot when you go whale watching in Vancouver, Canada - photo by Skeeze, Pixabay

A killer whale – one of the whales you can spot when you go whale watching in Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver: Whale Watching Victoria Trip and Return via Seaplane

This 11-hour whale watching expedition combines two of the most popular activities in Vancouver – whale watching and seaplane adventures.

During the 4-hour cruise from Vancouver, you’ll see the whales crossing the Georgia Strait and witness them breaching the surface of the water.

After taking in some spectacular whale sightings, you’ll arrive in Victoria to explore the famous waterfront area. Your guide will teach you about the history of the area as you make your way through the streets.

You’ll then get some free time to explore on your own.

Renting a bike and pedaling through the public gardens and seafront promenades is highly recommended during this part of the tour.

Explore the many eateries that line the British-style streets and pop-into a museum or two.

After a full day of adventure, you’ll return to Vancouver by a seaplane.

Don’t miss out, click here to book your whale watching & seaplane adventure!

The seaplanes in Vancouver, Canada

The seaplanes in Vancouver

My Vancouver whale watching experience

Being able to see whales in real life has been on my bucket list since forever. So it’s just obvious that while visiting Vancouver, a renowned destination for whale sightings, I’d go whale watching.

I went with Wild Whales Vancouver, and we spent about 5 hours at sea. What I liked about them was that if you don’t see any whales, you can go back free of charge, as many times as is needed until you see whales.

It shows professionality on their part, as well as how sure they are that they’ll be able to find whales.

Park regulations say you’re only allowed about an hour with the whales, so the majority of the time is really just driving to where the whales have been sighted.

The drive there is fun too, the water is usually calm as the sea is sheltered and not too choppy, and the crew bring round maps and journals for you to learn about the whales.

The whales had moved from the original sighting spot, but we found them quite easily, mostly due to the two other whale watching boats there.

We saw a pod of killer whales hunting, and it was one of the most epic things I have ever seen.

Killer whales we saw hunting close to our boat

Killer whales we saw hunting close to our boat

Killer whales come out to breathe 3 or 4 times in a row, then dive deeper before resurfacing to breathe next time after 7 to 10 minutes.

They can obviously swim quite far in that time, so every time they dived under we’d be looking everywhere frantically, trying to spot fins resurfacing somewhere.

We were very lucky as we saw them hunting, and they were doing so very close to the surface, so we could see their tails splashing around throughout it.

Regulations say you have to stay at least at 100 metres distance from the whales. However, if you stop the engines of your boat, and then the whales swim up close to you there’s not much you can do to prevent it.

We were very lucky as this is what happened, with one of the killer whales even slamming its catch (by then it was just a big chunk of meat and bones, but the crew identified it as a seal) on the side of our boat.

This was the highlight of the trip for me, and I was lucky enough to catch it on video if you want to check it out!

Killer whales that we saw hunting during our Vancouver whale watching tour

Killer whales that we saw hunting during our Vancouver whale watching tour

Where to stay in Vancouver

There are lots of cool places to stay in Vancouver, from which you can then easily go whale watching. I’ve listed below some accommodation options for every budget.

Luxury: EXchange Vancouver Hotel is one of the fancier hotels in Downtown Vancouver. It’s perfect for those looking for a little luxury to spice up their holiday.

Click here to book your stay at EXchange Vancouver Hotel!

Mid-range: O Canada House Bed & Breakfast is the perfect accommodation option for those looking for a home away from home. The rooms are elegantly decorated and have stunning views of the city.

Check out the latest prices and availability at O Canada House Bed & Breakfast!

Budget: Cambie Hostel Gastown is located in the heart of Downtown Vancouver. It has spacious dorms with a cool interior decor, as well as big communal spaces to socialise with other travellers.

Click here to see the latest prices and availability at Cambie Hostel Gastown!

The Vancouver city skyline and beach - Photo by Shaylen Anita on Scopio

The Vancouver city skyline and beach – Photo by Shaylen Anita on Scopio

Final thoughts on whale watching in Vancouver, BC

All in all, it was a great trip, and I highly recommend going whale watching if you’re ever in Vancouver. I hope you find this guide useful in planning your trip to Vancouver, and choosing the best whale watching tour.

Have you been whale watching in Vancouver? Or anywhere else in the world? How did you find it?

Let me know in the comments below! Another must-do activity in Vancouver is driving on the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler.

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Collage of humpback whales with text overlay saying "whale watching in Vancouver, Canada"

50 Amazing Things to do in Canada – News Lead 24/7

Wednesday 21st of October 2020

[…] The sea around Vancouver is home to large pods of orcas, as well as plenty of other types such as humpback whales, grey whales and minke whales that pass through these […]

50 Amazing Things to do in Canada - NWS100

Wednesday 21st of October 2020

[…] The sea around Vancouver is home to large pods of orcas, as well as plenty of other types such as humpback whales, grey whales and minke whales that pass through these […]

Olivia

Wednesday 17th of May 2017

This sounds like a truly wonderful trip! The otters are adorable and seeing whales must have been totally surreal. Wow! Thanks for sharing :)

gomoboni

Monday 22nd of May 2017

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it! Not a problem, I had lots of fun filming it and I love sharing my travels and advice with you guys! The otters are my favourite haha yes seeing whales in real life was pretty magical!