After hearing how whale watching off the coast of Vancouver Island was probably the best place in the world to go, and we were at exactly the right time of year to see some amazing animals, we decided we needed to end our road trip with a boat trip. We chose to book a tour on the semi covered catamaran with Eagle Wing Tours. The four-hour tour seemed to get the best reviews online and the company boasted decent levels of conservation activity to go alongside their tourism. We booked a couple of days ahead to secure the online rate, and were very excited to tick this off our bucket list.
Orca off the coast of Canada.
Our boat had a captain and two naturalists, both currently studying for a PhD in whale related research, and we felt in good hands. I should say right at the start of this blog post that all three crew were just brilliant; they knew their stuff and were very good at explaining what we were seeing and giving us lots of interesting facts during the whole trip. We met them at the Eagle Wing Tours building on Fisherman’s Wharf and after booking in and having the necessary safety briefing we boarded the boat and left Victoria.
Mummy, daddy (Mike) and baby Orca.
It wasn’t very long at all until we came across a pod of resident Orcas. Our guides explained that these Killer Whales are from J Pod and come back to this area every year, they are salmon eaters and there is a fair amount of food in the waters here for them to feed on. We watched the pod swim closer and closer until the Captain had to cut the engines on our boat to make sure we were not posing any danger to the whales. There are rules to protect the whales that include not getting within 100 metres of any of them, but of course the whales don’t know that and they can swim wherever they like – we were treated to an incredible close encounter as we floated on the water with the pod swimming around and under the boat. The group included a matriarch, an old female who was head of the Pod, and at least two very young whales swimming with their mums. It was an amazing sight.
After a little while enjoying the view, our captain decided it was time to leave this area, now very busy with other boats, and head to find some humpback whales he’d heard were not far away. We sped through the water for about half an hour and, as promised, came across a group of humpbacks. Humpbacks are normally fairly solitary whales who hunt alone, rather than living in pods like the Orcas. Our naturalist guides were as excited and surprised to see around 12 of these huge animals work together to feed on the shrimp and krill found in these waters. Apparently very unusual behaviour, it is thought they have learned to do this to make the most of the dwindling food supply. It really was a sight to see; there is quite a noise as these whales launch themselves out of the water with mouths wide open, splashing down on their prey and back under.
Before our time was up we headed back to see the Orcas one more time. On the way we went to see the seals, otters and birds around the island, who are safe here as the Orcas in these parts are salmon eaters rather than the ones you see hunting seals. Phew!
Looking out for birds, otters and seals.
The boat itself was large and comfortable, with a decent inside space kitted out with comfortable chairs, a tuck shop and a couple of toilets. Outside there were several decks with seating and viewing areas to allow you to see what was going on around. It was a little chilly and windy but, nevertheless, we spent much of our time up on the top deck area with the captain, listening to the radio messages and watching the whales from above. Our tour started at 9am and so we grabbed some burrito style wraps and drinks from a local bakery before we boarded to have as lunch as we sailed, which was a good move as the tuck shop on board was just chocolate bars and soft drinks. The whole tour was very relaxed and with just 20-ish or people on board we had plenty of space and no problem getting into a position to see the whales well.
Watching people watching whales.
Just over four hours after leaving, we arrived back in Victoria absolutely buzzing from our whale watching experience. It really was a highlight of the whole road trip, and in fact comes very near the top of the best bucket list experiences of my life so far. We got some great photos and memories that will last a lifetime.
Our tour with Eagle Wing Tours was certainly not cheap at around $120 CAD each (July 2016), but it was well worth the money even before we got Allister’s tour cost back for winning their instagram photo competition with the below photo. Comparing this to other similar experiences we’ve had, such as the helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon or a the hot air balloon flight in Cappadocia, it’s something that simply must be done and is worth saving pennies elsewhere to make sure you can afford it.
LincsGeek’s competition winning photograph!
If you are looking to go whale watching from Victoria I would happily recommend Eagle Wing Tours.
Note that you must sign a waiver when booking which says that you cannot hold the crew responsible for any injury, loss or death even if the crew are found to be wilfully negligent. In the UK such waiver clauses are void and enforceable because they are considered Unfair Contract Terms. However, under British Columbia law that waiver will stand up in court even in the case of death. We found this clause in the contract very unnerving but decided to trust the reviews and go on the tour anyway – we were well looked after and everything seemed to be very well managed and maintained.