Captain's Log

Whale Watching in Victoria BC

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Bull killer whale approaching a whale watching boat in the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Victoria BC in the summer of 2004. Credit Kevin Stanley on Wikimedia.It's August, which means it's time for festivals, BBQs, swimming, tourism, and other activities that squeeze out the last of summer, including one of our favourites: Whale watching!

Victoria has its own pod of resident killer whales — also known as orcas — which is one of the largest in the world. The sheltered waters of the Juan de Fuca strait also means a variety of other whales come to visit and play, including humpback whales, porpoises, minke whales, and grey whales. August is one of the best times of the year to see all of them.

In this post we invite you to learn a little more about these majestic creatures, and why the Fantasea offers an experience you won't find with any other whale watching company in Victoria.

Victoria's Killer Whales

Killer whales are intelligent marine mammals that build strong family ties, living in matrilineal (headed by a mom, grandma, or even great-great-great-grandma) groups called pods. Each pod has its own unique hunting style and calls, helping to keep the family together.

Around the world, killer whales are categorized into two main types: Transient whales, who travel often and eat meat, such as seals and porpoises; and resident whales, who tend to stay in one place and eat fish, such as salmon. Resident and transient killer whales avoid each other, but both can be found in the waters near Victoria.

We know this thanks to Dr. Michael Bigg, a Vancouver Island resident who grew up in Duncan and headed marine mammal research at the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo. Considered the founder of modern orca research, Dr. Bigg was the first person to start an official scientific record of their populations, giving Vancouver Island a strong history in killer whale study and conservation.

Vancouver Island is also famous for having its own population (or clan) of resident killer whales, known as the "Southern Resident killer whales", "orcas of the Salish Sea", or the "SRKW population". The population is made up of three pods (called J, K, and L by scientists), which have anywhere from 18-35 whales each. One of J Pod's whales, known as "Granny", was over 100 years old — the oldest killer whale in the world when she passed away in 2016. Another one of J Pod's whales was born the same year Dr. Bigg died and is named "Mike" in his honour.

The SRKW population is known for having their very own "dialect" different from those of other killer whale communities. They use whistles to socialize and call to each other from far away, and "talk" or "chatter" more than other known orca clans. If you see them during a cruise and listen carefully, you can sometimes hear their conversations.

During spring, fall, and especially summer, our resident killer whales love to hang out in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, and the southern Georgia Strait, while chowing down on their favourite snack of Chinook salmon. They've even been seen playing with porpoises! At other times of the year, they've been spotted as far away as Haida Gwaii and California.

Victoria also sees its share of transient killer whales, with as many as 225 different ones spotted in the Strait last year. That means almost all of the 275 transient west coast orcas living from Alaska to California pass by our home!

When it comes to other species, humpback whales have been making a great comeback. Their favourite time to visit Vancouver Island is in the late summer and fall. They normally migrate south for the winter, but some of them are starting to stick around all year long. Minke whales favour the summer too, and there are signs that a resident grey whale population lives in our area.

Whale Watching In Victoria BC

If you're looking for the most comfortable, unique, up-close view of local whales in Victoria, the Fantasea is the way to go.

Unlike other whale watching companies that sell seats on public vessels, forcing you to share your trip with strangers, we only book private whale watching charters. It's easy to organize a whale watching expedition with your close friends or family, or even book a class trip! A certified naturalist will be on board to answer your questions and point out all the fascinating wildlife Vancouver Island has to offer.

No matter what the weather is like, there's no need to bundle up or protect yourself from sea spray. Because the Fantasea is fully covered and heated on both decks, you can spy local whales in perfect comfort, even when it's raining or windy. When the weather is hot, we open up the side curtains and let the breeze flow through. You can wear whatever you'd like, choose the perfect seat and freely move around both the main and upper deck to get the best views and spectacular photo opportunities. We make sure to find the whales, so all you need to do is enjoy them!

More amenities, you say? We're happy to serve. In addition to a full on-board washroom, we can provide binoculars, a well-stocked bar and hostess, coffee and tea, and — for those who want the all-inclusive experience — a gourmet three-course meal to transform your whale watching tour into a dinner cruise.

Because of these comforts, whale watching cruises on the Fantasea are ideal for those with children, mobility issues, service animals (we're pet friendly!), or who simply want a relaxing private atmosphere.

Finally, Victoria and BC as a whole are working hard to protect the whales in our waters through actions like cleaning up and preventing pollution spills, helping restore salmon populations, doing research, and having strict whale protection rules for boats on the water. On the Fantasea we make sure to observe these rules by giving the whales their space, and limiting our vessel's noise and speed. For this reason, we recommend you bring a good camera with a high-quality zoom to get the very best out of your photographs.

Still not convinced? Give us a call and we'll be happy to answer any questions you might have.