Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Whale watching is to Victoria what skiing is to Whistler or winery tours are to the Okanagan Valley. It’s the one activity a visitor must try because no other destination in the province — nor in the country — does it so consistently well.
There are many whale-watching tour companies in the British Columbia capital and I’ve had the fortune to be guided by many of them on excursions into the waters of the Pacific Ocean searching out orcas, humpbacks and grey whales.
My best experience for sightings was on the speed boat with Eagle Wing Tours. Not only did I enjoy an outstanding viewing of humpback whales, I also understood the advantages of a speed boat. Primarily, you can move faster — and more comfortably — than in a Zodiac. The swiftness of Eagle Wing’s speed boats gets passengers quickly into viewing position once spotters have signalled over radio that a whale sighting has occurred. Along with sailings in covered catamarans, the company offers tours in high-speed monohull boats that race up to 32 knots. Once they are within 400 metres of a whale, tour boats must reduce their speed to less than 7 knots to maintain observance of eco-safety rules. And Canadian maritime law prevents tour boats from being closer than 100 metres to any whale.
So, partly because of regulations, Eagle Wing’s advantage isn’t dramatic over the competition. But there are other plusses to its fleet.
Chasing Whales Is the Thing to Do in Victoria
For one thing, passengers enjoy freedom of movement when the boat is holding its position. Unlike in Zodiacs, you can stand and wander in a monohull, spying the horizon as you aim to glimpse whales or just appreciate the scenery of the stunning west coast.
My tour included sightings of a humpback that incredibly flashed its flipper at the boat, making those onboard believe it was waving hello. Humpbacks routinely sail through the Salish Sea — which includes the Juan de Fuca Strait, the Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound — thrilling anyone who catches sight of them. In 2016, there was a spike in humpback sightings and reports the cetaceans was returning to the Pacific northwest in numbers not seen in decades. Their presence only improves the whale-watching experience in Victoria for Eagle Wing and other operators.
The city is already well known for its resident orca populations as well as seals, sea lions and otters. More humpbacks just add to the attraction.
When you see a creature as impressive as an orca or humpback in such close proximity, and with apparent playfulness, you feel a greater connection to nature and the desire to experience it again. In that way, whale-watching excursions also help to foster environmentalism. Hopefully, it creates both an admiration for the beauty of wildlife and a sense of protectionism toward the oceans and the marvellous species who reside within them.
More About Whale-Watching in Victoria
Eagle Wing Tours: Whale watching takes place year-round with rates in fall starting at $65 per person for most tours. Visit the company’s website for details.