whale watching on vancouver island

by jani on January 9, 2013

Have you ever had one of those moments in your life that was so spectacular, you thought you must have been dreaming? Well, HB and I had one such experience while visiting beautiful Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We were staying at the historic  Empress Hotel and on a whim decided we’d take a whale watching trip. The tour company explained that we may not even see a whale, but if we were really fortunate, one might just be breaching (that’s when a whale comes to the surface in almost a dancing jump). There are several pods of orcas in the area. They nickname them by letters… there’s the “J” pod and the “K” pod… you get the idea. Anyway, we were  excited to see a seaplane taking off as we were leaving  Victoria Harbour; it was quite close to our rubber pontoon boat known as an inflatable rigid Zodiac.

Whale Collage 4

The guide was very knowledgeable as we peppered him with questions. He took us to several of the popular sights… one was this lighthouse on an island filled with elephant seals and other wild life. We were content. Still no whale sightings.

Whale Collage 1

It was getting cold and we were glad to be in our very large but comfortably warm suits that had built-in life jackets. Yes, they were bulky, but we didn’t care. We were perfectly happy on a beautiful Canadian day!

Whale Collage 3

Words can’t properly explain the next few moments. We suddenly saw an orca pod that seemed to be moving parallel to us at a very safe distance from our boat. After all, our boat was not that large. There were about eleven passengers, including us and the captain/guide who sat directly behind HB and me.

When you’re out in the wild, you are at the mercy of the elements and the wildlife. A typical  pod of orcas consists of between 20 and 40 individuals, headed by an alpha male. Orcas (aka killer whales) can grow up to 32 feet and weight up to 10 tons. The dorsal fin of the male orca in the “K” pod is six feet tall.

With stunning abruptness this entire pod changed direction and were headed directly toward our small vessel. The captain turned off the motor because it was too late to move the boat. He told us to hold on and be very still.

Whale Collage 2

The male orca was upon us before we even knew what was happening. This mighty creature was magnificent. In those brief seconds as he surfaced right next to our boat I am certain my heart skipped a beat, HB took this photo… it is not blown up… this is exactly how close he was to our boat. I can’t tell you how large a wake he left other than that we all held on for dear life! After we watched him swim away, each person in that boat knew we had just witnessed something extraordinary… so dangerous, yet exhilarating – all at the same time!

whale watching 14

I can’t promise that you’ll be fortunate enough to experience something quite like this, if you do visit Victoria and decide to go on a whale watching adventure. But I can tell you that we would still have thoroughly enjoyed the trip had this incredible moment not happened. We would highly recommend this to any traveler who is visiting Vancouver Island and enjoying the unique flavor of the Canadian West Coast.

I would love to hear about any unforgettable experiences you may have had in your travels – or for that matter, any comments would be welcome!