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Whale watching

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Newport Beach, CA
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Whale watching

My family and I are interested in seeing orcas in the wild during an 8-day, mid-July trip to Vancouver, Victoria, and the San Juan Islands. We plan on dedicating a day for the excursion.

I realize that actually seeing the whales is highly dependent on other factors, but does where and from whom I book a tour from matter? Is there a particularly good tour company out of Vancouver or Victoria? Or, the resident pods are on the north side of the San Juan Islands, so the distance you have to travel to get to where they usually congregate is shorter from Friday Harbor. The salmon runs at that time put the whales closer to a particular city.

So, where would you choose to leave from and what provider would you select?

Vancouver, Canada
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for Vancouver
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1. Re: Whale watching

The whale watching tours go for about 3-3.5 hours out of Victoria. They are competitively priced and help each other by radio so that everyone gets as good an experience as possible. Other than taking an afternoon tour, IMO, because the whales will have been located for the day, choose the one you like from reading the reviews.

The tours from Vancouver take 5-6 hours R/T as the boats generally have to go to the waters off Victoria.

Vancouver
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2. Re: Whale watching

Pretty much all the whale watching companies (on both sides of the border) work cooperatively to share location and sightings. The pods move around from day to day so it's almost impossible to predict the best departure point. The main thing is, no matter where you leave from, you will (probably) see whales.

Check out Vancouver Whale Watch (departs from Steveston) or Prince of Whales (Victoria). The type of boat you're on can really affect the experience, so do a little research before booking.

Victoria, Canada
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for Victoria, Port Angeles
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3. Re: Whale watching

If you haven't already done so, check out the Victoria Traveller Articles on Whale Watching at tripadvisor.ca/Travel-g154945-c93427/Victori… and tripadvisor.ca/Travel-g154945-c58625/Victori…

Vancouver, Canada
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4. Re: Whale watching

I used to work for a Steveston-based whale watching company over a decade ago. One thing a lot of people don't fully appreciate is that the orcas travel vast distances in the span of one day. At 9am they could be at the southern end of Vancouver Island, a short distance from Victoria. By noon they could be swimming around the San Juan (American) islands or the Gulf (Canadian) islands. By 3pm they could be feeding on salmon at the mouth of the Fraser River, a short distance from Steveston (Vancouver). Honestly, it doesn't make a big difference where you depart, because wherever you depart from, you'll end up travelling to where the orcas happen to be at that very moment. When you arrive at the orcas, you will see other whale watching boats from all the other departures... and that's when you'll fully realize that it doesn't matter where you depart from as you all end up in the same place in the end. :)

I do know, based on my experience, that the Steveston-based operators do travel as far south as Victoria if they have to, which means a trip would be 5 hours in length. However, if the orcas are nearby the Gulf Islands or Tsawwassen or the Fraser River, which happens just as frequently, they trips are 3 hours in length. There is one company based on Granville Island, and they travel the furthest as they have to navigate from Burrard Inlet and around Point Grey before travelling south to where the orcas typically are.

A final tip: the boat you travel in makes the biggest impact on your experience. My personal preference is to go in an open zodiak vessel.

Edited: 1:09 pm, June 13, 2014
Victoria, Canada
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5. Re: Whale watching

I just went on 3 hr whale watching tour from Victoria with 5 Star and really appreciated the knowledge and professionalism. They use a boat that carries 40 people, you can be inside or outside, and they have a washroom. We booked in advance and the weather wasn't the greatest so I appreciated the cover when we needed it. I think a zodiac would be so much fun on a nice day though. I noticed Prince of Wales and Springtide used zodiacs.

6. Re: Whale watching

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