There are many people, including locals, who enjoy the opportunity to experience whale watching in Victoria.   Victoria companies offer the thrill of a zodiac or scarab tour or the smoother, more comfortable ride of larger covered catamarans and purpose built covered boats with their onboard naturalists who are educated about local species and geography.


Whale watching may seem expensive due to current high fuel prices, but it is an educational experience that brings you into the reality of life as a whale. Regulations used in the Salish Sea hold operators to the highest standards in the world and strict guidelines are enforced.


Each trip offers a unique experience and whales always have the potential to surprise. You never know when a whale is going to surface, breach, spyhop or tail slap.  However, whale watching is more than just about the whales. There is an opportunity to learn about other marine life, including Steller and California sea lions, harbour seals, porpoises, dolphins, sea otters, bald eagles and other birds.


There are three different types of boats: a zodiac, a covered boat, or a scarab. A zodiac (also known as a RHIB) is the most adventurous boat, it can be compared to riding a roller coaster or a horse. If you enjoy a high speed, thrilling ride with the wind blowing in your face, sea spray and don’t mind riding with waves and a few bumps, a Zodiac boat is for you! Please keep in mind that zodiacs are not recommended for anyone with neck injuries, back injuries, recent surgeries or anyone who is pregnant. Few zodiacs offer washrooms. Zodiacs are able to offer more departure times. Prince of Whales, Orca Spirit, Springtide and BC Whale Tours offer zodiacs.


On the opposite end of the spectrum, most companies offer covered boats. These boats offer a smoother, more relaxing and generally warmer experience. Many of these boats are fully equipped with a washroom as well as indoor and outdoor seating. Companies with larger boats employ university-educated biologists or naturalists who educate the general public on the history, life, habitat and importance of the preservation of the animals. Orca Spirit, Spring Tide, Prince of Whales, Five Star and Eagle Wing offer larger partially covered vessels.


The final type of the three boats is the scarab commonly known as a cigarette boat. Scarabs offer the speed of the zodiac combined with the greater stability of a covered vessel, however, they are the most expensive of all three options. Eagle Wing is the only company that offers Scarabs.


Tours typically range from 3 hours to 4+ hours depending on the company. Keep in mind that boats are travelling quite fast and temperatures are about 10 degrees colder on the water than on land so be sure to dress warmly. There is even the possibility that you may get wet, either from sea spray or rain! Since you are searching for wildlife, viewings can not be guaranteed. However, in the summer months of June-August when all three resident pods of killer whales are frequently in the area, success rate is over 90%. If you do not see whales, most companies typically offer you the opportunity to go again for free until you do see whales.


Generally, the cheapest companies are the no-frills companies, providing you with whale watching and little else. The more expensive companies may offer; complimentary hot drinks, binoculars, hats, gloves, sun screen and hydrophones. Prior to booking a tour, ensure that the company you choose offers a “Whale Guarantee” – although this guarantee varies by company, it generally means that they will offer you another complimentary tour to have another chance to see whales. 


When searching for a company consider the following:


If going on a covered boat: are there complimentary hot drinks? (Some companies will charge for this)

What other features does the boat and company offer?

If going on a zodiac: are there washrooms on board?

Is the company flexible with departure times?

What happens if you are not able to see whales on the first trip?

Will they pick you up and/or drop you off free of charge from your hotel?

Will they just take you to see whales or provide you with an opportunity to see other marine wildlife?