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Whale watching in Vancouver

Whale watching in Vancouver
Whale watching in Vancouver

Earlier this month, my friend Karen and I went whale watching in White Rock.


Since I moved to BC almost 5 years ago, it has been my goal to see an orca. Unfortunately, I don’t have the best history with whale-watching and this has become somewhat of a running joke. There have been several whale-sightings from the seawall, and despite spending many hours on the seawall, I have missed every single one! I remember a two-week span where a whale kept popping up by Third Beach, and of course I was in Toronto the entire time.

Last summer, my friend Karen decided to try and help rectify this. We were going whale-watching! We had to reschedule once because of weather, but on a sunny day in July we were off. We barely made it out of the harbour, before the boat started to turn back around. The boat broke down (this was after a young girl on the boat was having a full-on tantrum because she was scared of the water).

So we gave up for that year! A few weeks ago, it was time for our whale-watching redemption. Karen choose a new company (White Rock Sea Tours – highly recommend) and we lucked out with a beautiful day. But the real question: would I finally see an orca in BC?


The adventure begins from White Rock Pier


Upon arriving at White Rock Pier, we were suited up by our captain in full-body bright red Mustang Survival flotation suits. While it felt ridiculous to be wearing such a warm suit on a hot day, as soon as we were out on the water the temperature (unsurprisingly) immediately dropped. Our small group of 10 boarded the Zodiac boat and we were off.



First stop: sea lion sightings


Good news, the boat made it out of the harbour! We quickly traveled across Semiahmoo Bay, out into the Georgia Strait. Along the way, we stopped to watch the playful sea lions. They are quite the characters, huge, loud and fighting each other for the best spot on the buoy.



Then we headed north, passing Point Roberts where you can distinctly see the break in tree line and border between the US and Canada. After spotting some porpoises, we continued north in search of whales. We spent the next several hours travelling around the Canadian Gulf Islands and the US San Juan Islands. The scenery was gorgeous and I can’t imagine a much better way to spend a hot sunny day then out on the water discovering more of this stunning province.

After hearing from other whale watching companies via the shared radio, we headed towards a spot where humpback whales had been spotted. We spent the next 30 minutes watching the humpbacks go in and out of the water, incredible to see such huge animals out in the wild!


Lunch stop at Saturna Island


3 hours into the trip and whales having been spotted, it was time for lunch. We returned south and stopped at Saturna Island for lunch. The island is lovely and small, nestled in beside Mayne Island, North and South Pender Islands. We had lunch at the Saturna Lighthouse Pub and soaked up the sun on the pub’s spacious oceanfront patio. The food was fresh and delicious and the portions generous. I loved the local prawns I had, served with garlic butter, rice, and salad. Definitely recommend the pub if you’re in the middle of the Southern Gulf Islands and looking for a spot to eat.



As we finished up lunch, our Captain discussed with the group what to do next. At the start of our trip, I had eagerly shared my dream of seeing an orca in BC, so the goals of this trip were well known to him. A pod of orca whales had been spotted earlier in the day heading in our direction. But after lunch, it appeared they changed their minds and were no longer coming our way. It was getting close to 4:00 pm, so we made the decision to return back to White Rock Pier.

Fortunately, knowing my whale-watching history Karen chose a tour company that offers 100% whale-spotting guarantee! While we had seen humpbacks, we did not seen any orca whales and the captain offered that we could return later in the summer free of a charge for another attempt. Third times a charm?



The return to White Rock Pier was beautiful. With the sun slowly starting to go down, the sky and ocean were glowing. Yet another time when I reminded of how lucky and happy I am to live in BC. I may not have achieved my orca-spotting dreams today, but I was excited to see even more of the province by boat!



Have you gone whale-watching before? If you’ve seen an orca in the wild, maybe don’t tell me.

2 Comments
  • Syd says:

    Haha! Pleasure to read as always. I am sure you will see an orca the next time you go out, but in the meantime you may as well keep clocking in hours on the seawall. I used to wonder why I always missed the whale sightings with all the time I spent there. Finally one day last spring I got lucky. It wasn’t an orca, but I did witness two grey whales playing between sunset beach and English bay.

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