Eco Tourism in Victoria
Alive with marine life, the nutrient-rich and sheltered waters around southern Vancouver Island offer up some of the world’s highest density and most accessible whale watching. The waters here are the most accessible and predictable place to see orcas (killer whales) in their natural habitat, along with many other saltwater inhabitantsAnd that's not all: the excursions also encounter sea otters, colonies of seals and sea lions sunning on the rocks and taking dips, playful porpoises and dolphins delighting in the waves, and graceful sea birds gliding and diving in the breeze. Diving and shore birds are plentiful here, and regular sightings include bald eagles, falcons, osprey and cormorants.
When conditions permit, sightseeing tours leave daily from Victoria’s Inner Harbour and the Port of Sidney. Qualified operators run a range of vessels, including zodiac-style boats, catamarans, yachts and covered expedition cruisers. Most of the marine adventure tours have local certified naturalists on board, and they are fascinating sources of information about the animals, their behaviour and their habitat.
Sheltered passages between Vancouver Island’s southeastern tip and the San Juan Islands just across the U.S. border are some of the best waters in the world to see whales up close in their natural habitat. These amazing mammals swim along the shorelines, chasing salmon, socializing and interacting with each other. Juan de Fuca Strait, Haro Strait and the Salish Sea are the summer home for three groups of resident orcas, totalling about 80 individuals. Orcas, commonly known as the killer whale, are the main attraction, but gray, humpback and minke whales can also be seen passing through.
Orcas are called whales, but they are really the largest member of the dolphin family. Female Orcas grow to five to seven metres long and weigh three to four tonnes, while males can reach eight metres long and weigh more than six tonnes. They are typically black, with a white eyespot and a grey patch, known as a saddlepatch, just behind the dorsal fin.
The sightseeing excursions from Victoria range from a couple of hours to all-day excursions, and the most sophisticated ones use hydrophone technologies to hear the whales' unique underwater conversations. Many of the tours include a visit to Race Rocks Ecological Reserve, Canada’s first Marine Protected Area, home to an astonishing abundance of marine life. Operators respect regulations that restrict how close they can get, and are careful not to disturb the activities of the whales. They are dedicated to conservation, respect and education, and strictly follow the regulations for viewing marine life outlined by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Another popular way to get up close and personal with nature is with adventure kayaking tours. Several operators offer guided excursions both inside and outside the harbour, depending on the winds. Be sure to bring a camera and a set of binoculars. You won’t want to forget it!