BC Whale Tours: The Best of Both Worlds

When whale watching in Victoria, tourists usually get to choose their own adventure, which is largely determined by the type of boat they choose. It’s rarely a big debate – either fast and furious or slow and steady as she goes. Those wanting a thrill ride generally choose a zodiac or scarab, while those preferring the comfort of a leisurely cruise opt for a covered boat.

bc orca
"BC Orca" D.Wilson/JetBC
Covered boats are usually slower but comfortable particularly on a cool day as many offer heated cabins. With zodiacs, tourists are exposed to all the elements – it’s just you and the ocean! But what makes BC Whale Tours unique is that you can enjoy the best of both worlds: the thrill and speed of a zodiac accompanied by the comfort of a heated cabin.

BC Whale Tours offers the only fleet of zodiacs in Victoria that are equipped with heated cabins. Passengers have the choice of sitting outside and enjoying the cool sea breeze or relaxing in the comfort of the cabin – a useful feature on a rainy day! On cold and windy days, you will be glad that you have a choice.

Our vessel for the day, BC Orca, is the fastest zodiac in the BC Whale Tours fleet.  It is capable of seating around twenty people, but tours are restricted to a maximum of twelve people to provide everyone with plenty of space, comfort, and unobstructed viewing opportunities.

bc whale tours
"Captain Jim" D.Wilson/JetBC
A brief orientation was provided and we were welcomed aboard by Captain Jim. With nearly 20 years of experience, he is incredibly knowledgeable and intuitive, which proved to be an asset on this particular tour. To some of his industry colleagues, he is fondly known as the “whale whisperer.”

bc whale tours
"Inner Harbour" D.Wilson/JetBC
We had the pleasure of sitting in the very front row of BC Orca. As is common with most zodiacs, it’s a bumpier ride for those up front compared to those seated in the rows behind. As our trip began on a brisk morning in May with clouds overhead, it was reassuring that we had the option of escaping to the heated cabin.

victoria fisherman's wharf
"Fisherman's Wharf" D.Wilson/JetBC

As we taxied out of Victoria’s Inner Harbour, we encountered the familiar sights of the Empress Hotel, Legislative Buildings, and Fisherman’s Wharf with its extensive array of colourful house boats. As we cruised past Fisherman’s Wharf, we encountered one of the covered boats, which did not take us long to pass.

slow covered boats
"Slower Covered Boats" D.Wilson/JetBC
On this particular morning, a number of tour companies were headed out on whale watching adventures. But no whales had been sighted in the area yet so all of the boats were splitting up, heading off into different directions in search of marine wildlife. A number of boats headed West towards Sooke, while we travelled North toward Haro Strait and the San Juan Islands. As we departed, we past the Norwegian Pearl cruise ship, which was in port for the day.

harbour seals trial island
"Harbour Seals at Trial Island" D.Wilson/JetBC
Our first stop was Trial Island, where we encountered a group of harbour seals hanging out. We made our way further along through the Oak Bay Islands Ecological Reserve where more harbour seals and birds were enjoying their day on the rocks. Captain Jim pointed out that staying out of the water and on the rocks helps protect the seals from the predatory orca whales.

bc whale tours
"Stellar Sea Lion" D.Wilson/JetBC
As we headed further towards Haro Strait, we discovered a Steller Sea Lion perched on a ledge.  Two bald eagles stood watch overhead. The Steller Sea Lion is the largest of the eared seals, often reaching up to 9.25 feet in length and weighing up to 1.2 tons.

We eventually reached San Juan Island, desperately looking for any sign of whales. Captain Jim was in constant communication with the other boats in the area, hoping that something would turn up. But nearly half-way through our tour, there was not a single sign of whales. He explained that our local resident pods of orca whales had not been seen in the area in the last week and a half.

We continued north through the San Juan Islands, hoping to spot any sign of whale activity in the area. It was certainly beginning to look like we would be out of luck when Captain Jim received a call from a pleasure craft that a lone humpback whale had been spotted just off of Taylor Point on Saturna Island.

bc whale tours
"Humpback Whale" D.Wilson/JetBC
It was within range and we were able to get there with ample time to observe the whale before heading back to Victoria harbour.  A few days earlier, this particular humpback had made news as it was earning a reputation for playfully swimming around boaters. But it didn’t seem to be in that playful a mood when we were there. I have still yet to see one of these magnificent creatures breach.
However, I was not about to complain as I knew that we were one of only two whale watching boats, which departed Victoria that morning that actually got to see a whale. I can only imagine how disappointing it must be to travel all the way from another country in the hopes of seeing a whale only to go home empty handed.

bc whale tours
"Humpback Whale" D.Wilson/JetBC
In some ways, part of it was luck as the boats that went exploring West towards Sooke returned home disappointed. Captain Jim would probably refer to it as experience and gut instinct, which proved to be right on this occasion as he made the decision to head North. However, I believe the defining difference was choosing BC Whale Tours. 

taylor point
"Cruising the Islands" D.Wilson/JetBC
What makes BC Whale Tours unique among other whale watching operators in Victoria is that they are one of only two companies that offer 3.5 to 4 hour tours. The majority of the other companies only go out for 2.5 to 3 hours. The extra thirty minutes to one hour on the water makes a huge difference in that it not only offers you more time to observe the marine wildlife, but more importantly, it gives you greater range to reach the whales if they are far away from Victoria. This can ultimately define whether you get to see whales or not.

norwegian cruise ship victoria
"Norwegian Cruise Lines" D.Wilson/JetBC
On some days, only the two companies in Victoria that offer the 3.5 to 4 hour tours actually get to see whales as they are too far out of reach of the other tour boats. If you are travelling from a foreign country, I would spend extra for the longer tour to get the best possible chance of seeing whales as it’s simply not worth the minimal savings to go home empty handed. I know BC Whale Tours has even been known to push the limits of their four-hour tour time just to ensure that their guests see the whales. But in the off chance that you don’t see whales, they let you go again for free on a stand-by basis and even give you a 20% rebate.

bc whale tours
"BC Orca" D.Wilson/JetBC
Whale watching in Victoria is an absolute must-do experience that is worth every penny. Absolutely nothing compares to watching whales in their natural habitat and BC Whale Tours will not disappoint. You can choose from a handful of trips in either the morning or afternoon and of course, you can choose your boat as well giving you the best of both worlds!

bc whale tours
"BC Whale Tours Office" D.Wilson/JetBC
BC Whale Tours is located down on the docks at 1234 Wharf Street at the Hyack Floatplane Terminal


Darryl Wilson

I am an avid traveller, freelance writer, and hospitality management professional. I enjoy helping people see the world through travel by sharing my own experiences and knowledge. British Columbia is an amazing place that is just waiting to be explored. #ExploreBC

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