When is the best time of year for whale watching in Victoria?
A Humpback Whale lifts its front flipper out of the water. Photo by Captain Yves, image taken with a zoom lens and heavily cropped.
  • Post published:January 24, 2021

When is the best time of year for whale watching in Victoria?

A great question. The answer will of course depend upon you! It depends what you enjoy and what species you want the best chance to watch.

If you have the luxury to choose any point in the year to join us then answer these questions to help you decide when is the perfect time for you.

What will you find enjoyable. comfortable, and exciting when out on the water?

The conditions on the water are ever changeable. Some love the excitement of wind in their hair and salty sea spray in their face others enjoy a relaxing cruise over calm azure waters. Which are you? most of us are somewhere in-between.

If you will only enjoy your time on a beautiful calm summers day then July to September will work best for you. When selecting a particular tour, Call us and we can assess the latest forecasts and find the right tour for you. I recommend that two or three days before your tour for you to check the forecasts and if you have any concerns call us and benefit from the crews experience to adjust your tour if that will give you a better time.

If you enjoy more exciting conditions for a true west coast adventure then late fall through to early spring may get your blood pumping.

What species do you most want to see?

We regularly see Orca and Humpback whales and occasionally view Gray Whales and Minke whales. Which is at the top of your list?

There is also lots of interesting wildlife from nesting bald eagles to seals, sea lions and occasional elephant seals. On occasion late in the summer we get novel visitors like pelicans or puffins.

Each of these species have a different distribution, range and behaviors that change through the year. For more general information see Where and when is the best time and place to see whales?

It is impossible to say on which day we will see which species, however there are general trends that can increase the likelihood of spotting the one you have the most interest in seeing.

Humpbacks

A Humpback whale showing its large mouth!
A Humpback whale showing its large mouth!

Over recent years the dramatic increase in the humpback population in the Salish Sea means we can find humpbacks almost all year round. However the frequency starts to increase around March as the humpbacks return in numbers to their feeding grounds. Their numbers peak in the fall and early winter months. The largest groupings of animals will usually occur during September, October and sometimes as late in the year as November.  This happens when there is increasing amounts of krill and herring to predate upon. This is also when some of the most interesting behavior (lunge feeding and breaching) is at its most frequent.  So if you want to have the best chance to see large numbers of active humpbacks then late summer through fall will be the best time for you.

Orca

There are two different eco types of orcas viewed in these waters. Those that eat salmon and those that eat mammals. The eco types will align their movements to increase their chances of successful hunting. The majority of Orca sightings are now of those that eat marine mammals.

These marine mammal eating Orca primarily eat seals, porpoise and sea lions. The seals and porpoise are in the waters years round with the numbers of sea lions peaking over the winter months and becoming reduced over the summer months as the males move to breeding grounds to the north and south of the Salish Sea.

Sightings of large numbers of these Orca peak in the spring then can drop of in frequency early summer before a second peak late summer and into fall.

Gray Whales and Minke and other Whales

A Fin Whale. The second largest animal on earth!

We see these species occasionally with a peak through early spring ( March – May) as a group  of gray whales often known as the ‘Sounders’ make their way to and from their spring feeding grounds in the north of Puget Sound. Sightings of both these species are a special and an unusual addition to our tours but would be very hard to plan for.

Multi Species Tours

Sometimes we are lucky to see multiple species of whales. This can happen at any time but is most likely to happen late summer and through the fall months. My favorite time over the last few years has been late September to late October.

Other factors

Other factors to consider tend to be unrelated to the weather or wildlife. If this tour is one part of an extended vacation or visit then when is the best time to visit Victoria?

Well, the city is usually at its busiest during July and August. So there will be more options for other entertainments at this time however tours may have more people and amenities may be more expensive. Outside of these core months the cost of accommodation may be at better prices and there may be more space and fewer people around during all the things you choose to do in the city and on the water.

So ask yourself these questions and see where the answer will fit into your schedule. Feel free to call us on 250 384 4444 we can give you our best advice to choose the optimal time.


Written By Captain Ian


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