Things To Do Whale Watching

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From February through October, we are treated to the presence of whales feasting in the waters of Clayoquot Sound.

Spring marks the return of life on the coast with the herring spawn. It’s nature’s prelude to the longest-known annual migration of any mammal on the planet. Approximately 20,000 Grey whales leave their wintering and calving areas in the waters of Baja California, Mexico, and travel up the West Coast to the feeding grounds in Bering Strait by Alaska. 

While many Greys continue their journey north, some choose to stay here in the waters of Clayoquot Sound feasting on invertebrates buried in the muddy seafloor. Humpback whales soon join the feeding frenzy on their migration from the waters of Hawai’i and occasionally, we are treated to Transient Orcas (Killer whales) who pass through these waterways while hunting.

Grey whale facts

Grey whales reach 40 to 50 feet in length and are roughly the size of a school bus. They use 130 - 180 broom-like baleen plates in their mouths to force the muddy sediment out and keep the tasty crustaceans in.

People smiling in a whale watching boat

The Solidarity Union

Meet the whales

Kakaẃin is the Indigenous name for orca. Nuu-chah-nulth Nations have a long history with Kakaẃin, relating to them as their relatives.

Aerial view of grey whale swimming

Ḿaaʔak - Grey whale ( Eschrichtius robustus )

Recognizable by their encrusted barnacles, Grey whales are the most common sighting here, with their long, narrow snouts. Chances are that you’ll see one or more spout, or breathe, through their two blowholes.

View of a Humpback whale from under water swimming away

Yayačam - Humpback whale ( Megaptera novaeangliae )

Humpbacks generally visit Tofino between June and September. They are easily recognizable from a distance by the distinctive “hump” on their back and can be seen breaching (leaping) out of the water. While we like to think they are doing it for fun, scientists believe they are trying to get the marine parasites off their skin.

Orca jumping out of the water

Kakaẃin - Transient orca ( Orcinus orca )

There are two main types of Orcas, also known as Killer whales, in the Pacific Northwest: transient and resident. Resident Orcas subsist mostly on salmon and stick to a smaller range within their home waters (like the Puget Sound) while transient, as sometimes spotted in Tofino, roam wider regions and work together as a pod to hunt mammals. 

Eagle soaring in the morning sun
Stellar sea lion male guarding his harem
Vancouver Island wolf standing on rocks in the tidal zone

Our coastal neighbours

Take the time to observe the layered colours of the rocky intertidal ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest: the coal grey of volcanic rock, the mustard yellow of rockweed, and the vibrant green of sea lettuce. Listen for the bark of tukuukʷ (Steller sea lions), the chortle of ćixʷatin (Bald eagles), and if you’re lucky, the clicks of hicwin (Dall’s porpoises) as they relish in the abundance of food available on the coast. 

Covered boat on the ocean Person getting into a boat from the dock Group of people with cameras on a whale watching tour People on a zodiac watching a whale in the distance Looking over the shoulder of a person watching a Humpback whale in the distance

Whale watching 101

Get on board

Check out our local whale watching tour operators to find the one that’s right for you. 

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