Spoiler alert: Seeing wildlife in their habitat can be life-changing.
Here’s what to expect.
They’re cute, they’re hungry and they can run up to 60km/hour. Meet the Vancouver Island black bear, otherwise known as Ursus americanus vancouveri. Every April through October, bear watching tours are operated by the outdoor outfitters who also offer whale watching and Hot Springs Cove outings.
All bear watching tours navigate the photogenic calm inside waters around Meares Island. Tours typically run 2.5 hours, can be offered in an open-style (roofless) boat or covered cabin cruiser, and are always scheduled during low tide. This is when the shoreline becomes accessible for the bears to amble down and forage for Rock Crab and other treats. There’s nothing like the hush that falls over a boat of enthralled bear watchers. The season winds up in October as the bears head to our rivers to feast on salmon as they prepare to skip storm watching season entirely to enter torpor, a state of deep sleep through winter.
Wondering about Grizzly bears? Not in Tofino. The only established Grizzly population near Vancouver Island is off its northeast coast, in Knight Inlet.
You may see black bears alongside (or even on) Highway 4, driving to and from Tofino. We know it can be so tempting to stop, but please don’t. The best way to help conserve our bear population is to honk your horn, encouraging them to return to the forest.
Take Gray whales, humpback whales and orcas. Then add sea lions, harbour seals and bald eagles. A whale watching tour in Tofino is a full-on seafari.
Tofino has a long whale watching season, running from March (sometimes late February) through October. It starts with a mind boggling 20,000 Gray whales swimming past our shores in spring on their annual migration from birthing waters by the Baja Peninsula north to the Bering Strait by Alaska. Some of these massive mammals stay in our waters for the summer, giving ample opportunities for viewing. Tofino whale watching trips typically last 2.5 to 3 hours. Choose from a range of vessels offered by our member outfitters, from the wind-in-your-hair zodiac boat to a covered vessel.
The Gray whale is the most common sighting here, most recognizable by its encrusted barnacles. Chances are that you’ll see one or more spout, or breathe, through its trademark two blowholes. While Gray whales can breach, or leap out of the water, this behaviour is more typical of Humpback whales. While some scientists believe they do this to splash off parasites, what we know with certainty is that it’s fun to watch! Then, there are the orcas, also known as killer whales. Because these pods of whales are transient to our waters, there’s no guarantee of seeing them but if you do, they’re a sight to behold as they hunt their prey.
All outfitters will provide you with protective gear, ranging from raingear to the, much-photographed flotation suit, but you’ll want to bundle up underneath and pack a toque. Get set to go on the open ocean and meet our marine neighbours.
While the first animals that come to mind when thinking of Tofino may be black bears and whales, Clayoquot Sound is a major birding destination. We’re situated on the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south flyway for migratory birds, extending from Patagonia to Alaska.
Outstanding habitat such as old growth rainforest, sandy beaches, and tidal mudflats attract bird migrants in large number. Up to two hundred species may be seen in our region in a single year, and a total of 360 species of birds have been recorded in our region to date. Among the more readily visible species are Bald eagles, the sapphire-blue (and vocal) Stellar’s Jays and the storied blue heron. Bird watching can be done on foot and by boat. A boat trip to Cleland Island ecological reserve can result in sightings of seabirds and shorebirds such as Wandering Tattlers, Surfbirds, Rhinoceros Auklets and Tufted Puffins. On pelagic trips farther offshore one may see albatrosses, shearwaters, storm-petrels, jaegers and others. Every May, the Tofino Shorebird Festival offers a schedule of tours, talks and events to satisfy both novice and experienced birders.
The Tofino Mudflats, a 99km2 area, has been named an Important Birding Area in recognition of the thousands of shorebirds that visit the area between late April and mid-May each year on their way north. It may be accessed at the Sharp Road viewing platform, via the trail behind Jamie’s Rainforest Inn, and at the Tofino Botanical Gardens. Bring your spotting scope and binoculars and see how many species you can spot!
Due to exceptionally strong winds and large swells, Tofino beaches are temporarily closed until further notice.