With almost 125,000 miles of coastline and three adjacent oceans, it is little surprise to know that Canada is home to over 30 different species of whale from the Narwhal in the Arctic Ocean, the Beluga in the Atlantic to the mighty Orca in the Pacific.
Where you go to see whales in Canada is an oft-asked question and it really depends on the time of year, the weather and where you are looking to visit in the country. In general terms, whales can be seen as early as late March – gray whales off the coast of Vancouver Island – through to mid-October.
They can often be hard to spot – which is often part of the thrill when you first see a spout – and, of course, as with everything in nature, there is no guarantee that every excursion to see whales will be successful. However, the scenery on any whale-watching trip from is nothing short of spectacular and many companies will often offer an additional trip if you do not see whales on your first one.
For many, the Orca, or killer whale, is the most well-known and sought-after species to see and these magnificent mammals are best spotted from June to October, although where there are resident pods – in places like Victoria, British Columbia’s capital city – they can often be spotted from April onwards. One of very best places in the world to see Orca is Telegraph Cove along Vancouver Island’s northwest coast; the protected waters of Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago are home to around 200 whales every summer, most being Orcas. It is also possible to see humpback whales here.
A breaching humpback whale is a truly exhilarating sight to see and when it happens very close to your vessel – as has twice happened to the author! – it is a never-to-be-forgotten moment. They can be spotted in the Pacific waters close to British Columbia’s coastline but the Atlantic Coast, most notably New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, is one of the best places to go . New Brunswick boasts 12 species of whale, most notably the Humpback, Minke and Finback Whale but the rare Right whale can sometimes also be spotted. A visit to Newfoundland from mid-June to mid-July can be doubly special, as it is a great time to see icebergs at the same time.
The four maritime regions of Quebec, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspesie, Cote-Nord and Iles de la Madeleine boast some of the best whale watching sites in the world. Tadoussac is a favourite for humpbacks, fin whales, minke whales and even belugas; hundreds of whales head there annually after a long migration of thousands of miles because the St Lawrence river is teeming with fish and plankton, and feeding is the main summer activity. Up to 13 species of marine mammals can be found in the salty waters of the St Lawrence, either the River or the Gulf, including blue whales, which are the largest animals on the planet.
Manitoba is not just known for viewing polar bears but is also a great location for seeing beluga whales; these stunning white beauties can be part of a longer and even more special wildlife tour, seeing birds, bears and belugas in the summer in an incredible part of the world.
Whether you are looking to see different types of whales, or just to include whale-watching as part of your holiday, Canada is the ideal place to see these magnificent mammals, whenever or wherever you are visiting. Excursions can be on a fixed hull vessel or a zodiac – which are faster and more exhilarating! – so bear that in mind when choosing your trip, as not all vessels are suitable, dependent on age and mobility. You can also be out on the water for several hours, so need to be dressed appropriately for this, and to be equipped with binoculars and, of course, a camera. Whales can be difficult to capture on film but some of the best memories are those images that are caught unexpectedly and that you know was definitely a tail or a blow!