Want to go whale watching in Victoria, BC? You’re in the right place to do so! British Columbia’s capital city is packed with things to do and see – and heading out on the water to see whales is definitely a popular activity.
Like you, we weren’t sure which of the Victoria whale watching tours to choose from because there are a few.
We ended up doing this tour with Orca Spirit Adventures and had a great day. We saw whales, kept warm and dry, and the guides were great – so we’d recommend them.
We were told they had about a 95% whale sighting success rate – and if there were no whales, you got a voucher to go again for free!
So, here’s our experience on the day and how to choose a whale watching tour when you’re in Victoria, Canada.
Victoria Whale Watching Tours
There are a few tour companies that you’ll come across if you pick up a tourist map or just walk the harbourfront. Many of them are reputable so check out these Victoria whale watching tour options:
Friendly Disclosure: We spent our own money on this tour, didn’t notify the company beforehand that we were coming and weren’t told to include them in an article.
Whale Watching from Victoria BC – Our Experience
Here’s a detailed breakdown of our experience throughout the day. The whale watching season in Victoria is from the end of April to October – but this is not because there are no whales.
We learned that it’s just too cold to be out on the water and people don’t travel as much during the winter!
That said, Victoria has some of the best whale watching in Canada – so even in the colder months, it’s a good activity to try!
Before the Tour
We went with Orca Spirit Adventures for our whale watching tour. Their office was located at 146 Kingston St. behind/under the Coast Victoria Hotel & Marina.
It’s easy to find the hotel along the waterfront and the office entrance was facing the water at the marina level.
They actually have two locations where they have tours leave from and they called us the night before to confirm which dock to arrive at. That was nice.
We arrived nice and early at the dock and found the little office located under the Coast Hotel (facing the water).
We went inside, checked in, and read/signed a waiver form. The desk staff were also very nice – and from Ontario (you get that a lot in BC). You can also use the washrooms before you head out on the boat and there’s a gift shop.
We then had a quick briefing – including a land/water acknowledgement – and then went down to the boats.
Orca Spirit Adventures had three sizes of boats that we could see. We had booked a small, covered boat and it worked well for our day and tour size (only about a dozen people).
You can choose which boat type you want – and we’ll cover how to choose later in this article.
Once on board, we took off from the dock and had another safety briefing as we were heading out of the Harbour with our guide Ryan and the captain of the boat.
Both guys did a great job driving and guiding. Ryan had studied Marine Biology so he was super knowledgeable and totally in his element out on the water!
On the Whale Watching Tour
The tour itself was great overall. We were out on the water for a few hours and it was worth it.
We basically just headed out of Victoria Harbour across the open Salish Sea towards Washington State.
Out on the deck at full speed, the air was cold when the sun was gone, but it was nice warm when it did shine. It was also very windy – so keep that in mind, especially if you have long hair.
Once we got to the rough location for whales we basically stopped and just scanned the water from the top deck. It truly was all hands on deck!
Some people had binoculars while others just scanned with their eyes. We were coached to look for the spray from the blowhole (when the whales surface to breathe).
Meanwhile, the captain was in communication with other boats. The tour companies all shared location information which we thought was great – then everyone gets what they were looking for and there aren’t a million boats going in all directions wasting fuel/scaring wildlife.
After we didn’t see whales at our first location, we headed over in the direction of another two boats. This time, the hype was real! We first saw two killer whales (orcas). One was a large male with a dorsal fin over 6 feet tall!
We then realized he was part of a larger group of six orcas in total. It was so cool to see them swim along, surfacing for breaths every so often.
Ryan (our guide) actually took lots of photos (which you can access later) and told us about whales as they swam along.
He actually had a whale guide book and it was possible to identify that exact male whale based on previous photos and biological studies! We could learn about his age, his group habits, etc.
All the boats – about five total – just cruised along with the whales in the direction they were heading. There are rules about how fast the boats can go and how close they can get to the whales.
After the whale sightings – which lasted about an hour – we took off toward Victoria with a pit stop at the Race Rocks Lighthouse/Ecological Park.
The small rocky islands here actually have a bit of a dark past with lots of drownings and ships lost over the years.
Here, we got to photograph a beautiful lighthouse – which is a scientific research station – and see loads of other wildlife like seals, sea lions, and even an elephant seal (who was very large and loud), and a number of seabirds.
After the lighthouse, we headed back to Victoria. We sat inside where each table had laminated information cards about the area, animals, etc which was actually super interesting to read.
On the way, Ryan also mentioned to us that a small part of the ticket prices went towards carbon-neutral initiatives the company participates in.
After the Tour
As the tour ended, we got more information about where to access the photos that the guide took. Then we safely got off the boat, tipped the crew, and off we went back to the hotel.
We were honestly sad it was over because the three-hour tour didn’t seem that long. Then we remembered how much we had done and seen and realized it was definitely worth it!
Tip: You can go Vancouver Island whale watching in other places, too. Tofino and Nanaimo were also popular options for heading out on a tour – but we didn’t do one so we can’t speak to their success rates/experience. Just a heads up in case you can’t go/don’t go whale watching in Victoria.
Whale Watching Packing List
We recommend the following items if you’re planning on going out on the boats to see whales.
The Victoria whale watching season is from May to October – but you can technically see whales any time of year. It’s best to be over-prepared when you whale watch in Victoria!
- Rain/wind jacket (like Eric’s North Face)
- Sunglasses with strap
- Water bottle
- Day Pack
- Gravol or ginger candies (if you get seasickness)
- A warm hat (known as a beanie or toque). Even in summer, the wind can get cold when the boat is moving – and it can hurt the ears!
- Camera/smartphone – we’d recommend a neck or wrist strap if possible.
How to Choose a Whale Watching Tour in Victoria, BC
Since there are a number of tours you can choose from, and a number of different boats to choose from, here is what we learned about how these tours differ.
Hopefully, this information helps you make the right decision for you!
Open Boat vs Closed Boat
The biggest factor to consider when choosing a whale watching tour from Victoria, BC is whether you go on an open-air boat (inflatable zodiac) versus a boat with both an indoor and outdoor space.
There are pros and cons to all boat types – and it also depends on what season/month you do your tour in!
The open-air boats can get you closer to the whales but you are open to the elements. You get hats and rain and/or splash gear if you go on the inflatable boat but you’ve got nowhere to go in bad weather. It can get pretty cold out there on the water.
Another thing about open-air boats is that – aside from potential water splashes making this difficult – photos can be tougher to take since the boat moves quite a bit in the waves.
You’ll also have people’s heads in the way (since you’re all sitting at roughly the same height). Nice cameras and open elements don’t mix that well.
Closed boats are generally larger and warmer but usually still offer outdoor seating (like ours did). We didn’t feel like we were missing out by being inside the cabin for a bit.
The large glass windows made viewing easy – and we spent a ton of time up on the top deck in the nice weather anyways. It was nice peace of mind knowing we could head down inside in case it rained.
However, the closed boats are for larger tours so they can be more crowded…. just another thing to consider.
Our boat wasn’t too busy because it was early in the season but we can see how these larger boats could get busy. There’s still space for everyone – just might be more crowded to move about the boat freely.
Dock Location in Victoria
The leaving location doesn’t matter too much but it’s something to consider. Some tours leave right from the inner harbour across from the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
The address is roughly 950 Wharf St, Victoria, BC. It’s where the seaplanes for Harbour Air take off. You can see the signs advertising the tours above/around the harbour/dock areas – you can’t miss them.
Our boat left from near Fisherman’s Wharf at 146 Kingston St. under the Coast Victoria Hotel. This location is a short walk from the downtown area noted above.
Depending on where you are staying in Victoria, you might be very close to your boat dock or a short walk or cab away.
We stayed at the Oswego Hotel which was awesome and basically right between both dock locations!
It should be noted that Orca Spirit offers a complimentary shuttle from your downtown hotel so ask them about that if you need a lift from your accommodation!
Our tour strives to be carbon-neutral because they donate their fuel costs to an organization that offsets it by buying up untouched land that gets designated a protected zone. Of course, they still burn fuel to go and see the whales – so keep that in mind.
Parts of the ticket price also went to two ocean conservation initiatives so that was good to know.
All the companies must follow rules when out on the water to observe the whales from a distance so while we can’t speak to the other tours – the boats we saw all did the same thing and kept their distance.
And there you have it – our experience on a whale watching tour from Victoria BC. We had a great day and would recommend the tour we did to anyone visiting Victoria and wanting to see whales and other marine wildlife.
We learned a ton, felt safe, and are left with a very positive experience!
As always, Happy Waddlin’,