Taking one of our exciting Vancouver whale watching tours is the easiest way to make our city unforgettable.
I mean, how many cities on earth can offer you the chance to see an orca jump clear out of the water – and clap down on the mighty Pacific like a gunshot ringing out in the distance?
That’s why I want to help you narrow down the best whale watching tours in Vancouver from dozens to a reliable chosen few.
- Whale watching in Vancouver
- Top whale watching tours from Vancouver
- Choosing the right tour
- Best time for whale watching
- Types of whales
- Whale watching tips
- Whale watching FAQ
The Top Vancouver Whale Watching Tours
Especially between March to October, the waters around Vancouver are known for killer, humpback, and grey whales.
On occasion, these whales even make their way into the harbour. But these sightings are few and far between, so the best way to see them is through guided tours.
Vancouver whale watching tours are currently offered out of downtown Vancouver, Granville Island and historic Steveston Village.
Each tour includes professional wildlife guides onboard.
All the Vancouver whale watching companies I’ll be listing also guarantee a whale sighting.
That’s right; if you don’t see a whale, you’ll get to take another whale watching tour for free!
⚠️ Just remember that boats have limited capacity and constantly sell out, so booking in advance is essential to ensure you’re not left at the dock.
Best Whale Watching Tours in Vancouver
Vancouver Whale Watch
Departure Point: Steveston Village | 12240 Second Avenue
This is actually the cheapest Vancouver whale watching tour, but I think it offers value in other ways too.
First, it departs from Steveston Village – a historic fishing village that is a tourist attraction in itself. Better yet, it often offers smaller crowds than its downtown counterparts.
Being an area with less marine traffic, there’s also a higher whale spotting rate of over 95%.
Their smaller, open Zodiac-style vessels also bring you even closer to the orcas, bald eagles, and sea lions.
In guaranteeing your spot with the orange button below, you also lock in drinks, snacks, and a return shuttle from your downtown Vancouver hotel – a $30 value in itself.
Vancouver Whale Watch Lowest Price Guarantee
Prince of Whales
Departure Point: Granville Island | 1516 Duranleau St.
Prince of Whales kills it with their half-day whale watching tour aboard the Salish Sea Freedom: a luxury, high-speed catamaran that’ll get you to the action in a hurry – right from Granville Island.
These whale watching tickets get you a ride on the biggest ships in the fleet – which means stability for older travellers, children or guests prone to seasickness.
Each trip includes 3-4 naturalists, so this is arguably the most educational whale tour as well. They even throw in a free photo souvenir package.
Prince of Whales Lowest Price Guarantee
Lotus Land Hotel & Residence Pickup Whale Watching Tour
Departure Point: Your Hotel or Residence!
This true door-to-whale experience is all about convenience. In fact, forget the car or bus because they’ll pick you up right at your hotel, Airbnb, or private residence.
They’ll bring you right to the docks, where you’ll embark on a Pacific Coast safari on the hunt for killer whales, sea lions, bald eagles, and all sorts of marine wildlife.
At five hours long, this is an optimal tour for people looking for more time on the water. Expect a small group tour with family vibes.
Finally, this Vancouver whale tour ends with a visit to legendary Granville Island.
Buy My Hotel Pickup Whale Watching Tickets
Choosing a Vancouver Whale Watching Tour
First of all, there’s no need to worry about safety as each whale tour above is certified by Transport Canada.
This means their tour boats are routinely inspected and follow stringent safety protocols.
That’s why my readers usually base their whale watching tour selection on the following:
Whale Watching Trip Duration
In general, there are two main whale watching tour durations on offer:
- Half day whale watching tours (3 hours)
- Extended whale watching tours (5-8 hours)
Most people can only stand about three hours on the water, and I don’t blame them, so efficient half day whale tours like Vancouver Whale Watch are the standard.
The Lotusland Hotel Pickup Whale Tour is better for those looking for extra sea time.
Tour Departure Point
As mentioned, there are departure points from downtown Vancouver (Coal Harbour), Granville Island and Steveston Village.
Selection depends on where you live or how you want to structure your Vancouver itinerary.
Generally, the three main options are:
- Taking Vancouver Whale Watch and turning it into a day visit to historic Steveston. Steveston whale watching tours are often the better option as they’re an hour closer to the grounds.
- Rolling out with Prince of Whales and combining it with an epic Granville Island afternoon.
- Booking hotel pickup tickets with Killer Whale Safari or Vancouver Whale Watch and letting them take care of it.
Those prone to motion sickness, seniors, and families with small children always prefer the large, luxury catamaran whale watching tour.
Other travellers looking for adventure, true exploration, and even a few wave bumps usually select the Killer Whale Safari.
Vancouver is famous for its clouds and rain.
If you’re booking last minute and see bad weather on the horizon you’re going to prefer booking the whale watching tours with the biggest boats.
At any rate, all orca whale watching in Vancouver should be booked using the links above – these get you free cancellation tickets so you’re always free to back out and reschedule if it doesn’t look promising.
Wondering about the weather? Check my post on what to wear whale watching in Vancouver.
Whale Watching Tour Cost
Once you’ve decided upon your preferred vessel type, departure point and length of journey, the base price will likely become the main deciding factor.
The cheapest Vancouver whale watching tour is via Vancouver Whale Watch.
Related: Is Whale Watching in Vancouver Worth It?
The Best Time for Whale Watching in Vancouver
While numerous species of whales are present in the Salish Sea’s waters throughout the year, like most top Vancouver sightseeing tours the best time for whale watching in Vancouver is from March to October.
This will allow you to avoid the worst of the Fall and Winter Pacific storm season.
However, for the much vaunted Southern Resident Killer Whales, the seasonal abundance of salmon migrating through the area during the summer is the primary attraction.
As an added bonus, this orca watching season also includes the annual migration of larger species such as Humpback Whales and Grey Whales from their winter homes in the South Pacific to their summer homes in British Columbia, Alaska, and the Arctic Ocean and back again.
Related: Best Time to Visit Vancouver
Types of Whales in Vancouver
The Killer Whale
Season: Year round (peak from April to November)
Killer Whales, also known as Orcas, have heavily featured in the myths and legends of local indigenous groups for time immemorial. Known for their distinctive black and white markings, they are undoubtedly the main attraction when it comes to whale watching in the Salish Sea.
The largest member of the dolphin family, Killer Whales typically measure from 5-8 meters long and weigh between 2-6 tons when full grown. These apex predators are highly intelligent and social animals that are known to exhibit complex vocal and behavioural cultures that are without parallel outside of human beings.
From an observers perspective, they are frequently known to engage in hunting and foraging, as well as behaviours such as:
- Breaching (jumping clear out of the water!)
- Tail slapping
- Spyhopping (holding their heads out of the water and staring at you!)
- People watching
These traits make Orcas among the most entertaining cetaceans for whale watchers.
Related: Is Whale Watching Better in Vancouver or Victoria?
Season: Summer/Early Fall
Humpback Whales has been encountered in increasing numbers in the Salish Sea in recent years, particularly in the Summer and early Fall. Typically measuring in at around 40-50 feet long and weighing in at a staggering 30-40 tonnes, the Humpback Whale is the largest whale you’ll see on the Salish Sea.
Known to have an extremely large migration route, the Humpback spends it’s Winters in tropical waters around Mexico and Hawaii before migrating to British Columbia and Alaska in the Summer to feed. They then embark on the return trip in the fall.
From an observer’s perspective, these gentle giants are known to be exceedingly curious, making them a favourite of whale watchers worldwide.
Some whales, known as “friendlies” are known to approach whale watchers and stay under or near their boats for a considerable amount of time. You’ll begin to wonder who is watching who!
They are also famous for breaching with wild abandon, throwing their massive 40 ton bodies clear out of the water and splashing down on their backs!
I personally have been lucky enough to see an entire migratory group of a dozen or more Humpback Whales repeatedly breaching near the coast of Haida Gwaii. I can assure you, it was an absolutely unforgettable experience.
Season: March/April and October/November
Named for the grey and white patches on their dark skin, Gray Whales are another large Baleen Whale that measure in at 45-50 feet and 30-40 tonnes.
They are known to have the longest migration route of any marine mammal in the world, spending Winters in Baja California and Summers in the Arctic Ocean, a distance of over 20,000 kilometres.
As a result, they don’t tend to hang around the Vancouver area long, but can often be spotted passing through in the Spring and Fall.
Related: How Many Days Do I Need to Spend in Vancouver?
Season: Year Round
One of the smallest Baleen Whales, the Minke (pronounced Mink-eh) measures 25-35 feet and weighs in at just 3-5 tonnes.
The Minke has a much smaller migration route than the Humpback and Grey Whales, typically only around 4-500 kilometres. As a result, they can be spotted year round in British Columbia’s waters feeding on juvenile herring and cephalopods.
Vancouver Whale Watching Tips
1) Monitor Weather Conditions
While most of your tour will be spent amongst the sheltered waters of the Gulf and San Juan Islands, you must cross the Salish Sea to get there.
While each best whale watching company in Vancouver are careful not to operate during windy conditions, the crossing can still become choppy, even during sunny weather. Check with your tour operator to ensure that weather conditions are to your satisfaction.
It goes without saying that warm, calm and clear days are ideal for both your comfort and whale visibility. Try to book your tour during these conditions if possible.
If your trip is cancelled due to weather, you will be compensated with tickets on a future journey or a refund.
2) Take a Motion Sickness Tablet
While the trips occur in sheltered waters and providers are careful to avoid operating in inclement weather, some passengers can still experience motion sickness.
If you’re prone to this condition, we recommend taking a Gravol or generic motion sickness tablet one hour prior to departure.
Travellers concerned about motion sickness will likely find a tour trip aboard a larger enclosed, or semi-enclosed vessel more to their satisfaction.
3) Dress For the Occasion
For starters, always dress for the season. But also remain cognizant of the fact that it is almost always cooler and breezier on the water.
The following wardrobe tips should help you dress accordingly for top Vancouver whale watching tours:
- Dress in layers, with a thin layer covering your skin, an intermediate layer and a light jacket.
- Long pants will be preferable to skirts or shorts unless at the peak of Summer.
- Beanies/toques and gloves are recommended for early and late-season departures
- Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen are a must in the Summertime.
*Check with your company to see what items your tour includes. Most open-air whale tours in Vancouver will provide hats, gloves and floater jackets. Be clear on this before you leave.
4) Go Early in Your Trip
As stated earlier, most orca-watching providers guarantee that you’ll receive a free trip on a future journey if you don’t see any whales.
While such occurrences are rare, we recommend placing an orca whale watching tour near the beginning of your Vancouver travel itinerary in order to take advantage of this guarantee.
5) Bring a Camera
Smartphone cameras have undoubtedly improved significantly in recent years. Nevertheless, whale watching trips are one instance that still highlights their shortcomings.
Vessels are required to remain 100 meters away from whales by the Pacific Whale Watching Association (PWWA). Unfortunately, this is just enough to render your smartphone’s zoom function largely useless.
As a result, a camera with a zoom lens is highly recommended to document your experience.
6) Purchase Your Tickets Online in Advance
In order to secure the best rates possible, it’s recommended to purchase your whale watching tickets online.
This will allow you to compare rates from the various providers. And furthermore, it will give you an idea of the various packages on offer (Victoria, Butchart Gardens, Seattle etc.)
Whale Watching in Vancouver BC FAQs
When is the peak season for whale watching in Vancouver?
The best time of year to see whales in Vancouver is between April and October. Over these months, you can expect a 95% success rate, whether you’re talking orcas, humpbacks, or gray whales.
Are Vancouver whale watching tours worth it?
Most cities offer a fairly cliched offering of museums, shops, restaurants and bars. However, very few cities can offer such a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Just think, for the price of a good dinner, you’ll enjoy a whale watching tour that can’t be beaten.
Where do Vancouver whale watching tours depart from?
There are tours that leave from Coal Harbour in Downtown Vancouver, Granville Island and Richmond’s Steveston Village (Vancouver’s charming historic fishing village).
What kind of whales will you see when whale watching in Vancouver?
While whale watching in Vancouver, you can expect to encounter Southern Resident and Transient Killer Whales, Humpback Whales, Gray Whales and Minke Whales.
What other kinds of marine wildlife will I see on my tour?
Expect to see Pacific white-sided dolphins, stellar sea lions, California sea lions, elephant seals, river otters, bald eagles, and other marine mammals and marine birds.
What’s the best whale watching tour in Vancouver for families?
Prince of Whales offers the largest, most sturdy boats available. This makes them great for visitors who may not have sea legs or are unable to withstand the bumps of smaller boats.
Furthermore, they provide educational materials, more naturists aboard than other companies, and the biggest discount pricing for children.
What’s the best Vancouver whale watching tour for couples?
Couples and young people typically enjoy the faster, smaller, and more up-close nature of the tour provided by Vancouver Whale Watch. The departure point of Steveston is also a vibrant place to explore, with great cafe and restaurant options.
What’s the cheapest whale watching tour in Vancouver?
If you’re looking for a cheap whale watching tour in Vancouver, you’ll have to go with the half-day tour at Vancouver Whale Watch. Tickets cost $165.75 CAD.
What’s the best whale watching provider in Vancouver?
Vancouver Whale Watch and Prince of Whales are the top whale watching companies in Vancouver. The former is better for more of an outdoor safari vibe. However, the former is a larger boat that’s more like a cruise (ideal for people who don’t like wave bumps),
Ready for Your Whale Watching Tour From Vancouver?
I hope I’ve answered all of your questions about whale watching in Vancouver. If I’ve missed anything, don’t be afraid to hit me up on the Vancouver Planner Facebook page or in the comments below.
As always, I’ll do my best to address them. That way, we can find the top Vancouver whale watching tour that meet your needs 🙂
Enjoy your tour🐳
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