It’s coming on spring, which means more than 30 species of whales will be starting to make their way north up Canada’s east and west coasts. Whale watching is a must-do activity, no matter what coast you’re on, so here are some tips to make sure you actually get to watch whales—not just water.
Figure out the right time to go
Different species have different migration patterns, which means there are better times of the year to see them. For example, if you want to see 20,000 grey whales make the trek from the Baja Peninsula past Tofino, BC, you should go in late March, when their migration peaks. If you’re in Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, the migration season begins later in the year, so July is a good time to head out.
Decide how you want to watch them
You have different options for seeing whales, depending on how up close and personal you’d like to get. In some places—Cape Breton and Tofino, for example—you can watch whales from the shore, as long as the whales swim close enough to shore. Others, like Digby Neck, Nova Scotia, offer larger boats, which can be crowded but often cruise by feeding grounds. If you’d like to get a little closer, several places—Tadoussac, Quebec, in the St. Lawrence River, and Witless Bay, Newfoundland—will give you a chance to whale watch in a Zodiac or kayak. Finally, if you’re really ambitious, you can don a thick wetsuit and snorkel with belugas outside of Churchill, Manitoba.
Adjust your expectations for your location
If you’re set on seeing a particular species, know that certain whales are found in certain places. For example, if you want to see happy, chatty belugas, you’ll need to go north to Churchill, Manitoba, or to Tadoussac, Quebec, where the St. Lawrence meets the Saguenay river. If you want to see orcas, travel west to Robson Bight, BC, which houses Canada’s only orca sanctuary.
Talk to your tour provider
Some companies offer a money-back guarantee if you don’t see whales on your trip, and will also post sighting success rates. They can also recommend the best time of year to see certain species, and tell you what species you’re likely to see. Check out online reviews to see some of the more popular tour providers.
You don’t want to spend your tour below deck shivering or (worse) throwing up, so prepare yourself for the trip. You’ll be out on open water for a few hours, so make sure you’ve got sunscreen, a hat, a jacket (it’s cold, even in the summer) and medication for motion sickness. Polarizing sunglasses can help reduce glare and enable you to see whales further in the distance. Binoculars are a good tool as well.
Don’t get distracted by technology
Don’t spend the whole ride with your camera glued to your face—if you’re constantly looking through the eyepiece, you may miss a whale outside your field of vision. Similarly, don’t tweet the whole trip (assuming you get a signal, which can be difficult anyway). Keep your eyes peeled, and save the social media for later.
Where’s your favourite location for whale watching? What’s your best whale watching story?