5 of the best whale-watching spots in Canada

“From sea to sea”—Canada’s national motto—is evocative, but not quite accurate.

We’re a country of three coastlines, after all. And whether you’re north, east, or west, what better way to experience the country’s vast variety of marine wildlife and unique beauty than with a whale-watching tour? Thirty-three whale species call Canada’s waters home—and depending on where you are, chances are a short boat trip will bring you into close contact with these (mostly) gentle giants.

Here are some of the best places to watch whales in Canada—from sea to sea to sea.

Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve in Telegraph Cove, British Columbia

Located five hours north of Nanaimo, this is the country’s only sanctuary for orcas, or as they’re more commonly known, killer whales. To protect the population of orcas that are drawn to the region’s salmon and pebble-strewn “rubbing” beaches, the reserve itself is closed to boat traffic—and in fact, it publishes research about the dangers of boat noise to the whale population. To keep your visit as eco-friendly as possible, consider working with a local kayaking outfitter—not only will your tour be silent and orca-friendly, but you’ll get much closer to the whales. (And don’t worry—they’re really only “killer” whales if you’re a leopard seal or a salmon.)

Tofino, British Columbia

Tofino is prime whale-watching territory, as grey whales migrate north from the Baja Peninsula to Alaska in March and south again in October. Many companies will take visitors out to the pods that spend summer in nearby Clayoquot Sound, using Zodiacs or a covered aluminum boat. Along with grey and (possibly) humpback whales, you can expect to see otters, bald eagles, harbour seals and sea lions. And, once you’re finished whale watching, you can catch a wave in a different way—Tofino’s one of the best destinations for surfing on the West Coast.

Tadoussac, Quebec

The spot where the warm Saguenay River meets the chilly St. Lawrence is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for krill-hungry blue, beluga, minke and humpback whales—which means it’s a whale watcher’s paradise. Suit up in a bright red thermal suit, climb aboard a Zodiac and spend an adventurous few hours watching whales breaching, slapping their tails or simply gliding along just below the surface. If your prefer a little more comfort, enclosed whale watching cruises also depart from Tadoussac.

Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia

Combine hiking with whale watching in one of the best locations in the country to watch whales from the shore. If you’re eager to get on the water, tour companies in Cape Breton Highlands also offers Zodiac and catamaran excursions. Go during the peak season of July-August for the best chance of spotting humpback and fin whales.

Churchill, Manitoba

The polar bear capital of Canada is also home to outfitters who can take you to bond with belugas—those baby-faced white whales who like to chatter to each other like birds. If you’re really, really adventurous, pull on a thermal wet-suit and go snorkelling with these ghostly cetaceans.

Tips for whale watching:

  • Bring warm clothes with you. Even if it’s August, temperatures can be much lower on the water, so come prepared.
  • Zodiacs can be bumpy, and any boat can hit rough water, especially on the open ocean, so if you’re prone to seasickness, medicate appropriately—and if you find yourself feeling ill on board, ask your guides. Chances are  they’ve got some helpful hints (or, if you’re really unlucky, a plastic bag).
  • Finally, don’t forget to take pictures—whale watching is unpredictable, but incredible. You’ll want to remember the experience for a long time.