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Facts about whales

Whale classification

Breeding patterns of whales

Whale migration

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British Columbia

This is the best place in the world to see orcas, the Mr. and Miss Personalities of the cetacean world. Both sides of Vancouver Island afford primo opportunities. On the west coast, Tofino is a quaint town with an embedded orca-watching culture. On the island's east side, head for Campbell River, where you can either take a boat out into the Strait of Georgia, or just watch them from the shore.

orcas Up the coast, Telegraph Cove is one of the most popular destinations in the world for orca watching and is located only a few miles from the Robson Bight Ecological Preserve, Canada's only killer whale sanctuary. Although you are not allowed to enter the sanctuary by land or water, orcas are active throughout the area. Humpback whales have recently been seen here, along with large schools of Pacific white-sided dolphins. There's more than whales in this maze of coastal byways: Keep your eyes peeled for eagles, seal lions, and much, much more.

Killer whales, or orcas, are the largest members of the dolphin family. Male orcas can reach up to 30 feet in length, and their large, distinctive dorsal fins can be nearly 6 feet (two meters) tall. A large male can weigh up to 9 tons.

There are three different populations of orcas encountered along the West coast of North America. These three groups are genetically distinct and do not interact socially - in fact, observed behaviors indicate that they normally avoid contact with each other. The three different populations are referred to as residents, transients and offshores.


The resident population is comprised of extended family groups of orcas. These clans have established territories and fairly predictable patterns of movement within those territories travelling in pods and sub-pods. A large pod of 90 resident orcas can be found near Victoria from April through October with the occasional group of transients spotted. In the winter months Humpbacks and Grays can be seen in this area.

Transients have neither established territories nor predictable patterns of movement. They swim in small groups of two to five or six, usually in close physical proximity. Researchers have recently had several encounters with the third known West Coast orca population, the offshores. These whales have been encountered primarily in the open ocean, and in large groups of 30 to 60.

A major whale migration occurs in mid winter off the west coast of Vancouver Island near Tofino and Ucluelet, when approximately 20,000 Pacific grey whales leave the Baja Peninsula to journey north to Alaska, cruising past Vancouver Island enroute. Migration is at its peak in March and April at which time the area hosts the Pacific Rim Whale Festival. The whales come very close to shore and can be observed from the Wickaninnish visitor centre at Pacific Rim National Park. Several pods spend the summer months in Clayoquot Sound and can be seen on daily boat tours to Hot Springs Cove.

Just the Facts:
What you might see there: Orcas, humpbacks, grays
When to go: July to September
Viewing options: Boat, shoreline

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