Captain’s Blog

What To Expect On Your First Whale Watching Adventure

August 6, 2019

I can’t remember if I was more nervous or excited the night before I went on my first whale watching adventure. Surely I was excited – I’d grown up obsessing over whales and I was hours away from seeing them in their natural habitat for the first time.

However, part of me was concerned. I’d sat on the fence about this trip for a long time – too long if I’m being honest with myself now. I had a few questions that, in hindsight, couldn’t be answered prior to the experience.

It’s difficult – impossible, really – to comprehend an experience like seeing whales in their natural habitat beforehand. I grew up in an era when it was common to see aquariums and zoos presented in a positive light on the evening news. “The dolphins learned a new trick, and more at 11,” didn’t quite fit in with my values then, and it sure doesn’t now. But what if a whale watching experience was disruptive in its own way?

The biggest thing I didn’t realize before my first trip was the vastness of the open ocean beneath the pontoons of a zodiac cruiser. Yes, the humpback whales we came across were obviously aware of our presence as we cut the engine and floated near their pod. But while we were no able to change our path, they surely could – three humpback whales surfaced meters away from our boat, disappeared underneath, and resurfaced on the other size.

They knew we were there. But they didn’t much care. We kept quiet and didn’t overstay our welcome. If they wanted to be alone, they could have swam in any direction except for straight up and be free of the curious humans.

Speaking of curiosity, something else I was curious about was the rest of the wildlife I saw on my trip. Cruising the water beyond the harbour of Victoria, BC, we saw much more than the three humpback whales. On that first day I saw a pair of bald eagles (who I’m convinced were following us), three well-fed Sea Lions barking at us to keep our distance, a family of sea otters resting comfortably in a bed of sea kelp perched atop the churning waters surrounding the Race Rocks Lighthouse, and collections of seals big and small grabbing some sun on every available inch of rock protruding from the water.

Since that first trip I’ve seen more of the same, plus countless orcas and dolphins, and truth be told it always feels like the first time. Here are a couple of tips if you’re heading out on your first whale watching adventure:

  1. Don’t take too many pictures: it’s impossible to avoid capturing a shot or two of humpback or orca whales, but after that, sit back and take in the sights. It’s much more powerful in your mind in the longrun anyways.
  2. Sunscreen and sunglasses: if it’s a sunny day, you’ll need it. Most trips take a couple hours of cruising around on the open ocean.
  3. Dress for the day: the last thing you want is to be uncomfortable when you’re on the adventure of a lifetime. The orca spirit crew will outfit you with warm cover-alls, but make sure you’re dressed for the weather. And if you’re on a zodiac, that probably includes getting a bit wet (which is all part of the experience).
  4. Ask questions: whether it’s your captain or a naturalist, there’s nothing the crew enjoys more than answering questions about the animals with which they get to spend their day. Get them talking, you won’t regret it!

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