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Port Renfrew Whale Watching Report: What a Start to the 2021 Season!!

June 23, 2021

Written by: Matt Burnaby, Zodiac Captain

Our 2021 season here in Port Renfrew has begun. What a start it has been so far! Beautiful weather almost every day with hot sunny days and calm seas. 

Each year at the start of the season we never know what to expect. Our remote little town sits on the opening of the Juan De Fuca strait – a unique placement both in terms of wildlife and seasonal weather. By comparison, Victoria is supposedly the sunniest city in Canada and that is due to the Olympic peninsula and it’s range of mountains acting as a shield against the open Pacific ocean. Whereas Port Renfrew sits right at the end of this wall of mountains and can only receive this protection part of the time. 

Sarah and I are filled with anticipation and wonderment as our first trip of the season heads out offshore to explore our favorite wildlife hotspots. The four summers previously have given us great insight into where and when to find these epicenters of marine mammals and seabirds. No two years are ever the same, neither any two months, weeks or days. It is the magic that draws us to this place – no matter how well you think you know the ebb and flow it will never cease to surprise you.

Approaching my favorite spot after 40 minutes cruising offshore, I was surprised to see in the distance many more whales than I expected. As a matter of respect to the wildlife we always slow down our vessel long before arriving on scene with the animals. Especially granted that any number of whales you can see at the surface represents a fraction of the others who may be diving for food around you. Our guests onboard learn to spot the signs of these whales and excitedly point in all directions off the boat, making it hard to choose which group to go see. Overwhelming gratitude for this place washed over me; “the humpback whales have arrived early this year”, I thought to myself while trying to count approximately 40-50 whales swimming all around us, near and far.

 These whales are hungry and have travelled far from their winter breeding grounds in Mexico and Hawaii. Large groups of them actively diving into the unknown depths below us, while I noticed on the outskirts a few females with their new babies resting outside of the feeding frenzy. We cruised over to view the youngsters who are visiting these cold waters for the first time in their lives. Curious and playful behavior is what makes humpback whales Sarah and I’s favorite whale, and this is especially true for the calves. In the days to come I would look for these young whales who would often be left alone while their mother looks for food. They are not hard to find! Because they are so active at the surface, spy-hopping, breaching and throwing different flippers into the air. Some of them also like to push big balls of kelp around and drape it across their body with incredible dexterity. I find watching this behavior to have a real impact on my guests; these huge animals out in the ocean is a very foreign experience for some and yet they remind us of a puppy dog or even our own children as they investigate and play with their surroundings. The more time I spend with these whales I am privileged to see and understand the incredible depth of their behavior, social dynamics and relationships. Originally the fisherman would call these groups of whales “the family”, and while they are not necessarily all related, it has become an endearing term we use because we spend so much time with them.  

We look forward to introducing you to this incredible place and “the family” that calls it home.



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