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What Can You See On A Whale Watching Tour?

February 28, 2013

updated: March 22, 2022

As the name implies, whale watching tours are meant to take you out on the water to see whales in their natural environment. Whale watching in Victoria BC can offer you that experience, but there are more than just whales living in the straits around Vancouver Island! Here’s a short guide on what you might see during your whale watching tour, and how to recognize different animals.


Orcas, or killer whales, are one of the most frequently sighted whales around Victoria. With their black and white skin and high, pointy dorsal fin, they are difficult to miss. Contrary to popular belief, their eyes are not the white spots on their sides (called the “eye patch); the small, black eyes are situated just under the eye patch. You will see them if you look closely.

Humpback whales

Perhaps the most common whale sighted on our tours, humpback whales are sure to inspire with their incredible size and active surface behaviours. They are among the largest species of whales, measuring up to 16 metres in length. They are recognizable by the bumps on their rostrum known as tubercles and the arched back dive that gives this species its name.

Minke whales

The second smallest species of baleen whale, Minke whales have been largely understudied due to their elusive nature. They are known for their fast swimming speed (approximately 40km per hour!) and sporadic surfacing. They are identified easily by their sickle-shaped dorsal fin and small size.

Harbour seals

The harbour seal is the common seal you will see in most coastal waters of North America. Their fur ranges from mottled brown to grey, and you can recognize them by their characteristic V-shaped nostrils. They like to live and hunt around rocky areas. They’re also really smart and like to play around humans!

Sea lions

The Juan de Fuca Strait is a fantastic place to catch a glimpse of both Steller and California sea lions. Steller sea lions are identifiable by their huge size (with the males reaching 2,500Ibs) and light coloured fur. California sea lions are smaller and darker in colour. When you hear these animals it is easy to tell them apart as well! Steller sea lions roar, and California sea lions have a distinct bark.


Porpoises are small marine animals about as big as a human being. In the waters surrounding Victoria, you may spot Harbour or Dall’s porpoises. Harbour porpoises are the smallest cetacean in BC waters. Dall’s porpoises are sometimes mistaken for baby killer whales due to their similar countershading. Hybridization between Harbour and Dall’s porpoises occurs occasionally in BC waters, with the offspring appearing to be similar to Dall’s porpoises in behaviour and body shape, but with the colouration of a harbour porpoise.

Sea Otters

If you’re especially lucky on our tours you may be able to see Race Rocks’ resident sea otter – Ollie! Ollie is a special little fella in that he is the only consistent sea otter that we see in the Juan de Fuca Strait. Not only that but he is also considered to be a keystone species. Sea otters are incredibly important members of the ecosystems and are vital to the survival of kelp forests as they prey on kelp-grazing sea urchins. Keep your eyes peeled and you may see a furry little face amongst the kelp beds!

Are you ready to meet the marine wildlife of the Salish Sea? Hop on board an Orca Spirit whale watching tour and count how many species you can see!



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