Visit Salt Spring and watch for passing whales!

Orca whale breaching in the waters near Vancouver
A whale watching trip around Salt Spring Island, off Canada’s West coast may get you close to some resident or migrating whales.

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These majestic creatures are vulnerable in our over-polluted world, and as food sources deplete, education and conservation have become paramount to their survival.

This page provides information on whale species who inhabit or migrate through the Northeast Pacific Ocean.

More information on wildlife conservation and preservation

Orca Whales

Orcas (aka: Killer Whales) are actually the largest species in the dolphin family. Females can live up to 80 years, males have a shorter life span of up to 50 years. Although, once in captivity, the lifespan of an Orca is reduced to a meager 5 years.

The Orca is the species you’ll most likely encounter on your whale watching trip. They are one of the fastest marine animals in the sea and need to eat up to 5 percent of their body weight in food every day.

Orcas have been known to feed on all manner of sea life, including other whales, sometimes even larger than themselves. The resident pods around Salt Spring Island feed mostly on salmon, although their supplies have been vastly depleted in recent years, which leaves these magnificent creatures even more vulnerable.

Orcas reside in every ocean of the world, although they prefer the colder waters of the Northern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Researchers identify individuals within a pod by their dorsal fin, which is unique to each animal.

Learn more about Orcas and their behaviors here.

Orcas Around Salt Spring

Southern resident pods J, K, and L are frequently spotted playing, socializing, and foraging for food in the waters around Salt Spring and the Southern Gulf Islands.

K and L pods leave in late September, early October to spend the winter months further out to sea (no-one really knows where they go), while the J pod are inclined to stick around throughout the winter months. J pod is the family you’ll most likely see on your whale watching trip.

The J pod, a Southern resident group of 20 something killer whales travel through Active Pass along the Southern shores of Salt Spring Island on a regular basis.

Other Species Around Salt Spring

Orcas aren’t the only whale species you may encounter on your whale watching trip. The whales described below are rarer sights in and around Salt Spring Island, often just passing through on migration.

Humpback Whales

Humpback whales reside in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean around Alaska during the summer months and migrate south towards Mexico during the winter months, where they breed, then return north as summer approaches again.

Male Humpback whales are known for their long and varied ‘songs’, which seem to be a way of competing amongst other males for a mate.

Grey Whales

These whales are known for being very curious and friendly. Grey whales follow much the same migration path as the Humpback’s.

Their summer feeding grounds are on the Alaskan coast, and in early winter, they make their way south to their breeding grounds off the coast of Mexico. Grey whales have no dorsal fin and their bodies are often encrusted with barnacles.

Minke Whales

The smallest of the rorqual (baleen or toothless) whales, these creatures are fast breeding and highly abundant throughout the world’s oceans.

Long, smooth, dark colored bodies with a small, pointed dorsal fin set way back, and two blowholes characterize this species who are known to be loners and have unpredictable migration habits.

Share your experiences

The BC Cetacean Sightings Network encourages those who spot whales to report the sightings via their website. The data is used for conservation purposes.

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