Fall 2017 • 51
50 • Vacations
Tourists wouldn’t know it from the number of whale
emblazoned t-shirts and knickknacks for sale on the
shores of Campbell River or the small towns further
north including Telegraph Cove and Port McNeill, but
there was a time when whales weren’t adored here.
The massive humpback and agile orca whales that once
heavily populated these coastal waters were nearly
driven to extinction thanks to a healthy Canadian whaling
industry and a healthier dose of unfounded fear, says
Marine Education and Research Society (MERS)
co-founder Jackie Hildering.
The society, founded in 2010, changed that by continuing
and expanding the work started by Canadian marine
biologist Dr. Michael Bigg. Bigg established the way
orca whales are identified, counted and perceived
globally - efforts that brought an end to their killing and
Hildering – a scientist and teacher – and her team are now
doing the same for the humpbacks. “It was unacceptable
to me to simply look at them and go ‘it’s a humpback’,”
says Hildering, “so, we started taking ID photos. This led
to the founding of the Marine Education and Research
Society in 2010.“
Today the whales have names, are identified by the unique
fingerprint-like shape and pattern of their tails and dorsal fins,
and have become one of the main tourist draws to the area.
The humpback fandom has caught on and MERS-educated
boat captains and snap-happy tourists are adding to the
collection of information about the whales in the water.
It’s obvious that conservation efforts are working. “I started
in 2004 and in the whole year, there were seven individual
humpbacks. Last year, we counted 90,” says Hildering.
HEADING TO NORTH VANCOUVER
ISLAND FOR WHALE-WATCHING?
HERE’S WHEN TO GO, WHAT TO LOOK
FOR AND HOW TO FIND THE GENTLE
GIANTS ONCE YOU ARRIVE.
ORCAS VS. HUMPBACKS
The orcas (the black and white creatures you’ve likely
referred to as “killer whales”) and the giant greyish
humpbacks are the two big draws to the area. Orcas
are the largest of the dolphin family and much of
their behaviours are similar – they travel in pods,
use echolocation and move in predictable patterns.
Humpbacks are different. The 52-foot long, 50-tonne
creatures can dive up to 700 feet and disappear below water
for up to 30 minutes before breaching without warning.
WHEN TO VISIT
Lucky visitors may spot a whale in the late spring but best
opportunities happen during the summer months when
humpbacks make their way through the plankton and
krill-filled waters for feeding. Most of the outfitters in the
area are seasonal (May – October) with a peak in July and
Many of the area’s outfitters work hand-in-hand with MERS
to make sure tours meet the guidelines that best protect
the animals and passengers. The outfitters’ knowledge
means tours can be selected to match the transportation
personality of the guest without risking the chance of
a great experience.
Solo or tandem, guests gently paddle with a
small group and guide across the gentle waters.
With no motor to disturb the animals, seals,
dolphins, porpoises and whales go about their
day without paying much notice. Evening kayak
tours that leave from nearby Quadra Island
offer plenty of other things to behold as well,
including sea urchins, uninhabited islands and
phenomenal sunsets over the water.
COVERED TOUR BOAT
At this higher vantage point, the boat’s captain
will be able to spot those telltale spouts from
further away and get close to them sooner.
Another bonus: Comfort. Soft seats, protection
in case of unexpected rain or wind and a
bathroom on board make this an ideal option
for some customers and families with small
Teens and thrill-seeking adults will get a kick
out of the speed, high winds and very strong
likelihood of getting wet that the Zodiac tours
offer. In between watching for whales, tours
tend to zip around the local islands and easily
attract the attention of local porpoises who
enjoy playing in the wake.
BEYOND THE WHALES
Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary this
year but the area’s connection to whales goes
back much further. First Nation’s history has the
animals with ancestors who called these islands
home centuries before. Specialty outfitters in
the area can offer a First Nation’s perspective
on the history.
fandom has caught on
and MERS-educated boat
captains and snap-happy
tourists are adding to the
collection of information
about the whales in the
ORCA OR ‘KILLER WHALE’
A FAMILY OF SEALS GREETS US AS WE PASS.
KAYAKING OFFERS PLENTY
TO BEHOLD INCLUDING
COVERED BOAT TOURS GIVES A HIGHER VANTAGE POINT
WHALE WATCHING FROM THE ZODIAC