Whale Watching From Steveston, BC

Whale Watching With Vancouver Whale Watching

I have been bugging David since we had arrived in Vancouver about whale watching. On our trip to Horseshoe Bay, we had checked out the whale watching options but the trip from there meant a much longer transit to the whale watching location. We had also considered going to Victoria on Vancouver Island for a whale watching trip. This would mean a ferry from Tsawwassen and then a whale watching tour from Victoria. Ultimately we decided that the transit time from Steveston would be reasonable and not worth investing the time and cost to start in Victoria.

David did his research on options for whale watching from Steveston and decided we would go with Vancouver Whale Watching. We had been lucky enough on our 4 week west coast trip the previous year to go whale watching around Monterey and get a great display of whale fun. While Vancouver Whale Watching provided a return trip guarantee if they did not see any whales, we really wanted to catch them on the first trip.

Baview Quay - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

The route to Steveston from Vancouver is against rush hour traffic, so it was a quick 40 minute. You need to get there in advance of your tour time to fill out the waiver and any other paperwork you had not done at booking time. We opted to take one of their bright yellow waterproof jackets just in case we had not brought enough layers with us. Putting the parking pass in the window of the car we headed to find the whale watching boat.

It was easy to see the whale watching boats at the dock. There were two styles – the mostly enclosed larger boats and the open zodiac style boat. While it would have been more up close and personal to go in the open boat, we were happy when we got loaded onto one of the two boats they filled for that day. I was quite amazed at how many people had turned up on this weekday at the end of September.

Explorer II Boat - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

Spotting the Humpback Whale

We motored out of the Steveston harbour and headed towards the US San Juan Islands. We had two days of storms before our whale watching day and the day was still a little grey when we pulled out of the harbour. But the storms had left us with the flattest seas I may have ever seen in open water (technically rated sea state 0 – mirror calm)!

Calm waters - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

Calm waters - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

We were told that we would not be stopping to see the harbour seals that often swam in the waters close to shore. The first stop that Captain John had targeted was to see a Humpback Whale. This one had been spotted moving ever so slowly and he was right where he was expected. We pulled in with the other boat from Vancouver Whale Watching and waited. Our guide Joan said to watch for the blow!

Humpback Whale - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

Humpback Whale - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

Humpback Whale - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

We stayed for about 30 minutes and watched the Humpback Whale bob up and down until he would dive for 5 minutes or so, leaving us to scan the horizon for his return. On the return trip, we again caught up with this same Humpback Whale, who had moved only a small distance since we had been gone.

Captain John got us back underway only to pull into a small cove in Active Pass. He moved us in a circle to see the two attractions he had spotted. On a shallow rock, we could see a large group of sea lions laying soaking up the sun. On the shore, those people with great eyes or a good telescopic lens could see a bald eagle sitting in the tree.  Seeing the one lone bald eagle was interesting but later on this trip we would see dozens and dozens in the Harrison Hills area!

Harbour Seals - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

Bald eagle - ActivePass - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

As we approached San Juan Island, Joan came up and told all of us Canadians that we might soon be picking up U.S. cell phone towers. With Canadian cell phone roaming rates so high, we all opted to put our phones on airplane mode to avoid unwanted phone charges.

We had arrived well bundled up and had taken an extra waterproof coat on the boat. But as the day went on, the grey skies cleared and we found it quite reasonable in the enclosed boat. When David went up on the top open deck to get pictures, he needed an extra layer but it was worth it for the view. But we were glad we had not done the whole trip in late September in an open zodiac style boat!

The Pod of Killer Whales

We had no trouble knowing when we had reached the spot where the Killer Whales (Orcas) had been spotted this day. With the number of boats being a bit smaller at this time of year, it is sometimes a bit of a question whether someone will spot the whales. But this day, every captain had been given the same coordinates.

Whale Boats - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

The boats ranged from sizes as small as the open zodiac style boats, to mid-size boats like we were on, to much larger tour boats from Victoria and the US. You could see the boats keep jockeying for a position close to the pod of whales every time they surfaced. Most of them were careful to keep within the required spacing and later in the morning we even saw a US Coast Guard vessel in the area that further kept the tour boats in line.

While we were not in the boat where the whales surfaced right beside them, we were able to get great views of the whales (although we never did see a full breach). The people on our boat crowded to the open windows or open decks as the whales appeared, with the captain moving the boat regularly to get the whales first on one side and then on another.

Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

We stayed in the area for over an hour, watching the Killer Whales surface and dive. We could see at least 6 different whales in a range of sizes and ages. Joan explained how they could distinguish different whales (by tail markings) and how the whales were named to keep track of lineage.

Killer Whales - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

Killer Whales - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

Killer Whales - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

Killer Whales - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

And More Natural Beauty To See

On the way back we took a slightly different route and we stopped to see the amazing sandstone cliffs on the side of one island. You could see where the dimples in the sandstone started and could see the portions that had worn away after many, many years. Those with good eyes even caught sight of a nested peregrine falcon.
Sandstone cliffs.jpg

Sandstone cliffs.jpg

The final spot that Captain John stopped at let us see a small island covered with lounging and playing sea lions. We had seem a lot of sea lions when we travelled down the west coast but it was always worth a look to see the antics of these creatures.

Sea Lions - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

Sea Lions - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

We had been out for a full 5 hours whale watching from Steveston by the time we pulled back into the harbour. We had seen an amazing range of wild life on this trip. Our route and sightings were well documented on the wall chart to record our adventure!

Whale Chart - Whale watching from Steveston.jpg

It had been an awesome day to visit Steveston and go whale watching!

Have you gone whale watching from Steveston when in the Vancouver area? Where did you leave from? Did you see other types of whales or wild life?

About TravelAtWill 353 Articles

Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!

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