Prince of Whales tour

Aiming for a change of scenery, particularly one that includes fresh, salty air and ocean breezes? Then we highly recommend a tour with local outfitters Prince of Whales.

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Now I do realize that many of our readers live in Vancouver (or Victoria) and may find whale-watching tours something that only tourists do, but let me reassure you, being whisked away to hunt for majestic Orca and Humpback whales is a refreshing break for all of us.

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We recently boarded a Prince of Whales Vancouver adventure, departing from (and returning to) Granville Island.

This easy, family-friendly outing on the Salish Sea Dream (on the day of our tour) takes full COVID-19 measures into account when it comes to physical distancing and hygiene practices.

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At the moment, Prince of Whales is booking with a 50% occupancy cap in order to allow passengers enough space to physically distance, both in the main cabin and on the deck. The luxury catamaran is equipped with all the safety features and equipment necessary for a safety-first (and fun!) experience.

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Their fleet of 14 boats were engineered in Canada and built from scratch for the purpose of whale watching in the coastal waters of BC.

We’re greeted by one of two naturalists and seated in alternating rows (those will be our designated seats for the trip). Face coverings need to be worn where not possible to physically distance (if you don’t have one, Prince of Whales has these nifty whale-themed buff style coverings as a great little souvenir of your day).

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On our tour, we’ve got Captain Anthony, First Mate Sandy, plus James and Wilma, two trained Transport Canada-certified marine naturalists who give us a lot of great background information during the afternoon.

Prince of Whales also respects lawful distances from the mammals (100 meters from Humpbacks; 200 meters from Orcas) at all times.

While the tour normally includes food for purchase, with COVID, it’s limited to free hot cocoa, coffee and filtered water during the entire time we’re at sea (bring lunch and snacks). Once our safety briefing is through, we’re able to roam the entire vessel as we depart False Creek and head out to the Strait of Georgia.

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We hope to come across both species of whales today (Prince of Whales guarantees a sighting or you’ll receive a voucher for a future tour). Gorgeous blue skies and views all around make this a beautiful experience from the start (we actually have about half out-of-towners, half locals on this excursion).

According to James, we’re at the end of feeding season for the humpbacks, yet several have been spotted just the day before our tour, so our group remains optimistic.

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About an hour into our journey, approaching the tip of Galiano Island, our crew spots a pair of West Coast Bigg’s (transient) Orcas (named after scientist Dr. Michael Bigg, recognized as the founder of modern whale research).

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A grown male (21, according to the team’s detailed and illustrated records) is joined by his 56-year-old mother. Female orcas stay with their sons for about 15 years, giving them ample time to learn as much as they can from Mom, but females get a much shorter “education” as they pivot into their mating role.

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We’re given some fascinating info about Orcas, learning that these creatures can live between 35 to 45 years (male) and between 65 and 85 years (female). They’re also technically the world’s largest dolphin and can grow to between six and nine meters (18 to 28 feet)!

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Closing in on neighbouring Gabriola Island, the boat slows down to watch a pack of super lazy Steller sea lions hanging out on a buoy, soaking up the rays. We also spot Turkey vultures, Bald eagles, Great Blue Herons, Harbour seals and a lone Canada Goose, as we begin to make our way back towards Granville Island.

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It takes some serious scouting to locate a mother and calf Humpback, but we do find them out in the Salish Sea, giving us a show as they breach, showing off the classic whale tail before diving back for a longer feeding session. It’s the perfect cap to a stunning day on the water. According to Wilma, mother Humpback will need to gain back about half her body weight before starting the annual migration to the waters of Mexico and Hawaii.

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As we approach the dock, Wilma opens a box of colourful, individually-wrapped (COVID, remember?) Bon Macarons and we savour a sweet finish to the day before saying goodbye to the crew, with big smiles on our faces.

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There’s still a few weeks left to catch the tours (this season has been shortened due to the pandemic), offered in both Vancouver and Victoria. A third, smaller location at Telegraph Cove is something to consider for a future North Vancouver Island adventure, as they’ll be wrapping up on September 25.

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[Where we spotted everything, documented on that day’s map]

1% for the Planet: Prince of Whales donates a minimum of 1% of its annual sales to local conservation initiatives (each passenger is charged a nominal fee in order to boost funds for marine mammal-based scientific research and education). Note there’s also a special discount for BC residents.

We were guests aboard the Prince of Whales Vancouver whale-watching adventures for the purpose of this feature. Opinions, as always, remain our own.

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