Wildlife We See
Whales, Wildlife & Spectacular Scenery
Barkley Sound Wildlife
Few areas in the world rival the rich mix of wildlife we encounter in Barkley Sound which lies on Ucluelet’s door step. Rather than focus our tours on one or other species, we offer an all-round wildlife tour. Within a few hours there is the possibility of seeing whales, harbor porpoises, black bears, two species of sea lion, harbor seals, sea otters, bald eagles, and a variety of sea birds. Although we don’t see every species every day, we see most species each and every day. The exception are the unpredictable killer whales that appear only at random.
Animal sightings do vary from year to year, season to season, sometimes even day to day. We record the wildlife we see each day, so feel free to inquire about current sightings.
Click on the tabs below to learn about the wildlife you may see! We update this section when needed. We also recommend you read Frequently Asked Questions.
Humpbacks are large whales, adults ranging from about 12 to 16 meters in length. They are highly acrobatic and often we are lucky enough to see a performance from their bag of tricks which includes breaching, tail lobbing, lunge feeding, tail fluking and spy hopping.
Once hunted almost to extinction, Humpback whales are making a comeback the world over. They are migratory, spending the winter at their breeding grounds in either Mexico or Hawaii and the summer months in the North Pacific.
Humpbacks are regular visitors to our area. Until 2014 we saw Humpbacks almost daily during the summer months. Between 2014 and 2018 sightings have been unpredictable and sporadic. There were periods of daily sightings mixed with periods of no sightings.
At times when humpback whales are in areas that are further away, your chance of seeing them is better if you take a dedicated whale watching tour in a high speed boat as these tours focus on whales rather than an all day experience as we do.
We are not sure what to expect throughout the 2019 season but will update this section when we have new information.
We recommend you read our Frequently Asked Questions, in particular the question about guaranteed sightings).
Each spring more than 20,000 Gray whales swim along our shores from their breeding grounds in Mexico to their feeding grounds in the Bering Sea. Between 35 and 50 individuals stay all summer to feed along the west coast of Vancouver Island rather than continue their northerly migration. It is these summer “residents” that we watch between March and October.
Gray whale sightings are usually “dependable”. However this has not been the case over the last four years. Between 2014 and 2018 there have been times when we’ve seen Gray whales daily, other times when sightings were many days apart, even longer periods of no sightings.
Sometimes Gray whales can be seen in an area that require a fairly long off shore journey which is in the opposite direction to the Broken Group Islands. At such times, or if seeing whales is your main focus, you might want to consider a dedicated whale watching tour which focuses on seeing whales rather than an all day experience as we do.
We are not sure what to expect throughout the 2019 season but will update this section whenever we have new information.
We recommend you read our Frequently Asked Questions, in particular the question about guaranteed sightings.
Orcas or Killer Whales
Don’t “expect” to see Orcas although you can “hope” to see them. The transient killer whales that frequent our waters are constantly on the move. Their movements are random and unpredictable. At times we go weeks without seeing them so it is a bonus when we do.
Transient killer whales are mammal hunters, their favourite meal being a young sea lion or nice plump seal, so it can be exciting when we do see them.
We see harbor porpoises frequently during the summer months. Although common, they are not easy to watch. Unlike many porpoises and dolphins, the harbor porpoise doesn’t believe in midair summersaults. Seeing little, dark backs with a small fin popping up through the water’s surface – this is harbor porpoise watching.
Once hunted to extinction on the BC coast, sea otters were reintroduced in 1969. Although they are not yet present in large numbers in Barkley Sound they are making a noticeable comeback. In recent years we have seen sea otters relatively frequently, in 2017 and 2018 almost daily. Barkley Sound was historically good terrain for them so we expect the population to increase yearly.
Late August 2017 Update:
Sea otters are finally settling in Barkley Sound. There are at least two mothers with pups so perhaps we are seeing a new generation of the Barkley Sound Sea Otter Colony. We have seen sea otters on all but three tours this year. They are an exciting addition to the abundant wildlife in the area.
Stellar Sea Lions
Significantly larger and lighter in colour than the California Sea Lion, Stellers live in our area year round. They live in large colonies and we will see thousand kilogram males strutting and growling, standing off interlopers, all the while dominating their huge family. Although they change their rookeries and habits during the year they are always within our orbit.
California Sea Lions
California Sea Lions range from southern Mexico to northern Vancouver Island. Only the males make their way to our waters and from mid-August until mid-June they can be seen in large numbers. They like to be in groups, one piled on top of another, they are noisy, curious and a lot of fun to watch. In mid-June they take off to California to meet the ladies – little wonder they lose interest in tourist watching! They are quite a presence in our area so we do miss them while they are gone.
Harbor Seals are smaller and very different in character from sea lions. There are several rookeries along our route, so we see them all season. In the spring we see the mothers with their newborn pups and over the summer we watch the little ones grow to young adulthood.
(Ursus americanus vancouveri)
Fortunately Black Bears seem to love our area as much as we do!
In the spring bears begin frequenting the beaches. On average we see them about 40 to 50% at this time, from mid summer to fall almost two thirds of the time, at times almost daily. Turning over rocks on the beach and feeding on crabs that hide underneath, they are often easy to see up close from a boat. Sows with cubs are common.
If bears are your main focus, please ask us for an update prior to booking to avoid disappointment since we do not see bears every day. Or you might consider taking a dedicated bear watching tour (which we do not offer).
For more information, please read our Frequently Asked Questions – especially the question/answer about bears.
Barkley Sound has the highest density of resident Bald Eagles anywhere in North America. Their sheer numbers ensure some close up viewing which is always a thrill. From spring until August our area is packed with Bald Eagles. In August most eagles leave for the salmon streams but enough “Residents” remains behind that we see them daily. There are several active nests along our route.
Sea Birds and Shore Birds
We always encounter a variety of sea birds, many of which can’t be seen from shore.
The birds change with the year and the season but here is a list of regular sightings (depending on time of year):
- Great Blue Herons,
- Gulls (Glaucous Winged, California, Mew, Heermann’s),
- Cormorants (Brandt, Double Crested, Pelagic),
- Black Oystercatchers,
- Common Murres,
- Pigeon Guillemots,
- Rhinocerous Auklets,
- Marbled Murrelets,
- Scoters (Surf, White Winged),
- Harlequin Ducks,
- Grebes (Western, Red-necked, Horned)
- Mergansers (Common, Hooded, Red-breasted),
- Loons (Common, Pacific)
- Phalaropes (Wilson’s, Red-necked)
- On occasion we see Pelicans and Puffins.