Whale Watching in Tofino, BC (Part 1: Animals)

One little indulgence Katy and I allowed ourselves on our Western Canada trip was a whale-watching tour in Tofino, BC.

On the recommendation of a family member who has lived on Vancouver Island for a few years, we booked a late-morning cruise with Weigh West Marine Resort. We weren't disappointed. The combination of good weather, a fast boat and a knowledgeable captain made the $80/person cruise well worth it.

But let's leave the talk to a minimum. Here's a whale.

Gray whale near rocky shore

Biologists in the crowd will surely recognize Eschrichtius robustus, the gray whale, thirty-odd tonnes and not too worried about the handful of boats drifting nearby.

Two gray whales near shore

That's not something on the lens; the whales are blasting a substantial amount of atomized water into the air when they exhale. The puff only lasts a tiny fraction of a second before it dissipates into a thin, low cloud.

Gray whale

Gray whale tail

Gray whale tail near beach

Gray whale tail in air near beach

These guys aren't at all afraid of the boat. With our engines off, they'd come up to within fifty metres of us. They'd surface for five or six breaths, then, with a flick of the tail, dive for another five minutes or so of feeding time.

Gray whale in front of trees

Two gray whales, one with tail up


This next guy's small dorsal fin is a clue that he's not a gray. The sharp-eyed biologists will of course identify him (her?) as Megaptera novaeangliae, the humpback whale.

Humpback whale near a boat

This pod wasn't in a very interesting mood; they'd surface to breathe, then feed for a while and come up a few hundred metres away, just a bit too far to get good photos.

Two humpback whales

We did see a bit of tail from these guys, but eventually turned our sights to a nearby island....

Steller sea lions on a rock

These fat, happy folks are Steller sea lions, Eumetopias jubatus. They're seen all around the northern Pacific, and are considered a threatened species. As pinnipeds go, they're rather on the large side; females are about 300 kg, while those with a Y-chromosome range from 500 to 1100 kg.

Steller sea lions on a rock

Steller sea lions basking in the sun

Also nearby were a few "Tofino sausages", as the orca whales know them. (The rest of us call them harbour seals.)

Seals basking on a tidal rock

There were some bird sightings too, including bald eagles; unfortunately, they're just too hard to catch with this camera.

For any photo geeks reading this: There's nothing fancy here from a technical standpoint. The camera's an Olympus C-750, vintage 2003. Since auto focus and auto exposure invariably get bad (or no) locks out on the ocean, these were all shot in full manual mode. I took exposure and focus readings on the nearby boats, and fixed everything at those settings. Doing so eliminates the AF lag, so you get the shot while the whale's still up instead of just after he dives. When chasing whales, the tactic is to lock in the settings, then "spray and pray" with the high-speed drive, and sort it all out later. (For the seals, though, we passed so close and so quickly that I didn't have time to adjust the equipment accordingly.)





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