Whale watching Canada

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Whale watching is one of the things you REALLY HAVE TO do during your travel in Canada. Make sure you find the right area and season for best chances to spot these Kings of the Oceans.

This page is about where and when to view these magnificent marine mammals.

As most whales are migratory, they visit rich waters for feeding. 
By locating the foraging waters for several whale species, we know where to expect regular visits from these giant ocean residents.

Whale species in Canadian waters

Best seasons for whale watching in Canada

Outfitters offering whale watch tours


whale tale

Where and when to view these whales
Blue whale                            
Humpback whale                       
Minke whale
Fin whale                             
Grey whale                               
Right whale
Killer whale /Orca                   
Beluga                                     
Pilot whale
Dolphin and Porpoise species

An emotional experience

The first time I went whale watching in Canada, we heard orcas communicate.  I had goose bumps and tears in my eyes.  It was so beautiful....

As I joined many whale watch tours in western Canada, I added a specific page about whale watching in British Columbia.

whale watching tours

Several whale species in Canada

Canada has a diversity of whale species (cetacean), which are the focus of interest for whale watch tours.
Most species are migratory and present in food-rich Canadian waters, only for a specific time-frame. 


Main target species for whale watch tours in Canada per province

  • British Columbia: Orca, Grey whale, Humpback whale
  • Manitoba: Beluga
  • New Brunswick: Humpback whale, Fin whale, Right whale
  • Newfoundland: Humpback whale, Fin whale, Minke whale
  • Nova Scotia: Humpback whale, Fin whale, Right whale, Long-finned Pilot whale
  • Quebec: Fin whale, Beluga, Humpback whale, Blue whale


Best seasons to go whale watching in Canada

The best season to go whale watching in Canada varies per species. 
Continue reading to find out when the different species inhabit Canadian waters. 

Most whales spend the Canadian winter in warm southern waters.  This is where the calves are born. During spring, most whales migrate north, often passing Canadian waters. Some are going as far north as the Bering Sea and Davis Strait. Others stay all summer in - food rich- Canadian waters.

The Beluga whale resides more or less permanently in Canadian waters. 


Blue whale - Balaenoptera musculus

The Blue whale is the biggest animal on earth
Weighing up to 200 tons/181 metric tons and measuring 100 feet/ 30 metres in length, this migrating giant belongs to the suborder of baleen whales.

blue whales Canada
blue whales in Canada

Humpback whale - Megaptera novaeangliae

This migrating baleen whale forages near shorelines on krill, plankton and tiny fish. After 3-5 shallow dives, it regularly shows a tail fluke when diving for deeper waters.

A Humpback whale male is famous for its magical song.

Read the page whale watching in British Columbia for more information regarding Humpback whales.

humpback whales Canada
humpback whales canada

Minke whale - Balaenoptera acutorostrata

With a maximum length of 10 metres (30 feet), the Minke whale is one of the smallest baleen whales. 

It eats small school of fish, zoo-plankton and krill.
Minke whales in cold areas migrate south in wintertime. The ones in temperate regions seem to be resident to a specific area.

minke whales canada
minke whales canada

Fin whale - Balaenoptera physalus

Most commonly seen in offshore waters, Fin whales feed primarily on schooling fish, squid and small invertebrates. 

Fin whales are migratory and they belong to the suborder of the baleen whales.

fin whales canada
fin whales canada

Grey whale - Eschrichtius robustus

Only found along Canada’s west coast, the Grey whale uses its baleen to filter tiny little creatures from the ocean floor.
The Grey whale’s skin is home to barnacles and sea lice. They make the outer skin look like ocean rock.

These giant whales can travel great distances. Within a year, they migrate up to 20.000 km -12.500 miles- from their warm winter home in Mexican waters to the cool summer feeding grounds up north, all the way into Alaska.


Read the page whale watching in British Columbia for more information regarding Grey whales.

grey whales canada
grey whales canada

Right whale - Eubalaena glacialis

Whalers named right whales, as they were supposed to be the ‘right’ whale to hunt.
These migratory baleen whales were almost hunted to extinction. Right whales are still the most endangered large whale species in Canada

Right whales feed on krill and plankton.  In contrast to their pray, Right whales reach an impressive maximum length of 18 metres -59 feet-, and can weigh up to 100 tonnes.

right whales canada
right whales canada

Killer whale or Orca – Orcinus orca

The orca or killer whale, belongs to the Dolphin family and suborder of the toothed whales.
There seem to be three to five different types of orcas. More research is needed to review the taxonomy.

In eastern Canada, killer whale movements are often a response to seal and rorqual (monodontidae) whale migrations.

In western Canada, resident killer whales feed on salmon and therefore follow the salmon run.


Read the page whale watching in British Columbia for more information regarding Orcas.

orca canada
orca canada
orca in British Columbia

Beluga - Delphinapterus leucas

The Beluga is a white coloured, toothed whale and belongs to the monodontidae (narwhal) family. 
Their diet consists mainly of fish and invertebrates, such as squid, clams, sea snails, and crabs.

The Beluga's home range reaches from deep Arctic waters to the Saguenay estuary in the St. Lawrence River in Quebec.

beluga whales canada
beluga whales canada

Long-finned Pilot whale - Globicephala melas

The long-finned Plot whale is a toothed whale, and just like the orca, it belongs to the Dolphin family.

These very social animals have, unfortunately, the tendency to ‘strand’ themselves. In most situations, when one whale strands itself, the whole pod will follow.

These migrating dolphins are nicknamed ‘potheads’ as a result of their big, round forehead.

pilot whales canada
pilot whales canada

Other Dolphin and Porpoise species

Other Dolphin and Porpoise species, such as white-sided dolphins, white-beaked dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphin, Dall’s porpoise, and Harbour porpoise, are incidentally viewed while whale watching in Canada.

These highly intelligent and social animals sometimes approach boats and even seem to enjoy riding bow waves.


Outfitters offering whale watch tours

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Notes

  • When joining any of the whale watch tours in Canada you will have a good chance of seeing the giant marine mammals. However, no outfitter can guarantee whale encounters.

  • To ensure whale watching activities do not affect cetacean populations or individual animals, nor their environment, legislation requires whale watch tours to keep a safe distance of at least 100 metres.


Read the ‘whale watching British Columbia’ page for more information and the best locations to spot Grey whales, Humpbacks and Orcas.




Sources

Wild whales. BC Cetacean sightings network

Canadian Technical Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 2363 (PDF file)

Parks Canada - Species at Risk - the Blue Whale





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