Launching their first tour in 1998 and growing exponentially ever since, Richmond-based Vancouver Whale Watch is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. And with the first boats of its 2018 April to October season already departing from the Steveston waterfront, we chatted to company founder and owner Cedric Towers about his business – and the never-ending thrill of working alongside the area’s marine wildlife.

Tourism Richmond (TR): What do you remember about the early years of Vancouver Whale Watch?

Cedric Towers (CT): We started as an ecotourism company called Captain Zodiac and we had one 12-passenger boat in that first season. But I soon realized there was much more demand than we anticipated. I began to think that if we had enough good boats, we could run a viable whale watching operation from Steveston. This was unheard of at the time – all the region’s other whale watching tour companies were based on Vancouver Island.

Whale WatchingOrcas are usually spotted on tours departing from Richmond. | JPS Media Works Inc​

TR: What happened next?

CT: We purchased two more boats over the next couple of years. That gave us three boats and the capacity for 184 passengers – as well as the ability to run two trips per day. Since then, we’ve introduced newer boats and we now welcome thousands of passengers every year. I’m also very proud of the fact that we employ over 35 staff here during the peak season.

TR: Are today’s passengers any different to the ones from 20 years ago?

CT: Not really! I still love seeing the anticipation on everyone’s faces as they get suited up – they’re always really excited. And it’s also great to see them when they come back in and they’re still talking about what they’ve seen out on the water. It always reminds me of what a really satisfying career I have!

TR: You must have seen some amazing wildlife over the years?

CT: Yes, I never get tired of it. Sometimes we come across a super pod, which is always incredible – there can be dozens of whales coming together in this big family reunion. They take their time to greet each other and there’s always a lot of communication and active behavior going on.

TR: How do you know the whales are communicating?

CT: When the whales are nearby, we can shut off the engine and drop a hydrophone into the water. It’s an underwater microphone and it enables the passengers in the boat to hear the orcas talking to each other. It’s one of those things that our passengers really love!

TR: How do you know where the whales are going to be?

CT: We’re part of the Pacific Whale Watch Network and its members keep in radio contact to update everyone on where the whales are. Once we hear the latest update, that’s where we go. Our tours have a success rate of over 95 per cent when it comes to seeing whales. But if you’re unlucky on your tour, you can always come back for free – and that offer never expires. We had a family from Germany who came back for a return tour after 18 years!

TR: What motivates you to keep going – and how do you see the next 20 years?

CT: I’ve always enjoyed a challenge and this industry supplies many. Our company prides itself on providing truly memorable experiences for our customers. But to maintain those high standards, I rely on excellent staff that are constantly innovating our marketing as well as redesigning our boats to provide an exciting adventure for all. Richmond has established itself as a great place to visit and explore nature and that’s what we will continue to offer – I think the future of eco-tourism looks good!