Wildlife-loving Richmond visitors often keep their eyes peeled for eagles, river otters, and cute little Douglas squirrels while they’re here. But many travellers plan their trips for a specific time of year in hopes of seeing something bigger—whales.

Whale watching season typically runs from April to October in this part of the world, but 2020 has not been a typical year! Tours will officially be starting on July 1, 2020, and Richmond’s Steveston Village is the departure point for two of Metro Vancouver’s most popular operators. Fancy an encounter with some breathtaking marine-based wildlife? Here’s what you need to know.

Whale Watching
Embark on a whale watching tour for a chance to see Orcas. | Photo: Tourism Richmond

Who are the operators?

Vancouver Whale Watch and Steveston Seabreeze Adventures both operate out of Richmond. Whale Watching tours depart daily from Steveston Village. Keep in mind that safety measures and operating procedures have changed; make sure you plan ahead before booking a tour.

Where do the boats go?

The tours head out to open ocean, often weaving around the Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands. BC operators typically share sighting information to ensure they head straight to the best viewing spots. The tours—led by marine experts with plenty of insights to impart on the region’s fascinating wildlife—last anywhere from three to five hours, depending on where the whales are.

What will I see?

Orcas are the stars of these interpretive tours but there can also be some jaw-dropping bonus sightings as well—perhaps humpbacks, minke whales or grey whales. And it’s not only about whales. You might have a chance to see seals, porpoises or sea lions, along with bald eagles and an array of seabirds.

Vancouver Whale Watch
While Orcas are the stars of most tours, you never know what you might see! | Photo: ​Vancouver Whale Watch

Tell me more about the orcas!

Also known as killer whales, the black-and-white-patterned Orcas are a well-known presence in BC’s regional waters. But while they might look the same, there are actually two distinct types here. Transient Orcas typically hunt and eat other mammals, especially seals, porpoises, and sea lions. In contrast, Resident Orcas mostly eat fish—and they especially love salmon.

How do the tours interact with the whales?

Carefully and considerately. Each operator takes whale conservation extremely seriously, working hard to ensure the area’s ocean-dwellers aren’t harmed by their presence. Both operators also adhere to Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) guidelines, and both dedicate a portion of their proceeds to marine preservation initiatives. 

What do I need to wear and bring?

Dress warmly in layers; even when it’s hot and sunny onshore, it can be chilly out on the water. Sunglasses and sunscreen—plus your camera—are also recommended, as well as snacks and drinks (the operators do provide water).

Note that Vancouver Whale Watch will require all staff and passengers to wear a face mask, and they will also be offering each passenger a buff (a light tubular scarf) that makes for a nice keepsake. They have also posted more information on safety measures and operating procedures here.

How much do the tours cost?

Both operators offer similar pricing: adult tickets cost between $145 and $160 and tickets for children aged 12 and under are priced from $85 (infants aged up to three years old are free). Tickets for seniors and students start at $125. Be sure to reserve a spot ahead of time!

How do I get to my tour?

If you don't have your own transportation or are not familiar with the region’s public transit options (see the TransLink website for trip-planning tools), consider the handy shuttle services provided by each operator. Servicing Richmond and Vancouver, the shuttles cost between $10 and $15 per person (round-trip) and they need to be booked in advance.

What if we don’t see anything?

BC’s whale populations don’t operate on a schedule! But both operators say there’s at least a 90 per cent chance of spotting whales on their tours. And if you’re not lucky enough to see one on your trip, Vancouver Whale Watch and Steveston Seabreeze Adventures both offer a similar guarantee: you can return anytime and take their tour again at no extra cost.