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Orca & Whale Watching Telegraph Cove, Vancouver Island | Roadtrip Canada

After we arrived on Vancouver Island by ferry and were done with spotting bears at Campbell River, another important bucket list experience was there to tick off: Whale watching at Telegraph Cove. It wasn't just about any whale, but the orca. The orca has long been at the top of our list of animals we would like to see in the wild. This was the perfect place and the right time in the season!

There are several groups (pods) of orcas living around Vancouver Island and we went looking for them on a zodiac (rubber boat). In this article you can read everything about these beautiful orcas, but also the humpback whales, gray whales and dolphins that we saw during our tour. In addition, we have added a lot of practical information; what it cost us and of course our own experience including videos!

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Our journey through the United States and Canada

This article is part of a major one-year journey that we (Chris and Malou van Wereldreizigers.nl), are currently making by the United States en Canada† We started in New York City and are through Washington DC en Baltimore (where we shipped our RV), first traveled south (Florida) and then made a full round of the country. At the end of July we crossed the border to Canada via Montana.

Organizing this trip took a lot of time and energy. So we had to US B1/B2 visa of one year and we spent weeks working on it renovating our 4×4 camper† Then we got to work on the RV to America to ship and in hindsight it turned out to be a Dutch vehicle insurance in America to be one of the biggest challenges.

When that was all over, we could finally focus on the anticipation: figuring out and planning all the beautiful places we want to visit. I built the ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada of roughly 50.000 kilometers in Google maps and we are now making our dream come true! The interactive map can be viewed below.

More blogs from our trip through America and Canada



Which whales live around Vancouver Island?

The most common types of whales to watch out for around Vancouver Island are Orcas, Humpback whales en gray whales from the Pacific Ocean. Below you will find more information about these whales and the easiest place to spot them.

Humpback whales

Humpback whales (humpback whales) are the largest whales living around Vancouver Island, ranging in length from 12-16 feet and weighing nearly 40.000 pounds! In addition to their enormous size, which is greater than the length and weight of a fully loaded school bus, humpback whales are also known for their unique sounds and beautiful jumps out of the water.

Humpback whales
Humpback whales

Where to find them: humpback whales near Vancouver Island are most common about 50 kilometers off the coasts of Ucluelet, bamfield en Tofino. However, they are also regularly seen around Telegraph Cove en Port mcneil.


Orcas, also known as "killer whaleare black and white mammals that are actually members of the dolphin family. They are the smallest "whales" on this list; a male killer whale is 5 to 7 meters long and weighs about 6 tons while a female killer whale is 3 to 5 meters long and weighs about 3 to 4 tons. Their dorsal fins can grow to about 2 meters in height, so they are quite easy to spot. They are not afraid of slow-moving, quiet boats and are known to join boaters and kayakers on a regular basis.

Kayakers we saw in Telegraph Cove, looking for Orcas
Kayakers we saw in Telegraph Cove, looking for Orcas

There are two main categories of killer whales that live around the island: residential killer whales and migrating killer whales. Residential killer whales (both northern and southern residents) tend to stay in one area, while migrating killer whales are often in the area for only a short time (several months).

Two adult Orca with a young, Telegraph Cove
Two adult killer whales with a young, Telegraph Cove

Where to see them: Residential killer whales are often spotted around the south coast at Victoria, gulf islands, Strait of Georgia at Vancouver and the Johnston Strait (Campbell River to Telegraph Cove). There are about 80 orcas that live in the north of Vancouver Island and about 220 orcas that live in the south around South Vancouver Island. However, the southern orcas live in a much larger area and are therefore relatively more difficult to find.

Gray Whales

Gray Whales are gray or black in color and can grow to 13-15 meters in length. The females are slightly larger than the males. Adult gray whales have a mottled appearance caused by scratches and barnacles on the skin. Gray whales don't have dorsal fins, so watch their vertebrae or "knuckles" along their lower backs instead.

Where to find them: Gray whales are mainly found along the west coast of Vancouver Island spotted as this is their annual migration area. They can also be found around the southern tip of the island (Victoria en Sidney). Gray whales are not usually spotted on the east coast of Vancouver Island as this is not their migratory route.

Practical Information

When is the best time for whale watching?

For Vancouver and Vancouver Island, mid-July to mid-September the best time for orcas. Humpback whales are usually from this mid-May to mid-October. Both orcas and humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Mexico and back again.

One of the many Orca we saw during our whale watching tour in Telegraph Cove
One of the many Orca we saw during our whale watching tour in Telegraph Cove

But there are exceptions. What makes Vancouver Island so unique, especially the northeastern part of the island, is that there is a unique group of orcas that live in the area all year round. They 'live' here and therefore do not migrate to other areas or countries. These killer whales are also called the 'resident orcas' mentioned.

The ultimate time to gray whale can be spotted off Vancouver Island between March and April. During this time, approximately 20.000 Gray whales migrate from Mexico (where they have babies) to Alaska (where they feed).

What's the best place to go whale watching?

It depends on which whales you want to see the most. Humpback whales en Gray Whales can be seen from Vancouver and Vancouver Island. It makes little difference to these whales whether you book your tour from, for example, Vancouver or Victoria (Vancouver Island). However, you have a better chance of seeing gray whales on the west coast of Vancouver Island, for example with a tour from Victoria of Tofino.

Who specifically is looking for orcas, however, it is best to go to the north-east of Vancouver Island travel. More specifically: go to Telegraph Cove. This is the area where the group of 'residential' orcas lives, which can be found all year round.

Some Whale Watching tour providers in Telegraph Cove even offer a guarantee to see the orcas. For example, if you are unable to find them on your specific tour, you can join the next one for free!

Which tour agencies are there on Vancouver Island?

There are about 10 different tour agencies for Whale Watching tours on Vancouver Island and in and around the city of Vancouver. Many providers are located in several places, such as 'The Prince Of Whales' that you can find in Vancouver City, Victoria City and Telegraph Cove can find. The easiest way to find and compare the different providers is via the links below:

  • From Vancouver city: click here .
  • From Victoria city: click here .
  • From Vancouver island: click here .
  • From Telegraph Cove: click here .

What is the difference in price/quality of the providers?

In terms of range, price and quality, the various companies are very evenly matched. The biggest difference in price is usually in the type of tour (with a zodiac / dinghy or a larger ship). The length of the tour also plays a major role in determining the price.

The big boat (far left) and the Zodiac, Prince Of Whales' open dinghy in Telegraph Cove
The big boat (far left) and the Zodiac, Prince Of Whales' open dinghy in Telegraph Cove

Expect for a regular tour of about three hours on a somewhat larger boat, about 100 Canadian dollars to pay per person. For tours of approximately three hours on a Zodiac, you usually pay between the 120 and 140 Canadian dollars per person. You can also do a private tour like the gentleman below, who stayed close to our boat the whole time. Private tours can be booked from roughly 1000 Canadian dollars.

Private tour in Telegraph Cove
Private tour in Telegraph Cove

All providers that we have looked up and compared online usually have good to very good reviews (4,5 out of 5 stars or even more). All providers of Whale Watching tours in Canada, including Vancouver Island, must also comply with certain guidelines. They must be certified before they are allowed to offer these tours.

For example, there must be a biologist on board the ship and sufficient distance must be kept from the animals. The tour companies are regularly checked for this. You can therefore confidently book a whale tour on Vancouver island or elsewhere in Canada.

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Our experience

Finally we came in via another whale watching tour operator Campbell River contact an operator in Telegraph Cove. I had clearly indicated that we mainly were looking for orcas. So they referred me (very cool!) to a competitor / colleague tour operator in Telegraph Cove because that's where the resident orcas live. Here our chance was much greater to see them.

We soon saw that everything was fully booked for the next few days. They're hugely popular tours right there in Telegraph Cove. Of course because this is where the orcas are. We were therefore not able to go straight away and had to plan a few days in advance. There was simply no other option.

We booked our tour here online and I recommend everyone to do this as far ahead as possible. At the time of writing this blog, the zodiac tours in Telegraph Cove are already 100% fully booked for the next two months(!) and you can only visit the larger ships at short notice…

Anyone who knows us knows that we prefer to record as little as possible while travelling. But for bucket list experiences like this, you sometimes have to plan a little further ahead. Therefore, book this tour as far in advance as possible via one of the links below.

  • From Vancouver city: click here .
  • From Victoria city: click here .
  • From Vancouver island: click here .
  • From Telegraph Cove: click here .

Telegraph Cove

Telegraph Cove itself, by the way, is not much. It is a small bay with about 20 buildings such as restaurants, hotels, motels and tour operators. Plus some sizable houses overlooking the water, as seen below in the mist.

Houses at Telegraph Cove
Houses at Telegraph Cove

Yet, as you have already read at the top of the blog, this is the place to spot Orcas. It really pays to make a detour for this. We therefore drove two hours north from Campbell River, purely for this whale watching tour in Telegraph Cove.

Before we knew it, we donned extra warm, waterproof safety suits and hit the water. Good thing we put these on over our clothes by the way, because it was quite cold on that fast Zodiac boat, in the fog!

Suit up for whale watching
Suit up for whale watching


We sailed out of the bay and saw thick fog banks all around us. These fog banks made it extra difficult to spot whales, but it also had something to it… Nevertheless, the first Orcas soon showed themselves in the fog. No sooner had we entered the boat than we already saw one. Wow!

An orca in the distance
An orca in the distance

One minute on the zodiac we had some sun and the next we didn't see a hand in front of our eyes! A bizarre, but cool experience. The fast zodiac sometimes went through the fog banks at high speed. Each time, after such a fog bank, a whole new world opened up to us.

Fog banks and the zodiac
Fog banks and the zodiac

Watch the short video below to get a better idea!

A few minutes later we saw another orca in the distance, with the fog still hanging over it, close to the shore. For a moment the captain hesitated to sail there, but in the meantime a few orcas came very close from the other side! The captain turned off the engine and just let us float on the water. The orcas came right at us!

A water squirting orca
A water squirting orca

Orcas (killer whales) spotting

The bizarre thing is that sometimes we couldn't see the orcas right through the fog, no matter how close they were at times. Still, it was obvious that they were there. The huge blowing sound when they come up to breathe is easy to recognize. PSSHHH!!!!

An orca up close during our Whale Watching tour on Telegraph Cove
An orca up close during our Whale Watching tour on Telegraph Cove

We were still lying on the water when a medium-sized Orca passed us. I made a video of it, where you can also hear the sound clearly. The Orca passed us and it was really close! Only about 15 meters.

Tip:: turn on the sound in the video! The captain also briefly put his microphone in the water, so that you can hear the orcas communicating with each other.

After the orca passed us quietly, we went to get a closer look at some other orcas on the other side of the bay. The fog gave way to thick clouds, while we enjoyed a mother orca and her young.

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Spotting sea lions

After admiring about 10 orcas up close, it was time to look for Humpback whales. This turned out to be more difficult than expected, because we again ended up in a big fog bank. In the meantime we passed a group of sea lions. By the way, they were very busy falling over each other and knocking each other off the rocks. They make a lot of noise too!

Sea lions on the rock at Telegraph Cove
Sea lions on the rock at Telegraph Cove

Humpback whale watching

We quickly moved on again, looking for the Humpback whales. It took us a while to find them. The captain had to visit multiple hotspots to find one. The fog was so thick by now that we really couldn't see a hand in front of our eyes. At the third hotspot, the captain turned the engine off again. Everyone had to be dead silent. We had almost given up hope when we suddenly heard something again… PSSSSSHHH!!!!!

And there they were. Several humpback whales passed us. One even harder to see than the other because of the thick fog, but that didn't spoil the fun. We were already in the middle of it again, a whole group passed us. We simply didn't know where to look. PSSSHH We heard on the left, PSHHHH we heard on the right. Our heads and cameras went in all directions.

The humpback whale is going to take a deep dive, which can be seen from the curved back
The humpback whale is going to take a deep dive, which can be seen from the curved back

Fortunately, some humpback whales came so close that we could see them for a while. I took some pictures and luckily was able to capture a beautiful tail, before they all dived into the deep again.

There goes the humpback whale! Beautiful to see that tail in the air like this
There goes the humpback whale! Beautiful to see that tail in the air like this

I also made a short video of 2 playing humpback whales, who regularly surfaced with their fins and made roll movements in the water. The video can be seen below.

Bonus: playful dolphins

As if that wasn't enough pampering for the day, we were also treated to a playful show by a group of dolphins! The zodiac went over the water at a decent speed as the group of dolphins jumped past us on all sides. The captain immediately slowed down, but the dolphins stayed close. They apparently really liked our boat!

dolphins along the zodiac
Dolphins next to the zodiac

We didn't know where to look again. They jumped in front of us on all sides, beside us and under the boat. We heard the recognizable dolphin sound again. They were clearly playful and talking to each other underwater. Awesome! Malou made another short video of it with her phone, the video can be seen below.


We have been traveling for half a year now and have already seen many great places and beautiful animals. black bears in Campbell River en Jasper National Park, brown bears and moose in Grand Teton National Park, Elk and Bison in Yellowstone National Park And so on.

But we missed one more important animal; the killer whale. Seeing orcas up close (in the wild!) has been on our minds for years bucketlist.. That's why we really couldn't ignore it in Canada. They are here and we had to see them.

If you are in Canada and especially on Vancouver Island, you really can't ignore Whalewatching. This is the place to spot Orcas. These are opportunities that you don't get often in your life. Grab it with both hands!

In any case, it turned out to be a fantastic experience for us. An experience that no one can take away from us. An experience worth more than money and possessions. If you ask us whether Whale Watching and Orcas Spotting has been worth the $120 Canadian dollar per person, we'll say YES!

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Owner or Wereldreizigers.nl | Discover the world!
– Traveled 3+ months per year, 10 years in a row
– Traveled a year in USA & Canada in 2022

Stubborn & decisive world traveller
– Life is short, make the most out of it in literal sense.
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