An online search for the world’s best places to go whale watching will almost always include at least one location in Canada. With extensive coastline on both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as unique Arctic habitats, whale watching opportunities in Canada are wide and varied. From modest beginnings, the industry rapidly increased through the 1990s1.
Target species, peak times of year and locations:
With such a varied range of habitats, the range of species that can be observed is also highly varied – ranging from the iconic killer whales that are the focus of whale watching in British Columbia on the Pacific Northwest coast, to beluga whales in the Canadian Arctic. The table below presents a broad overview of these opportunities by region. While most whale watching opportunities are boat-based, there are also opportunities for land-based whale watching on the Pacific Northwest coast (see the case study on the Whale Trail on this site), and encounters (with beluga whales) in the Churchill area. Whale watching in Quebec can be combined with a unique form of research tourism featured in this handbook’s cases study on the Mingan Island Cetacean Study. While many species, particularly those endemic to the Arctic region, are present in Canada year-round, whale watching tours are generally conducted between May and September, when weather, sea and ice conditions are more conducive to enjoying time on the water. This peak also coincides with the arrival of various whale species, including humpback, and minke whales on their feeding grounds on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Canada, and gray whales on the Pacific coast. While Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales also come to Canada’s East coast to feed, they are highly endangered and should not be subjected to vessel approaches.