whale watching

    Sylvia Watkins photo

Our whale watching and marine excursions take us into famed Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago. Literally minutes from the front door of Farewell Harbour Lodge, Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago are renowned for the presence of the Northern Resident Orca population. Unlike the Southern Resident Orcas, the Northern Resident population has been increasing or stable over the past many years. The Northern Resident Orcas come into these waters mid to late July and stay into late September and early October although exact timings can change from year to year.

Our marine excursions also takes us on a search for majestic Humpback whales, thrilling Dall’s porpoises, Pacific White Sided dolphins, Steller sea lions, and sea otters in addition to the many bald eagles and seabirds who inhabit the area. 

Throughout our season from June to October, our local waters are blessed with an ever-burgeoning population of Humpback whales. The population of these gentle giants has been dramatically increasing over the last number of years.  Data collected by MERS (Marine Education & Research Society), put the number of Humpbacks feeding in the region of northern Vancouver Island at over 170 individuals. Each year MERS publishes an extraordinary catalogue of each individual Humpback whale known to frequent our local waters, many of whom are named.  The individual whales are identified principally by the nicks, notches and colouration of the underside of their tail flukes. Our guests love to try and capture the perfect 'ID' photo. The best ID shots get sent electronically to MERS to assist in their scientific pursuit to better understand these unique and beautiful creatures. 

Our sub-population of Humpbacks mate and calve in the nutrient poor waters near Hawaii and then, in the spring, make an annual pilgrimage to the nutrient dense waters near Farewell Harbour to feed. They typically remain actively feeding right into late November before returning to Hawaii.  We see a wide variety of special feeding behaviour including spectacular displays of lunge feeding and, in a behaviour rarely seen elsewhere, trap feeding where the whales remain nearly stationary in the water column with jaws wide open as large schools of herring unwittingly swim into the whale's mouth providing them with a nutritious meal! 

Trap Feeding!   Lindsay Pettis photo   Humpback BCZuk2011#4 aka Guardian!

In addition to the Northern Resident Orcas and the Humpbacks, we are also blessed with the presence of another eco-type of Orca known as Bigg's Orcas, formerly known as Transient Orcas. Bigg's Orcas look very similar to their Resident Orca cousins but tend to travel in smaller family groups. However, the main distinguishing element is that Bigg's Orcas eat only marine mammals while the Residents only eat salmon. This means that the Bigg's can sometimes be seen hunting prey such as dolphins, sea lions or seals. During our season, the hawk eyes among our guests are often rewarded with Bigg's sightings up in the mainland fiords seeking out Pacific White Sided Dolphin prey. 

Once we've had our thrill with Orca and Humpbacks, there remain Dall's porpoises, Pacific White Sided dolphins, Steller sea lions, and sea otters to marvel at. Dall's porpoises frequent the waters of Blackfish Sound just minutes from Farewell Harbour. These animals can move like bullets through the water in search of prey and their movements offer our guests a mesmerizing master class in synchronized swimming! 

Steller sea lions, although less charismatic than their whale and dolphin cousins, are fascinating in their behaviour in their haul-out areas near the lodge. We can see these animals in large harem haul-outs sunning themselves and we can hear them grunting and barking as their pups and juveniles clamber over each other on the rocks. While they appear slow and docile on land, they are nearly as agile as dolphins in the water. 

Pacific White Sided Dolphins taken by telephoto   Steller Sea Lion haulout   Leaping Pacific White Sided Dolphins