A parade of whales at Pacific Rim Canada West Coast


A parade of whales at Pacific Rim Canada West Coast

By Andrew Kolasinski

Sitting in our deck chairs, binoculars, drinks and snacks at hand, we appear to be lounging on the beach. In fact we are whale watching; it is the annual whale festival at Pacific Rim National Park.

The Annual Pacific Rim Whale Festival is celebrated from mid-March to April when 20,000 grey whales pass by on their migration from Baja Mexico where they nurse their young to Alaska for summer feeding.

It’s early in the season to be on the beach but we’ve got raingear and the warmth of good company. Our eyes adjust to the marine haze and we focus our binoculars; it’s not long before we spot our first whale.

“There she blows,” announces Judy, pointing to a water spout outside the bay.

A cheer goes up as we acknowledge the sighting, toasting our success with a mug of hot coffee. Soon we’re seeing other whale spouts, then fins and tails as the Grey whales move in closer to feed.


Grey whales breed in Mexico’s tropical waters. They move to Alaska to feed on micro crustacians, filtering the water with their baleen plates. Their eating technique is unusual. They turn tail-up and put their faces into the ocean bottom, sucking in sand, silt and food which they separate and swallow.

They travel about 80 kilometers per day, and their migration totals about 8,000 kilometers.

Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) measure up to 16 metres and weigh up to 32,000 kilograms. They can live 60 years. Grays were heavily hunted until the 1950s and became endangered. They also live in Asian waters and in the Atlantic Ocean. Other than humans their only predator are Orcas.

Gray whales emit low groans, clicks and other vocalizations. They swim about 5 kilometers per hour and can sprint to 18 kilometers per hour.

Humpback whales also migrate to Alaska through Pacific Rim National Park. They feed on small fish and micro crustaceans by sieving water through the baleen plates in their mouths.

Humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae) grow 12-15 metres long, weighing up to 36,000 kilograms. They are known for their acrobatic leaps and for making “bubble nets” to corral prey. Their communal whale songs are another characteristic. They remain an endangered species.

The most exciting marine mammals are the top predators, Orcas or Killer whales.

There are about 500 Orcas in British Columbia waters. There is one resident pod of 90 Orcas, feeding on fish. Two migrant pods eat seals and sea lions. One pod lives in Georgia Strait and the other is offshore, sometimes near Pacific Rim National Park.

Orcas (Ircinus Orcas) reach 9,000 kilograms and measure up to 10 metres. They live about 50 years, and swim as fast as 56 kilometers per hour.


Two species of Sea Lions are found in Pacific Rim Park: California and Stellar Sea Lions are both huge mammals that can weight up to 2,300 kilograms and measure 5 metres. They are the favourite food of Orcas.

Porpoises, both Dall’s and Pacific White-sided Dolphins, are fast swimmers and social animals. They move in pods feeding on baitfish, and in turn providing food for the Orcas.

Harbour seals (Phoca Vitulina) are so common you are almost guaranteed to see them. They grow to 2 metres, weighing up to 170 kilograms.


Pacific Rim National Park is large and diverse extending 150 kilometers along the Pacific west coast of Vancouver Island. It is made up of three separate areas: Long Beach (outer coast from Ucluelet to Tofino), The Broken Group of Islands (inside Barkley Sound), and the West Coast Trail (from Bamfield to Port Renfrew).

At Long Beach exploring shoreline tidal pools is a great family experience. These miniature basin environments harbour beautiful and fascinating marine life including: sea urchins (beware of sharp stinging spines), anemones, sculpins (small fish), hermit crabs, coralline algae, barnacles, limpets, mussels and other shellfish.

A note of caution: Tide changes, rogue waves, and strong currents make the shoreline potentially dangerous. Always check the tide forecast before you go.

(See the website http://www.waterlevels.gc.ca/eng/find/zone/11)

Make sure you have planned a return route in case the seas should rise.

For most visitors the beach is the big draw. Surfers flock here for the wave action, the soft sand and the surfer culture. Wetsuits are needed in the icy waters, but for surf addicts it’s worth it.

The forests of the park’s interior have towering coniferous trees, Douglas Firs, Hemlock and Sitka Spruce trees that can reach heights of 70 metres and live up to 800 years. This rainforest is among the most productive eco-systems on earth. The park has an extensive trail system to explore this abundance.

The ancient forests and meadows are home to many animals. Cougars, black bears, and wolves are the top land predators. Bears are often seen at the side of the roads in summer. Cougar and wolves are rare. Black tail deer, mink, raccoons are commonly sighted.

The fall bird migration attracts rare species like brown pelicans, buff-breasted sandpipers, and Xantus’ murrelets. Bald eagles also congregate during the return of spawning salmon.

Winter storms bring huge wave that crash onto shore in a spectacle of nature’s power. “Storm watching” is a big attraction. Caution is required during these weather events when venturing onto the beach can be fatal. Check with the park visitor centre for warnings and precautions.

A cultural highlight is the heritage of First Nations people who have lived in this area for thousands of years. The Kwisitis Visitor Centre on Wickanninish Beach is operated by the local Nuh-Chah-Nulth First Nation. There you can learn about their culture, through displays and demonstrations, stories and songs; and enjoy a traditional aboriginal meal at the Feast House.

The park includes several camping areas and a main interpretive centre. Two nearby towns, Tofino and Ucluelet have accommodation, dining and other services.

Surfing, sea kayaking and fishing for salmon are other draws to the area and the towns of Tofino and Ucluelet are supply posts where shops, outfitters and guides are headquartered.


Kayak camping trips among the 100+ Broken Islands in Barkley Sound begin from Toquart Bay.

There are seven designated campground islands. You must bring drinking water, and take garbage out with you. To reserve phone 250-726-7721, Email pacrim.info@bc.gc.ca

If you don’t have kayaks, gear, and experience (GPS and cell phone are recommended), licensed guides can take you to the islands.


This 75 kilometer wilderness hike from Bamfield to Port Renfrew began in 1907 as a rescue route for shipwreck survivors. In 1973 Pacific Rim National Park took over the trail. It is no easy walk in the park; rather it is five to seven days of challenge.

The trail is open May 1 to September 30.  You must register and pay $120. Another cost is for passenger ferries. You must carry all garbage and waste out with you. To reserve trail passes call 1-800-663-6000 or 1-250-387-1642. You may start at Bamfield or Port Renfrew. Website: www.pacriminfo@pch.gc.ca


Pacific Rim Whale Festival: www.pacificrimwhalefestival.com

Pacific Rim National Park: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/bc/pacificrim/index.aspx  WHERE YOU WANT TO STAY IN TOWN (UCLUELET OR TOFINO) – There are hotels, lodges and camp grounds right in the heart of either of these little West Coast towns where the surfer / fishing village vibe is all around, along with cafes, shops and pubs. Island West Motel with views of the harbor is near town center at 160 Hemlock St., Ucluelet, phone 250-726-7515. Ucluelet Campground is a short walk to town center at 260 Seaplane Base Rd., Ucluelet, phone 250-726-4355. Maquinna Lodge in downtown Tofino at 120 First St., phone 250-725-3261.  CAMPING – For a more rustic experience, bring your tent or drive your recreational vehicle to sleep under the stars. Mussel Beach Wilderness RV / Campground is a mile out of Ucluelet near the National Park, phone 250-893-2267. Green Point Campground in Pacific Rim National Park has drive in sites and hike in camping near the beach. Phone 250-726-7721. LODGES – Luxury accommodation with a wild West Coast feeling can be found in area lodges. Long Beach Lodge Resort, 1411 Pacific Rim Highway, phone 250-725-2442. Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is on the outskirts of Ucluelet built on a rocky shoreline. 596 Marine Dr., phone 250-726-4800.

A parade of whales at Pacific Rim Canada West Coast

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