Whale watching and sunsets in Tofino

I was pretty fortunate to have a cloudless four day camping weekend in Tofino, British Columbia, in mid March, 2020. Tofino is a small community on the West-side of Vancouver Island and is known for its spectacular scenery and amazing outdoor experiences. During my short stay I took in some surfing photography, whale watching, and sunsets.

I explored the village of Tofino, took a few photos of some of the attractions and the public wharf.

Main road to the public wharf in Tofino
WILDPOD is a luxury glamping experience for adult couples consisting of six geodesic domes sitting on the edge of Tofino’s downtown core
View from Tofino’s public wharf

I explored further into the village and happened across The Whale Centre and was easily convinced to book into the 2:30 pm whale watching tour. An hour later I was heading out of the harbour among a small group of fellow whale watchers on a small cabin cruiser.

The boat’s captain had 13 years of whale guiding experience and was proud to mention that his love of the sea kept him employed 7 days a week. We were in good hands. Upon sailing several kilometers off-shore we came upon a pod of Orca whales and kept a safe distance. There were other whale watching boats close-by, keeping in touch on the marine radio as we followed the pod for a half hour or so.

The “boss” was out on the other Whale Centre boat
The competition was nearby
Two Orca Whales in the distance

This was my first whale watching trip in years and the first time with my super telephoto lens, a Nikon 500mm f/5.6. This lens presented a number of challenges for me; hand-holding on a not so steady boat, trying to find the whale in the viewfinder and autofocussing quick enough to get off a good shot, and being able to maneuver on the deck among the other passengers. It wasn’t the best choice of lens for this excursion, but it was probably among the best 500mm lenses for the task at hand (lighter, smaller, and with good vibration resistance technology).

Our captain spotted some Grey Whales and some Humpbacks Whales off our starboard beam further off-shore so we broke from the loosely assembled group of boaters to get a closer look. There are apparently 20,000 Grey Whales that pass by the shores during the annual spring migration from Baja Peninsula (birthing grounds) north to the Bering Strait by Alaska. We spotted a few as we approached, but soon we encountered many Humpback Whales which someone referred to later on the marine radio as a “buffet of whales”.

A Humpback Whale shot a full rainbow out of its blowhole

We managed to get closer to the Humpback Whales, curiously much much closer than the respected distance from the Orca Whales seen earlier. One Humpback Whale we had been watching disappeared then a short period afterwards we could see a wash and bubbles on both sides of our boat. The whale has passed under our boat! It was a magical, albeit somewhat eerie feeling and concern for the safety of the whale and the boat. I think the captain was surprised, perhaps his first such experience.

After hanging with the whales we headed closer to shore and saw some sea otters and harbour seals on a clump of small islands and nearby reefs. I took a few photos before we left the area and sailed back to the Tofino harbour.

It was an exhilarating 2 1/2 hour experience being among the majestic creatures of the sea. And lucky for me the seas were relatively calm and I didn’t get seasick! 🙂

Sea Otter chilling in the sun
Harbour Seals tanning on the rocks

Now, on to the sunsets and the moonlit night!

With the beautiful weather I was out on the Tofino area beaches taking sunsets and moonshots.

Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park
MacKenzie Beach
MacKenzie Beach
Moonlight at MacKenzie Beach

4 thoughts on “Whale watching and sunsets in Tofino

  1. Patricia Mossman

    Great photos, Rob. You saw lots of whales. It seems it is better to go on a whale trip early in the year. I went on two trips from Tofino in the summer and did not see any whales. Lots of kelp!! It was very scenic though.

    • Robbie

      Thanks, Pat! The annual Spring migration is the best time 🙂

  2. Janice G

    Great photos Rob!! Thanks for these and the info you have shared!!

    • Robbie

      Thanks, Janice! I’m glad you enjoyed.

Leave a Reply