Whale watching off northeastern Vancouver Island – memorable, magical, the trip of a lifetime

A trip to go whale watching is one of the iconic adventures that visitors (and residents) to our beautiful Island often consider when planning travel itineraries here. Whale watching tours are widely available, from the Island’s southern tip, to the west coast, right up to the reaches of the northern east coast.  It is an experience that drives home the innate beauty – and fragility – of marine life and the marine environment.           

Sea birds and several Bald Eagles swirl and swoop on a herring ball

When we began casting about for a whale watching tour we set our sights on the north-eastern side of the Island, with the knowledge that the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve was there. Estabished in 1982 as a sanctuary for killer whales (more correctly referred to as orcas), the reserve spans 1,248 hectares (3,100 acres) of marine area and 467 hectares ( 1,150 acres) of upland buffer zone. Our travel mode of choice was the SV Tuan, a 40-foot sailboat operated by Seasmoke Whale Watching, based in Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. It was, hands down, one of the best and most fulfilling travel decisions we have ever made, for so many reasons.

            David and Maureen Towers have been operating Seasmoke for 26 years and have the most amazing connection not only with the pristine marine environment in their area, but with the huge variety of wildlife that includes everything from sea birds to the massive marine mammals that have become such an integral part of their lives.  They clearly have a reverence and respect for their surroundings and the creatures that inhabit them, and that transmits so vividly to the guests who travel with them.

The massive size of Humpback Whales belies their speed and agility, as evidenced by the fact that we never managed to catch anything other than their flukes in photos when they were diving

            One of the things that appealed to us about traveling with David and Maureen was the fact that a sailboat would offer a smaller, quieter and more personal experience. We were right on that count – although the Tuan traveled under power the five-hour trip was smooth and peaceful. We boarded at the government dock in Alert Bay, then sailed across to Alder Bay to pick up a family of six, and that was the total traveler contingent for the day. The trip got off to a thrilling start even before we got to AlderBay– David pointed out a huge swirl of seabirds, including several bald eagles, circling and feeding on a herring ball that had been herded together by a group of ducks. The feeding frenzy was gripping, and a most amazing lesson in the ways of avian life of northern Vancouver Island.           

A massive Humpback Whale, one of several sighted

Part way down to our destination we were joined by a playful band of Dall’s porpoises. They spent several minutes at the front of the boat ‘escorting’ us and entertaining our group with their leaping and diving antics.

A Dall’s Porpoise – also extremely difficult to catch on film!

            We struck gold in the Blackney Pass/Cracroft Island area, where we spent close to two hours mesmerized by the feeding and resting activities of five orca whales and three enormous humpback whales. The magic of the remote environment combined with the clearly audible whale calls and blows, a distinct lack of other marine traffic (or any form of civilization, for that matter) and the magnificence of the whales left us with an overwhelming sense of awe at the natural world that surrounded us.  Maureen’s insights on the various animals we were observing added to our enjoyment and appreciation of the moment, and made it clear to all of us that even after all these years she and David continue to harbour a passion for this amazing part of the world, and for the living things that inhabit it.  For them, these trips are so clearly much more than a way to earn a living.  For us, that passion enhanced our trip immeasurably.           

Maureen (far end at right) enhanced our trip immeasurably with her insights into the lives and habits of the whales that we were privileged to see. Her warm scones and muffins enhanced the trip too!

The trip back to Alert Bay also offered up its own unique charms. Another humpback whale was spotted along with a number of harbour seals and Dall’s porpoises. Maureen arrived from below-decks with freshly-baked scones, raspberry jam, whipped cream and pots of tea for what she dubbed her ‘Devonshire Tea, Kiwi-style’.  The trip on the way down had yielded up hot beverages and delicious warm-from-the-oven muffins which would have been more than enough, but the added treat on the way home just served to emphasize how very special the excursions with Seasmoke are. It was truly a trip of a lifetime – no surprise here that those who traveled with David and Maureen many years ago now return with their children and grandchildren to share the enchantment of a magical place and an extraordinary experience.

            Further information on Seasmoke Whale Watching can be obtained by going to their website at:



GPS  co-ordinates are:

Lat. 50.58598872173813  Long.  -126.9296407699585

N 50 35.159   W 126 55.778




About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers.
In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.

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