Campbell River is located on beautiful Vancouver Island, nestled in the Discovery Islands Archipelago. This area is quickly becoming known as one of the best places for whale watching on Vancouver Island! Here are the reasons you should visit this beautiful city for a whale and wildlife tour.
Campbell River offers with a wide range of accommodations and restaurants, and is a great base for trips into nature. Within a quick 30 minute drive or boat ride, you can be out of cell reception and submerged into the spectacular west coast of Canada.
This bustling city is a stone’s throw away from one of the most beautiful archipelagos in Canada: the Discovery Islands. This rugged group of islands are home to towering mountains and narrow channels that tidal currents rush through like rivers, stretching from Vancouver Island to the mainland of British Columbia. And this is all no more than a 5 minute boat ride from Campbell River! We we travel deep into Desolation Sound and the Discovery Islands on our tours, and we guarantee the scenery will take your breath away.
Photo by Andy Scheffler.
Campbell River is home to a wide range of marine mammals and viewing opportunities throughout the whale watching season (May – October) are fantastic.
MMY0134 (Neptune) chin slapping in May 2022. Photo by Andy Scheffler.
In the spring, humpback whales arrive from their breeding grounds. They can be spotted until November when they begin their migration back. Bigg’s (transient) killer whales can be sighted year round. In 2022, we had a record number of humpback whale and Bigg’s killer whale sightings in the Salish Sea! 396 individual humpback whales were photographed, which is the highest number in a single year in the past century. There were 1,221 unique sightings of Bigg’s killer whales, which was double the number in 2017!
Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall’s porpoises, and harbour porpoises can also be seen, as well as occasional sightings of grey whales, minke whales, and resident killer whales.
The other incredible wildlife
Whales are often at the top of our guests list for things to see. But there are many other amazing marine animals to see in Campbell River!
Steller sea lions hauled out. Photo by Andy Scheffler.
Harbour seals and Steller sea lions are frequently sighted hauled out on rocks or rafting in the water. The Salish Sea is home to 73 different species of marine birds, like harlequin ducks and great blue herons. Bald eagles can be seen by the hundreds at the “Eagle Show“, which occurs between May and July every year at a special location in the Discovery Islands Archipelago.
The Eagle Show near Campbell River, BC. Photo by Tony Austin Photography.
Black bears can be seen on beaches flipping over rocks in search of food. Grizzly bears can be seen between May and July in estuaries as they feed on protein-rich sedge grasses after waking up from their hibernation.
We also occasionally see Roosevelt elk, black-tailed deer, and elephant seals!
The thrilling tidal rapids
Campbell River is home to some of the fastest tidal rapids in the world. These currents bring high amounts of nutrients to the area, which supports an abundance of marine life. 15 minutes north of Campbell River lies Seymour Narrows, which is known for its strong tidal currents – often reaching 14 knots (26km/h, 16mph)! Read about the Ripple Rock explosion here, which created safe passage through the Seymour Narrows in 1958.
Other areas north of Campbell River in the Discovery Islands Archipelago have incredible currents with standing waves, whirlpools, and upwellings like the Arran Rapids, Dent Rapids, and Okisollo Rapids.
Tidal currents are incredible to witness, and our skilled and experienced captains navigate them with ease. We often hear our guests say that seeing the tidal rapids was one of their favourite parts of their tour!
The rich history
Campbell River and the surrounding area are rich with history. The area has been occupied by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. Indigenous pictographs and petroglyphs can be found on rock faces around the Discovery Islands Archipelago, telling stories of culture, hunting, and even wars.
Pictograph on Cortes Island, depicting a man and a whale. Photo by Andy Scheffler.
Captain George Vancouver landed in this area in 1792. The channel between Campbell River and Quadra Island was named “Discovery Passage” in honour of one of his ships, the Discovery.
Whaling occurred in this area from 1800s until 1967 when the International Whaling Commission implemented an international ban on whaling. It is estimated that there used to be 15,000 humpback whales in the Northern Pacific Ocean prior to the 1900s. This population was decimated to less than 1,000. By 1910, there were no sightings of humpbacks in British Columbia.
In 1997, there was one humpback that returned to British Columbia, the legendary Big Mama (who is still sighted yearly around Vancouver Island!). She spread the word about this safe, abundant feeding ground, and over the next 20 years, over 500 humpback whales returned to the Salish Sea! Now, humpbacks are the most abundant whale we see in Campbell River!
The Discovery Islands hold an incredible past. Our captains can’t wait to share the history with you!
Want to join a Campbell River whale watching tour? Book your tour online or contact us! We can’t wait to welcome you aboard.