It’s one of the most frequently asked questions we get about Orca Camp: when is the best time to go kayaking to see Killer Whales? The short answer is this: if you join us at Orca Camp on North Vancouver Island anytime between July and September, chances are you’ll be kayaking with Killer Whales. Here’s why:
Follow the Fish to Kayak with Killer Whales
There are two types of Resident Killer Whales off Vancouver Island – the endangered Southern Residents who range near Victoria, and the more robust (although still threatened) Northern Resident Orcas, whose range extends from North Vancouver Island (near our camp) to the southern tip of Alaska. It’s the Northern Residents we encounter, along with the occasional glimpse of Bigg’s Transient Killer Whales, while kayaking at Orca Camp. Each of the over 250 whales who make up the Northern Resident population is chasing their next meal, preferably a nutrient-rich, juicy, fat Chinook Salmon when they sound in to the Johnstone Strait each summer. While the Chinook can be found in BC’s waters year round, they are found in greatest abundance between June and September…the Orcas know this, and make their way to their salmon buffet just as the salmon runs surge.
Vancouver Island – A Killer Whale Playground
The food sources aside, the whales may come for the salmon, but they stay to play and socialize. It’s a well-documented fact that the Northern Residents are a highly social group, organized by family pods, with their own unique culture and traditions that date back generations. One of those traditions involves deflating their lungs to sink low enough in the water to rub their bellies along the smooth, steep pebbled beaches found in the Robson Bight. The Northern Residents are the only species of Killer Whale who participates in this behaviour – and it’s exclusive to our region.
Orca Camp sits, quite literally, on edge of the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, the world’s only protected Killer Whale habitat. While no one is permitted to kayak this fragile ecosystem, the guests of our Orca Camp have a front-row seat to watch the whales migrate in and out of the the Bight, en route to their rubbing beaches. It’s not unusual to hear them before we see them, but once we do, we all make tracks to the waterline to watch in silent wonder as they move in and out of the water in front of camp.
Why are the Northern Residents the only species of Killer Whale to use rubbing beaches in this way? Well, there are a number of theories – and we’d be glad to share them all with you…perhaps after a day of kayaking, while relaxed around the campfire, with a glass of BC wine in our hands and the sun shimmering into the ocean beyond our shores. That’s really the best place to share stories of these magnificent creatures – where you’ll have a front-row seat should they happen to pass by.
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