What’s Black and White and Red in the Water?

The Whale Watching expedition from Vancouver turned out to be one of the most magical and breathtaking experiences of my life. But we woke up on the morning of our whale watching expedition feeling very nervous.


Me and my BF have had such bad experiences with travel sickness generally (ahem – Nazca bus -ahem) that it has become a paranoia and we both get really anxious. We have also been whale watching before in New Zealand, and yes I felt very sick then! So just knowing we were going to go on a boat for 7 whole hours caused my tummy to have butterflies and we went to the toilet copiously before we set sail. TMI?! 🙂

When we arrived for our Whale Watching sailing we were somewhat taken aback to see the boat before leaving – with everyone wearing head-to-toe arctic fisherman thermal waterproof suits, and carrying any possessions in watertight plastic bags. Ummm… what did we sign up for?? Luckily we found out that this was only needed for the open boats, and our boat had a lid roof on it so we could just go in our normal clothes – phew! Wearing our normal clothes lent a bit of normality which helped my anxiety, but I was a bit gutted to have a roof on our boat as I thought it would block the view of Whales. It didn’t, and we later decided that we had made the right choice.

We set out from Granville Island in Vancouver. The sea was calm and we got a good view of the city from the water. The tour guide pointed out various sights. Soon we were in deeper water and the boat had a few big waves where everyone whoops as the boat flies up in the air! But luckily only literally 3 waves like that – the rest was very steady, probably as you don’t go out into open sea, but stay in the bay.

Soon the Captain spotted two Humpback Whales! He pulled as close he could – boats are allowed to go to 100 metres away from the whale, but no closer. If the whale swims towards the boat, the boat has to switch off its engines and wait. We watched for a while – the whales blew a mist of water up through their blowholes. We actually got covered by the mist at one point! And they stank. The captain explained that is the stench of the humpback whales! We were very lucky that the humpback whales swam towards the boat so we saw them pretty close. It was truly amazing.

Humpback Whale

But we didn’t stay long as the crew explained that there were sightings of killer whales so we would follow these. It was a long boat ride away, but we sailed in between small islands so it was calm waters. I felt well enough to eat, so we ate our lunch while we sailed to the next sighting. We knew we had arrived when we saw about 5 other Whale Watching boats hanging about! Sure enough we had found some Killer Whales!

Whale Watching boats

Our boat followed the pod of Whales, from a safe distance. We were one of the later boats to arrive (as we set off later from Vancouver) so one by one all the other boats left. We were left alone with the Killer Whales and it was beautiful. Mostly, we saw fins from afar. But in the end we had a couple of magical experiences; first, 3 killer whales swam directly towards our boat. The captain turned the engine off so it was completely silent and we were all mesmerised on these 3 whales. They were only about 20-30 metres away.

Then, an amazing thing happened – a Killer Whale killed a seal! The Whale jumped out of the water and there was some thrashing about as he killed the poor seal. The sea turned a bit red and others said they saw the dead seal’s head bobbing about afterwards. This took place about 20 metres from our boat, and again the captain turned the engines off so it was silent apart from the splashing sounds of the seal’s demise. The Killer Whale then swam even closer – about 10 metres away – so close I could see his white patch so clearly and I remember thinking it looked like it had been spray-painted on, as the edges were freckled white, blending into the black of the whale (rather than a sharp black/white edge, you know?). Everyone on board was frozen, watching transfixed and it was breathtaking. We were so lucky to see it!



On the way back the boat dawdled past some rocks where Seals were sunbathing…. following by more rocks where Sea Lions were sunbathing!

Sea Lions

It was an amazing day. It is not cheap – it cost $141 each (ie. around £70 each) (plus a tip for the Tour Guide and Captain), but it was one of the best experiences of my life, and i’m Sooo glad we did it!

So was I sea sick? Amazingly, thankfully, no! We didn’t go into the open ocean of the Pacific, but instead stayed behind the shelter of Vancouver Island so the sea was very calm which must have helped a lot. I fixed my eyes on the horizon the whole way, which is a great technique to keep yourself steady. When we saw the whales I rushed to the back of the boat for a better view, and that was quite wavey, but I bent my knees when we went over the waves. See my next blog for tips on how not to get sea sick!

Travel Tips:

Take with you the following:-

  • warm clothing, lots of layers, and a scarf/pashmina if you have one.
  • sunglasses
  • a packed lunch. I took a relatively bland, dry lunch as I wasn’t sure if I would want to eat much. The Granville Island market had lots of good options and I opted for a focaccia with some cheese and tomato on.
  • snacks – M&Ms and the like. To keep energy up.
  • water bottle. With water in, otherwise this is useless 😉
  • strategies to prevent sea sickness – see my next blog.
  • camera.

Next blog:  How to… Not get Travel Sick!

Previous blog: Lynn Canyon, Canada


2 thoughts on “What’s Black and White and Red in the Water?

  1. Oh how exciting for you guys! I live in Vancouver and a Whale Watching Tour is on my list for this fall! I have been before (2008 from Richmond) and we went south of Victoria. We saw Humpback Whales, Seals, Sea Lions, etc. but I really want to see some Orcas!! What tour company did you use (I actually live about 2 km from Granville Island – so that is perfect!)

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