Whale Tail in Clayoquot Sound

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We Hope You Had a Whale of a Time!

By Jen Dart

Editor's note:
This article was originally published in 2012. Since then, Tourism Tofino has commissioned a new and improved Whale of a Time sign that now says goodbye to visitors at the Cox Bay Info Centre. The new sign is a fantastic addition to our community and pays appropriate homage to the old sign's legacy. The old Whale of a Time sign (pictured below) now rests in the office of the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce.

When you're driving out of Tofino, a weathered sign bids you goodbye with the words, "Hope you had a whale of a time, come again!"

The whale of a time sign

The original Whale of a Time sign.

I love this sign – for its campy feel that echoes back to a simpler time when you could do crazy things in Tofino like camp on the beach, but also because it reminds us we really are fortunate to live in close proximity to these amazing sea creatures. You can nearly forget about our cetacean friends during the rainy winter months when boat trips are few and many of the whales leave the west coast for warmer waters.

It also wasn't that long ago sightings of gray and humpback whales were rare.

After the global whale hunt caused a downturn in the population of various species, a 1966 moratorium on whaling and designations like Canada's Species at Risk were put in place so whale populations could recover.

They did so slowly; there were only sporadic sightings in local waters until the mid 1990s.

Now some 20,000-22,000 gray whales make an annual three-month 13,000km migration each spring from calving waters in Baja and southern California up the west coast, all the way to Alaska's Bering Sea, where they stock up on food for the winter. They pass this way and meet up with the healthy population of resident and transient gray, humpback and orca whales in the waters of western Vancouver Island before moving on to their northern summer homes.

To celebrate the annual arrival of the whales and their recovery, west coast communities have been holding the Pacific Rim Whale Festival for the last 26 years.

This year the week long Whale Festival runs from March 17-25th.

Two killer whales in Tofino

Transient orca whales (aka: killer whales) cruise effortlessly offshore from Tofino. Image courtesy of Wildside Grill

The goal of the Whale Festival is to educate locals and visitors about the whales and their habitat, and hopefully inspire protection of both while also providing entertainment.

The many events that make up the festival include events focused on families, food and drink, music, education, and much more. Many of these are free.

For a full list of events, visit the PRWF website:http://www.pacificrimwhalefestival.com/events.

This time of year also marks the beginning of the whale-watching season. There are numerous local companies that ply the waters of Clayoquot Sound looking for our fluked friends from now until September. Regulations in B.C. insist that tour boats stay a distance of 100 metres away from whales and kill engines while watching them.

A humpback whale breaching in Tofino

As if to celebrate the Whale Festival, a humpback performs a rare full-body breach in Clayoquot Sound. Photo courtesy of JeremyKoreski.com

Around here, some of the best places to find whales are in calm bays where they go to feed.

Spend a few hours in a big survival suit on a zodiac boat or in a larger covered boat. You're likely to see other wildlife during the tour as well, such as eagles, sea otters, seals and more.

There's a local organization that monitors all the marine creatures of Clayoquot Sound on an ongoing basis. The Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society is a non-profit group that keeps track of which whales show up and when, as well as information about the other marine residents of Clayoquot Sound. The society is under contact with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to get involved in rescues as well, and they've successfully helped many whales that became entangled in fishing line or crab traps. SIMRS shares its observations and information with scientists and other organizations. Find out more about this important part of marine life in Tofino here: www.strawberryisle.org.

Thanks to the folks at Strawberry Isle Marine Research and responsible tour operators, the whales are also having a heck of a time in Tofino!

About the author
Originally from Barrie, Ontario, Jen is a long-time Tofino resident, although not quite long enough to be considered a full-fledged local. Jen has been writing professionally for the past seven years. In that time, she's worked for the Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News as both a part-time and full-time reporter and photographer. Jen has been published in a variety of publications, including SBC Surf Magazine, the Native Journal of Canada, the Victoria Times Colonist and the Vancouver Sun.

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