Orcas, Totems & Grizzlies
Northern Vancouver Island
Johnstone Strait is the best place in the world to see orca / killer whales. Visit Alert Bay and Village Island, see diverse marine mammals and view grizzly bears up Knight Inlet! Departs: Port Hardy, BC / Port McNeill, BC
A maze of islands and waterways, full of wildlife, beautiful scenery, and the history and traditions of the Kwakwaka’wakw people.
At the northern end of Vancouver Island lies a maze of islands and waterways, full of wildlife, beautiful scenery, and the history and traditions of the Kwakwaka’wakw people (Kwakiutl). The Pacific Ocean funnels into the protected waters of Johnstone Strait creating strong tidal currents, and incredibly nutrient-rich waters. Millions of salmon, returning to spawn in the mainland rivers, must converge to pass through the Strait. Groups of orca (or killer whales) hunt the salmon in the passages.
• Orcas swim over to the boat, surface, giving us a chance to see their full bodies under the water, and sometimes roll on their side to look at us.
• Breaching is when a whale leaps clear of the water and falls back with a huge splash.
• Whales often spyhop, raising their upper bodies clear of the water to look at the above-water environment
• The ship’s hydrophone (underwater microphone) enables us to hear whale vocalizations
their method of communicating under the water. We will learn to distinguish the difference between species.
• Large numbers of orcas congregate in Johnstone Strait a few times each summer. These ‘superpod’ groups are extremely exciting and we can only hope to be there - and have lots of film on hand.
Johnstone Strait is considered the core killer whale area where we expect to also encounter humpback whales. However, we could encounter whales at any point during the voyage as they travel miles every day.
The potlatch is a community event to witness changes in status (weddings, deaths, achievements). The government outlawed the ceremony believing it would help native people gain a good work ethic and speed their conversion to Christianity. Many of the masks and priceless pieces of art were then secretly sold to museum collections across North America. Today, at Mimquimlees, with permission of the band, we will see elaborately carved totem poles and the remains of native “great houses”. Inhabited for perhaps thousands of years, the village withstood attack, disease epidemics, and the laws banning the “potlatch”, before abandonment earlier this century.
The Kwakwaka’wakw people from most of the old villages moved to the government cannery town of Alert Bay. The excellent U’Mista Cultural Centre now holds some of the famous potlatch masks and other interesting artifacts. Today in Alert Bay, children are once again being taught the native language, traditional dances, and art and family stories.
Vancouver Island North
See our 4-page brochure on Vancouver Island North.
Map & Location
Trip ItineraryOn all our voyages we intentionally keep our itineraries flexible to take advantage of wildlife sightings, weather and tides, and the interests of the group. This sample itinerary describes a typical 7-day trip, however, activities may occur in a different order or be substituted by suitable alternatives.
Day 1 - This trip starts and finishes in Port McNeill, BC. Guests will meet in the morning at the top of the Cab’s Fuel Dock on the Port McNeill waterfront. Upon boarding “Island Odyssey”, cabins will be assigned and an introductory safety briefing will be completed.
We have chosen Port McNeill as the starting point for this voyage because it is the closest port to the core killer whale area. We expect to discover our first pod or group of whales the first afternoon. You will agree that orcas are one of the most exciting marine mammals to watch as we see them foraging for salmon, spyhopping, and breaching (leaping clear of the water). Guests will learn about the behaviour of these fascinating creatures, listen to them calling on the ship’s underwater microphone, and learn how to identify individual animals. Each night we anchor in a secluded anchorage.
Days 2-6 - Our focus these days will be on the waters of Johnstone Strait, the core whale watching area. In addition to multiple encounters with orca, we expect some wonderful experiences with humpback whales also. We have bveen gifted with visits from super pods of Pacific white-sided dolphins and Dall’s porpoise often come over to the boat to play on the yacht's bow wave.
We will visit the modern Kwakwaka’wakw community of Alert Bay to visit the U’Mista Cultural Centre and see a fascinating collection of potlatch masks. If we have a good wind, we expect to raise the sails and enjoy the silence and beauty of sailing. There will be time to explore the protected waters using our stable, sea kayaks that we carry onboard.
At the entrance to Knight Inlet is the abandoned Kwakwaka’wakw village of Mimquimlees. With permission from the local native band we will explore the old village to discover fallen totem poles and a rich heritage. With a good low tide, we may explore the shore for different species of colourful sea stars, anemone, and algae. We often hike into the coastal forest to see big trees and learn about the forest plants.
Day 7 - Mid morning we return to Port McNeill to complete our voyage. Participants can catch afternoon flights back to Vancouver. For additional information specific to your trip please refer to your Bluewater Adventures Reservation Package or contact our office.
Vancouver Island North
Download your 3-page Trip Itinerary on Vancouver Island North.
2019 Schedule, Prices & Trip Availability
Aboard SV Island Odyssey
|Dates||Duration||CAD Price||Embark / Disembark||Availability|
|August 1 - 7||7 days||CAD $4665||Port McNeill / Port McNeill||Booked
|August 8 - 14||7 days||CAD $4665||Port McNeill / Port McNeill||Space Available|
August 15 - 21
Port McNeill / Port McNeill
Call for Availability
Fall Whales & Totems of Johnstone Strait
This natural history voyage explores the protected waters of Northern Vancouver Island. Whale researchers consider this area the best place in the world to observe orcas or killer whales. In addition, we expect to see humpback whales, black bears, bald eagles and sea otters. The Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations people have lived here for thousands of years and we will explore their culture and art at the U'Mista Cultural Centre located at Alert Bay. We look forward to the quiet that fall brings on the water and expect to enjoy some wonderful wildlife experiences as a result.
Aboard SV Island Solitude
|Dates||Duration||CAD Price||Embark/ Dismebark||Availability|
|Oct 16 - 30||5 days||CAD $3650||Port McNeill / Port McNeill||Space Available|
|Oct 21 - 25||5 days||CAD $3650||Port McNeill / Port McNeill|| Call for Availability
If you don't see a date that works for you this year, we invite you to visit our 2019 Rate Schedule to secure your booking today!
To support conservation efforts on the west coast, a $100 Sustainability Fee will be applied to rates at time of booking. Dates and prices are subject to change. Some departures may be reserved for groups. If you are interested in chartering a date for your group, special pricing is available.
Please contact us