Going on a Sidney Whale Watching tour was one of the reasons that my wife and I decided on a brief vacation on the Saanich Peninsula of British Columbia. I had done some research and discovered that there are some resident pods of Orcas living in the area.
This increased our chances of seeing some of these magnificent creatures. After checking the local weather I picked the best day and reserved a couple of spots online.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
We’d been on whale watching tours in the past in other areas of the world, and most of them had been a disappointment as all we were able to see were a few fins off in the distance.
Undaunted we decided to give this type of adventure another shot. I somehow ‘overlooked’ telling my wife about the size of the vessel that we’d be on…it’s pictured above. Once the captain saw I had a camera bag slung over my shoulder he suggested we sit in the front seat.
We walked down to the harbour to board our vessel, and once everyone clambered aboard we were off. I was setting up my Nikon 1 V3 with my 1 Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 as we cruised out of the harbour, when the scene above caught my eye.
I quickly dug into my camera bag and snapped off this quick image without even having time to check my J5 settings. I didn’t purposely shoot at f/16 nor include the flairs for creative effect…but I liked the image nonetheless.
As we rounded the final bend in the channel on our way to open water I was able to quickly grab the image above.
There is a special kind of intimacy when going out on a vessel of this size, especially when one considers that the whales we were going out to view were very likely going to be larger than our boat.
Our captain was in radio contact with other whale watching boats that were cruising in the area. They were from Victoria, Vancouver and also from some ports in the United States. After finding out where the nearest whale sightings were, the captain ‘put the peddle to the metal’ and got our craft up to 30 knots (about 34.5 mph). We made a stop at a local seal colony where I was able to capture a few images. We spotted a bald eagle but it was too far in the distance to get a decent photograph.
As was the case with our previous whale watching tours our initial sightings were somewhat distant as illustrated by the photograph above.
To provide readers with a good sense of what our tour was like I have not cropped any of the images in this article at all. I did straighten the horizons where needed.
It wasn’t long before we were treated to some Orcas up close. The image above was captured at 70mm or an equivalent field of view of only 189mm. I was able to get a short AF-C run of this particular whale. I was shooting in AF-C with subject tracking at 10 fps.
The whale watching boats have very strict government regulations to follow and are not allowed to come within a couple of hundred metres of the whales while the boats are under power. They are also not allowed to position themselves in the path of the whales. Once whales are spotted the boats shut down their engines to ensure the whales cannot be injured by propellers. This allows some time for passengers to view the whales and try to capture some images.
At times Lady Luck is in your boat, as the whales sometimes change directions as they are hunting which can bring them quite close to the bobbing boats. The image above was captured at 70mm (efov 189mm) as one Orca swam right by our stationary craft.
We had two highlights during our tour. The first began with the captain spotting this dorsal fin heading straight towards our boat. Apparently this was a well-known, large male Orca that has been named “Mike”.
To say that “Mike” cruised by pretty close to our boat would be an understatement almost as big as he was!
I’ve certainly never been this close to an Orca in the wild where I could clearly see the colour shading on its dorsal fin. “Mike” only made this single swim past our boat. We saw him a few more times, but at a distance.
The second highlight was seeing a mother Orca with its calf swimming next to her. The image above captures the mother as she is submerging and the calf is taking a breath of air.
Unfortunately none of the Orcas did any spy-hopping or breaches which would have been spectacular to photograph.
Overall we had a great time during the Sidney Whale Watching tour. Our captain was knowledgeable and did his best to have us view the Orcas, as well as dolphins, seals and some sea birds. If we ever make it back out to this part of Canada, we’ll definitely do this tour again, but perhaps at a warmer time of year. Zipping through open water at 30 knots during the first week of April was a bit nippy to say the least!
All images in this article were captured hand-held using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All photographs were produced from RAW files using my standard processing with DxO OpticsPro 11, CS6 and the Nik Collection.
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