Today I was lucky enough to get aboard the Eagle Wing’s Whale Watching Catamaran named 4 Ever Wild. Old friend and former member of the Victoria Guest Services Network, Nathan Bird, Director of Operations knew that I was really keen on trying out one of their catamarans. I was just leaving downtown when he called me to advise that an opening just came up about 2 hours before the trip. I burned one of those Hollywood-style U-turns and headed back downtown.
I arrived about one hour early and signed in. To kill time I decided I need to catch up on my quota of fish and chips and went to one of my favourite outlets, the Fish Store on the dock at Fisherman’s Wharf. When I placed my order, the order clerk noticed the Eagle Wing pass around my neck and immediately gave me a discount on my meal! I didn’t even have to ask! As usual it was delicious.
The Eagle Wing tour starts with an introduction given by Derek today. With some necessary information and a few corny jokes, we were off to the boat.
Everyone congregated on the dock and we were given further instructions just before boarding. Well organized for sure. The staff was introduced, our captain was Rod King, and the naturalists were Sidney McCabe, Corinne McKay and Derek Sterling.
4 Ever Wild is a large and very fast catamaran and 50 people seemed to quickly disappear, most going to the bow seating. I staked out a spot on the outer deck at the back of the boat. I have issues from time to time with my lower back and all boats move the least at the back just ahead of the power source. When there was activity in the water, there was rarely more than 6-8 people on the back of the boat. The skilled captain makes sure that everyone, no matter where they are on the boat gets a chance to see any wildlife that comes in view.
Searching on-line it is apparent that Trip Advisor rates Eagle Wing as the number one Whale Watching tour company in our region. That primarily occurs because people who use their service are happy enough that they comment back on Trip Advisor. However, I generally go into the company’s web site to learn more about them. Eagle Wing is an outstanding company. For example they are carbon neutral. In addition they donate 1% of their revenues to support groups devoted to promote sustainability and environmental protection and that is just for starters. I urge you to go to their web site to read more about their efforts. They are truly leaders in their efforts to make this planet better! Check out how they contribute to conservation and sustainable tourism.
Throughout the trip the naturalists were always on the lookout for whales and anything else of interest. When we did find whales they were quickly into the reference materials to determine if these were resident whales or transients. They provided additional information to passengers throughout the trip and were always very helpful and attentive. They seemed keen to watch for opportunities to help which was very refreshing. Corinne and Sydney were nearby me and they were most helpful and seemed very knowledgeable. Good job ladies!
Our first stop was Race Rocks, an ecological reserve about 10 miles West of Victoria. Most of the operators who travel west from Victoria go here because it is such a unique experience. Race Rocks is a group of small islands in an area where Juan de Fuca strait shallows up. This causes the currents to become fairly strong. Underwater has an abundance of sea life due to the constant flow of food. Filter feeders open and close often because there is so much food in the water. The rocks around the light station are full of harbour seals, northern sea lions, California sea lions, Alaska Fur seals, river otters and sea otters. Below the surface there is sufficient fish population to feed these visitors. At the peak of their migration, there can be as many as 800 sea lions at Race Rocks. I have been scuba diving there at least 100 times and to me it looks like Butchart Gardens under the sea!
Our Captain maneuvered the large Catamaran around the rocks so that we all got great views of the large sea lions basking in the sun. Our resident Orca population only eat salmon, however the transient orcas eat just about anything they can catch. So Race Rocks is a great spot for lunch for the transients.
There are also large populations of sea birds on these islands. Since the light station no longer has staff on site, the houses and other buildings are showing signs of neglect. I noticed the roofs were covered in bird poo!
After we left Race Rocks we went looking for Humpback whales. The whale watching tour groups have quite a communication network that helps them find whales, so I assume they were directed to a certain location. After a thorough search of the location our captain decided to move on. The humpback did not show!
Our next location was at the mouth of Puget Sound. From Race Rocks that was quite a healthy distance. I found out from a previous trip with Eagle Wing that they often go above and beyond to ensure that their guests get the best experience they can provide. This often includes extending the 3 hour session to 4 hours. This was the case on this day as well. The result was that we found a good sized group of Orcas. There were two groups in that area and they were on both sides of the boat, so everyone got a really good look. They seemed to be on the move so we didn’t get to see some of the more exciting behaviors like spy hoping and breaching. However we did get some excellent looks at these magnificent animals! After about 30 minutes with the Orcas we had to head back to Victoria.
The Province of BC has been inundated with forest fires. For the past few days the smoke has moved out to Vancouver Island. I think this is the first time this has happened in Victoria since I moved here 34 years ago. Long distance visibility has gone away so I have included a couple of photos of the Olympic Mountains that are normally seen while looking for whales in beautiful Juan de Fuca Strait. None of these views were available on this trip. The visibility however was good enough to see anything that was around us in the water with good clarity.
I would like to thank owner Brett Soberg and his wonderful staff for yet another great whale watching experience and I heartily recommend this business to my guests and all visitors to Victoria. It is no wonder that the Eagle Wing catamarans are in high demand. They are fast, smooth riding, spacious and have two washrooms aboard that function like normal toilets. They are definitely a service oriented company. Well done!