From the quaint, laid-back atmosphere to the incredible scenery, there’s no shortage of reasons why people flock to Sointula each year.
But whether you’re headed to British Columbia specifically to enjoy some wildlife sightings or not, one activity you’ll definitely want to plan some time for is whale watching.
A variety of whale species can be found in the cool waters of British Columbia. A whale watching tour or even a fishing excursion will help increase your chances of spotting one. But there’s also plenty of prime spots for whale spotting from on the island. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about whale watching in Sointula.
Whale Species You Might Spot
There are 3 whale species that you might spot from the island or while on a whale watching tour. There’s also a 4 aquatic creature that’s often mistaken for a species of whale.
The most common type of whale you might spot in British Columbia is the Grey Whale. During the summer months, sightings around Vancouver Island, as well as outlying islands like Malcolm Island, are particularly common. The Grey Whale species was hunted to near extinction a century ago. But their numbers have rebounded, especially in recent decades.
Humpback whales were once a very rare sight in the area. Like the Grey Whale, this species came close to extinction as a result of the whaling industry. At one point experts believe there were just 1,500 left in the North Pacific Ocean. In the last 20 to 30 years, the species as a whole has made a comeback. Today, there are more than 20,000 humpback whales in the North Pacific.
The smallest whale to make its home in British Columbia is the Minke Whale. This species wasn’t a target of the whaling industry and their numbers weren’t threatened. However, they aren’t as common a sight as the Grey Whales. Part of this is their smaller size. Part of it is their speed in the water. They only come to the surface for a quick breath before quickly diving back down, and can stay underwater for up to 10 minutes in between breaths.
This next species is commonly mistaken for belonging to the whale family. But orcas actually belong to the dolphin family. That said, they are still a popular sight to watch for.
Orcas have long been threatened by hunting. Around 75 orcas make their home in the waters of British Columbia, making it the smallest population in the North Pacific. Those 75 individuals belong to 3 separate pods but share the waters. They are most commonly sighted during the summer.
Malcolm Island’s Whale Rubbing Beach
One of the biggest reasons why Sointula and Malcolm Island are prime spots for whale watching is the famous whale rubbing beach. Located at Bere Point in Bere Point Regional Park, this famous beach might look much like the many others on this island. But if you’re lucky, you’ll notice something that sets this beach apart right away.
Despite the name, the one non-whale species of large mammals are the ones you might get lucky enough to spot at this beach.
For reasons that haven’t yet been identified by scientists and researchers, pods of orcas will frequently go into water as shallow as just 6-feet deep and rub their bellies and sides against the rocky bottoms. Bere Point is the island’s only whale rubbing beach. Access to the beach is located at the campground, which is only open during the summer months. Orcas can appear at the beach any time of day during the summer months and may rub for as little as 15 minutes or as long as 2 hours.
Why Do Orcas Rub?
While this behavior seems to be common among orca pods in British Columbia, whale rubbing beaches aren’t. Pods appear to be picky about their rubbing beaches. The same pods will return to the same beach season after season and year after year. They bring back their young to the same beaches, and those young in turn bring their own offspring, passing the tradition on to future generations.
This behavior has long been puzzling to scientists. Orcas as a species tend to be cautious of shallow water. Yet, researchers have observed that a loud call will go out among a pod, and the entire group will speed towards their rubbing beach and its shallow water.
Rubbing beaches tend to have steep slopes at the shoreline, as well as loose rocks that make it easier for the orcas to wiggle back out of the shallow water and into the open ocean. The whale rubbing beaches of British Columbia are the only known examples of this behavior in the world.
Whale Watching in Sointula
While the whale rubbing beach at Bere Point is perhaps the best spot on the island for spotting whales and orcas, any waterfront location along Sointula Harbor can be a great place to catch sight of a tell-tale hump, tail slap, or water spout. You can even book a waterside hotel or vacation rental to give you easy access to whale watching throughout your stay.
If you’re ready for your own bucket-list-worthy visit to Sointula, start planning your trip today!