Killer whales, also known as orca, can be found in every ocean basin in the world. They are amongst the most studied cetaceans in the world, thanks in large part to the work of researchers in Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska where pods have been monitored for decades. 

In the coastal areas of BC and Washington, three genetically distinct ‘eco-types’ of killer whales can be observed. They are known as residents, Bigg’s (or transient), and offshores. Although these eco-types differ from each other in many aspects of their biology and ecology, they are most well known for their differences in diet. Resident killer whales primarily eat Chinook salmon, whereas Bigg’s killer whales hunt for mammals such as seals, sea lions, porpoises, and other whales. They are even known to eat bears or deer if they can find any swimming between islands! Offshore killer whales are not as well known to researchers as they do not enter coastal areas frequently, but they are thought to consume sharks and other large fish.

On the majority of our trips, we encounter Bigg’s orca. Being the largest member of the dolphin family, orca are highly intelligent and social animals. We feel fortunate to witness these wild animals displaying many behaviours that could include traveling, socializing, resting, hunting, or acrobatic displays. Their behaviours are unpredictable, and we cannot guarantee what you’ll see – but that’s the best part of seeing these animals in their natural habitat!

Our tours will purposefully avoid observing the Southern Resident population of orca as they are critically endangered. We always practice safe and responsible wildlife viewing practices. Because we have demonstrated our commitment to wildlife safety, education, and conservation for many years, all of our vessels have been authorized by the Government of Canada (look for our purple “AV” or authorized vessel flags!) to view Bigg’s orca from a closer distance than other operators. However, as the Southern Resident orca are in such a sensitive position, we feel it is best to focus on our tours on thriving and growing populations of whales instead, such as Bigg’s orca and humpback whales!

For more information on killer whales and some of the long-term research projects monitoring marine mammals in Southern BC, please visit the following sites:

Center for Whale Research 

Vancouver Aquarium- Cetacean Research 

Orca Network

American Cetacean Society- Killer Whale Fact Sheet