March of 2017 brings with it the 31st annual Pacific Rim Whale Festival from the 11th-24th. So, what’s the cause for celebration? The festival takes place as over 20,000 Gray Whales swim by the western coast of Vancouver Island in what is the longest marine mammal migration in the world! They cover nearly 20,000km between the balmy breeding waters of Baja California, Mexico and their frosty feeding waters of the Bering Sea near the Arctic. Whale watching becomes a prime activity as zodiacs, covered vessels and even float planes head out to spot the majestic ocean giants making their way along the coast.
Imagine coasting the waves of the Pacific as a barnacled back breaks the surface of the water ahead. Great puffs of mist rise into the air as the whale exhales and prepares to take another breath. As if in slow motion, a perfect whale tail silhouette forms on the horizon before slowly dipping beneath the waves. It’s mind-boggling to imagine that something larger than a school bus can disappear just like that, but it’s exactly what is witnessed during a whale watching expedition. Male Gray whales grow to about 14m long (a school bus is 12m), and the females can be even longer. Typically, they weigh in at around 27,000-36,000kg; an impressive feat considering they only consume small crustaceans, tube worms, herring row and crab larvae. In order to become so hefty, a whale needs to eat about 400-1000kg of food every single day. That’s a lot of filtering to do with its baleen!
Aside from the actual whale watching, Tofino and Ucluelet pair up for 90+ events that occur over the festival days. This is a far cry from the festival’s humble beginnings where a small group of people kicked off the festival to try to draw awareness to the area’s incredible ecosystem, the unique coastal traditions and the endangered gray whale population. Now, the events encompass all these aspects and then some. From educational interpretive walks in the rainforest, guest speakers and research days, to First Nations craft workshops, Chowder Chow-downs and Parades – there’s something for absolutely everyone to enjoy. Not to mention, pretty much everything is free with a small $2 donation request to keep the fun up and running.
The Pacific Rim Whale Festival is now a beloved tradition and is one more unique reason to visit Tofino and Ucluelet. Get to know the locals, feel the rhythm of the coast and learn about yet another reason the area draws thousands of visitors every year.
To learn more about whales, visit www.discovervancouverisland.com‘s wildlife pages!
For more about whale watching, check out our whale watching blog post!
Contributed by: Laurissa Cebryk