In June 2014, we travelled from Seattle to Haines (Alaska) including a week on Vancouver Island during our stay near to Tofino we did a black bear viewing tour with The Whale Centre.
Website: The Whale Centre
Located approximately 5 hours from Victoria, Tofino is situated in the Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, adjacent to Pacific Rim National Park.
We stayed in one of the many beach resorts around the Pacific Rim National Park.
The bear viewing tour operates from the town centre where they have an office, shop and whale museum. They provide free parking outside the building (which they were kind enough to let us use while we looked around town before and after the tour.
The company is owned & operated by a local family and has been running tours for over 20 years.
This bear watching experience is done via boat – a 24 foot Boston Whaler that has been made and outfitted for bear watching. It has a shallow bottom which makes it perfect for gaining access to shallow coves and bays during low tide (which larger boats are unable to do).
The duration of the tour is 2-2.5 hours. The timings of tours depends on when low tide is, this means departure times vary from day to day. Tours leave just before low tide, this increases the chances of seeing bears as they feed on the exposed shellfish, seaweed and crustaceans.
Our experience started 10.15 am with us checking in at the office and getting decked out in our bright red, warm, dry Mustang cruiser suit. The suits are provided to keep you comfortable while zipping along the inlet and doubles up as a life 'vest'.
We then marched down the road together to where the boat was docked (a short 5 minute walk downhill).
We met Captain Howie (our guide), took our seats and set off, heading east along Fortune Channel. We saw a boat watching a bear off to the starboard side and Howie nodded, smiled and said we keep going. Soon we saw a male and pulled into shore to get some shots, whilst Howie looked along the tree line.
Almost as Howie saw them, Liz, with our binos, said 'cubs!' And there in a tree with mom, digging for clams along the shore were two gorgeous two month old cubs sat in a tree. We slowly moved into position, the only boat in the vicinity, and waited as we watched momma bear. The cubs were hiding out, but every so often they would peek to check on her. A lot of the other tour boats have noisy diesel engines and as one came round the headland, it startled Mom, and she went to check on the cubs and call them down. They woke up, joined Mom, and we were treated to a fabulous 15 minutes as she fed them and then led them along the rocky beach just yards from us, the cubs jumping over rocks and running to keep up. Only one other boat made it to us before she led them up a rock and into the dense woodland.
With smiles as wide as the Pacific, we then went to watch four other bears, one a big older boy and three younger bears, all at a respectable distance from each other, turning the beach rocks like they were feathers as they dug for clams and crabs.
The two hours fly by and it was time to head back to base, on the way stopping for pictures of harbour seals and bald eagles.
You can read more about our Vancouver Island trip and see video and more pictures from this tour in our trip report.
Viewing from: Boat
Group size: up to 10
Time Viewing: 2 hours
Clothing provided: Full body warm suits
Accommodation: Not applicable
Best time of year: Summer
Other wildlife: Bald eagles, marine mammals, wolf & mink