The Seasonal Guide to Whale, Wildlife and Bear Watching in Campbell River, Vancouver Island

Pacific White Sided Dolphins

Written by Maddie Lemke

Wondering when to spot the best wildlife on our tours? It’s a common question, with answers as dynamic as the wildlife itself. “What kind of wildlife will I see?” or “What are the chances of seeing specific animals?” – the excitement lies in the unpredictability. Many species around Campbell River are migratory, making each season unique in its offerings. While it might seem disappointing not to see everything at once, the changing seasons bring their own magic, showcasing the ebb and flow of nature. Let’s dive into what each season brings to Campbell River, ensuring you know what to expect and can plan your adventure accordingly.

Spring (March until mid-June)

Waterfall going into green ocean waters
Picture by Maddie Lemke

With our boats returning to the waters in March, the season starts with our 4h Whale and Wildlife Discovery Tour, followed by longer tours come April.

Spring is a vibrant time for:

  • Black Bears: Emerging from hibernation, searching the shores for crustaceans before berries become available.
  • California and Steller Sea Lions: With many Sea Lions heading to rookeries in summer, spring is bustling with these marine mammals. California Sea Lions, in particular, make their temporary departure in May, not to return until September.
  • Humpback Whales: While 85% of Humpback Whales present in the waters of northern Vancouver Island migrate to Hawaii and 15% to Mexico for winter breeding, their spring return around May increases their sightings in our waters once again.
  • Transient Killer Whales: Historically one of the best times to encounter Transient Killer Whales around Campbell River is in March and early April!
Black bear on the beach
Picture by Maddie Lemke

In addition to these seasonal visitors, year-round residents include Harbour and Dall’s Porpoises, Harbour Seals, and Bald Eagles.

Our Spring Bear and Waterfall Tour, from April to mid-June, offers a unique blend of wildlife viewing and the awe-inspiring sight of waterfalls fueled by snowmelt. We sometimes even get lucky and spot Grizzly Bears on this tour!

Popular tours during spring:


Summer (Mid-June until the end of August)

Eagle flying with fish in talons
Picture By Bex Dawkes


The busiest season offers unparalleled wildlife watching:

  • Humpback Whales: During the summer months, an abundance of Humpback Whales feast in our waters, providing frequent sightings.
  • Killer Whales: Both Transient and Northern Resident Orcas may be encountered, with the latter following Chinook Salmon movements and hence tend to be more present in the summer months. Transient Killer Whale sightings are typically slower in July and August compared to the rest of the year. 
  • Pacific White-sided Dolphins: June is typically the time we start to encounter Pacific White-sided Dolphins on our tours and sightings get more frequent from then through to fall
  • Bald Eagles: Hundreds of Bald Eagles congregate in the Stuart Island area in June and July, capitalizing on the abundant food provided by strong currents and trapped juvenile Hake fish.

The constant presence of year-round wildlife, such as Harbour and Dall’s Porpoises, and Harbour Seals, enriches the experience. However, Bear sightings are less common as they retreat to cooler, forested areas away from the heat.

Popular tours during summer:

Fall (End of August until the end of October)

Sow and Cub Grizzly Bear walking along River
Pictures by Zoe Hasenfratz

As the salmon run begins, the fall season is particularly exciting for:

  • Grizzly Bears: Our tours to Bute and Toba Inlets offer close-up views of Grizzlies fishing for Salmon. The best time to see Grizzly Bears feeding on the Salmon is September and October, but we have always had great sightings in August as well!
  • Humpback Whales: Humpbacks are still a common sight as they prepare for their migration to warmer waters.
  • Transient Killer Whales: From our experience, September is typically a strong month for Transient Killer Whale Sightings

The return of Sea Lions from their breeding rookeries adds to the spectacle, making haulouts lively once again. Fall also continues to offer sightings of our year-round residents (Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, Harbour and Dall’s Porpoises, Harbour Seals, and Bald Eagles), ensuring an abundance of wildlife encounters.

Popular tours during fall:

The following table gives an overview of the presence of specific wildlife each month of our operating season:

Wildlife Chart

Winter (November until March)

During winter, Campbell River Whale Watching pauses its tours to allow the ecosystem to rest. This period is crucial for ensuring the wildlife can engage in natural behaviors without disturbance, supporting the conservation of these incredible species and their habitats.

Throughout each season, Campbell River provides a unique window into the lives of its resident and migratory wildlife. From the awakening of spring through the abundance of summer, the richness of fall, and into the quiet of winter, each period offers something special. 

Ready to plan your wildlife adventure with us?