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Wildlife Watching in Greater Victoria

From bald eagles who go fishing in our oceans, to the river otters who swim in our waters - we are teeming with biodiversity.

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Wildlife Watching in Greater Victoria

Posted on October 13, 2022

Victoria and the surrounding regions are home to unique micro-climates and ecosystems that allow local wildlife to flourish. You may have tuned into Netflix's latest nature documentary, 'Island of the Sea Wolves' and fallen for our wondrously wild corner of the world. Here, our ocean nurtures all life, from bald eagles who fish for salmon, to sea wolves who swim in our waters. We’re grateful that Victoria is part of such a thriving, biodiverse region.

Whether you seek a sighting or not, it’s likely a visit to Greater Victoria will yield glimpses of the local fauna. Read on to discover what you may encounter on your next visit to Victoria. 


Salmon Run

Each autumn, various types of Pacific salmon make the impressive journey upstream British Columbia to spawn a new generation of salmon, then die. Visit Goldstream Provincial Park during late-October/early November to witness this natural phenomenon in Greater Victoria, as millions of Pacific salmon forge their way upstream.

This journey typically lasts for approximately nine weeks and attracts a frenzy of bald eagles, river otters, and racoons wishing to catch an easy snack. Black bears have also been known to show up to the party, albeit more infrequently. 

Image by @thorntontravels


Responsible Traveller Guidelines: 

  1. Keep dogs on-leash away from the river, or consider leaving your pup at home at this time. 
  2. Avoid wearing reds, purples, and pinks - the salmon are sensitive to these colours.
  3. Avoid moving quickly, and approach the riverbank quietly. 


Eagle Extravaganza

The salmon run attracts local wildlife who feast in this nutrient-rich water. Most notably are the bald eagles, who come in such large numbers at the end of the salmon run that it’s often referred to as the “eagle extravaganza”! The Goldstream Estuary is closed at this time to allow the eagles to feast uninterrupted, while visitors can observe them from a safe distance. 

If you're visiting outside of the Salmon Run which occurs late October/early November, you can still bet your chances on seeing many eagles at Killarney Lake, which is near the larger Prospect Lake. Prepare yourself for a short hike in, and remember to peer between the trees into the lake - the eagles like to hang out on a fallen log in the centre of the lake. Consider packing your bathing suit - Killarney is a lovely watering hole for humans, too!


Image by @emgemstone


Top Goldstream Eagle Watching Tips: 

  1. Start your visit at Goldstream's Nature House, where Naturalists offer free interpretive programs about the Eagle Extravaganza, hot pastries, beverages and nature books.
  2. Bring your binoculars, as the Estuary is closed during the Salmon Run.
  3. Consider coming on a weekday during the Salmon Run, when the park is much less busy. 



While encountering the odd black bear on a coastal trail isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility (see our tips below to increase your bear aware-ness!), it is our responsibility to respect the bear and its home.

For a guided bear-viewing tour, look no further than Maple Leaf Adventures, who offers a number of boutique wildlife expeditions up to northern British Columbia and Alaska. Check out their Great Bear Rainforest itineraries, which will allow you to safely encounter grizzly bears, spirit bears, and and black bears in their natural, thriving habitat with the help of an experienced guide.

Black Bear on Dam in Vancouver Island near Greater Victoria


Tips on being Bear Aware: 

  1. Pack bear spray if heading out on our remote trails, and learn how to use it.
  2. Check the park's webpage for any specific notices about bears in the area.
  3. While on the trail, make lots of noise, and hike in groups.

The best way to protect both yourself and the bears is to avoid them. An adult black bear can run 50 kilometrs per hour... you can not. We encourage you to visit BC Parks' website for many more Bear Country safety tips.


Whale Watching

A visit to Victoria is hardly complete without witnessing the impressive marine life that calls the Salish Sea, home. It is humbling to see these giants in their natural habitat, and we cannot recommend this transformative experience enough. Along with orcas, you may encounter gray, humpback or minke whales on your adventure. 

Note: Whale watch tour operators in Greater Victoria adhere to a strict set of guidelines to “Be Whale Wise,” which are collaboratively set out by the scientists, researchers and governing bodies. Local whale watch companies charge a sustainability fee for each tour. This fee is donated directly to foundations that assist with the conservation and research of whales. Find a company and tour right for you here.

Image by @kylejbaines


Be Whale-wise: 

  1. In our part of Canada, boats must stay 400m away from orcas, dolphins, and porpoises.
  2. Drones can disrupt marine animals, therefore, they are discouraged to fly over our ocean unless appropriate permits are obtained.
  3. Refrain from fishing within 1000m of whales.


Coastal-Life Viewing

While out exploring the Pacific Ocean on a whale watching tour, it’s likely you’ll also encounter seals, otters, sea lions and maybe even a coastal wolf. However, you don’t have to be on the water to spot marine life. Stumbling upon a seal malting on a beach, sea lions sunbathing on coastal rocks or viewing whales from the shoreline is always a possibility on the coast.

Muir Creek Beach is a well-kept secret, now revealed through this blog, and is an exceptional spot for seal-viewing opportunities.

Image by @jenninaturally


Responsible Traveller Tips: 

  1. Never feed any wildlife you encounter.  Under the Park, Conservancy and Recreation Area Regulation and the Wildlife Amendment Act, it is an offence to feed wildlife.
  2. If camping, keep your lot clean and orderly, and pack and suspend your food, toiletries, and garbage from an out-of-reach tree. 
  3. Keep pets leashed and under control, or consider leaving them at home.

Under the Sea

Want to get a close look at underwater marine life? Venture out to the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea, southern Vancouver Island's aquarium. From 28 different underwater habitats, view anemone, local fish species, wolf eels, and even a giant pacific octopus. This aquarium and cultural centre dedicated exclusively to the learning, exploration and conservation of the Salish Sea Bioregion.

Another great spot for seeing a unique abundance of marine life lies two hours from Victoria... but it's well worth the drive. Seek out Botanical Beach Provincial Park, home to several rare tide pool formations that house chitons, seastars, anemones, urchins, and if you're lucky: octopus. Gaze out into the ocean, and you may see harbour seals, gray whales, or orca!


Bird-watchers will find Vancouver Island home to a variety of species that inhabit our local forests, bays and seashores. From peacocks roaming Beacon Hill Park and herons along the water’s edge, to eagles and Cooper’s hawks soaring overhead, there’s no doubt Vancouver Island is home to incredible birding. Or, join a local birder for a morning walk around Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary.

Esquimalt Lagoon's bird sanctuary may be one of the island's best bird-watching spots, and is a frequent stop for migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway. Point Ellice House's shoreline is also located along the Victoria Migratory Bird Sanctuary attracting plenty of waterfowl. It makes for a lovely visit if you want to 'view' two Victorian birds with one stone: wildlife viewing and heritage site visitation. Have lunch at the nearby Glo Restaurant + Lounge - equipped with a gorgeous waterfront patio, this restaurant is perfect for bird watchers.

Birds of prey, including raptors, hawks, owls, falcons and more can be studied up close at The Raptors in Cowichan. 

The Malahat Skywalk is also a wonderful place for bird-watching, where you can get an eagle's eye view of hawks, raptors, ravens, crows and vultures from above.

Image by @matt_shannon_photography


Local Wildlife-Focused Small Businesses

If close-encounters with wildlife make you uneasy - don't worry. You can still catch a glimpse and learn about local wildlife at a safe distance through a number of Greater Victorian small businesses.

 Victoria is home to the works of Canadian birding enthusiast, artist, and naturalist Robert Bateman, who has stationed his nature-inspired gallery at the Inner Harbour. The Bateman Foundation Gallery of Nature hosts the largest collection of original and rare works by Bateman as well as rotating guest exhibits. The Gallery also offers guided tours, exciting interactive exhibitions and workshops, and nature programs for children of all ages.

One of the newest art galleries in town, Studio 106, is hosting a Salmon Run exhibit until November 10th, 2022. This gallery features a group of local artists, and aims to highlight the beauty, importance, and fragility of our ecosystem. Admission is free or by donation, and a portion of the sales are fundraised to the Friends of Bowker Creek to help restore the Bowker Creek watershed.

Lastly... if you're going out wildlife watching, you will want to dress the part. You're going to want to look for warm, sustainably-made pieces that protect you from the elements, while also keeping nature at its fashion forefront. Check out ecologyst, a Victoria based business that believes in the circular economy, and in minimizing your wardrobe to quality pieces made from nature, for nature. 

Ecologyst clothing in Victoria, BC