Secrets of September

Vancouver Island North offers visitors many secrets to discover and September is the optimum time to explore as it offers the most diverse and active time of year for marine life. Vancouver Island residents can begin their adventure with a scenic drive north on the Island Highway with no need to take a ferry.

Visitors will be treated to wildlife sightings that may include marine birds, bald eagles, orca (killer whales), humpback whales, Steller sea lions, Minke whales, Dall’s porpoise, Pacific white-sided dolphins, grizzly and black bears and more. The best way to experience Vancouver Island North is through a guided tour that will enhance the visitor experience by providing information about the local marine life and ecosystem. “Visitors to the Vancouver Island North region in September get the very best variety of wildlife, with the least amount of people around,” says Andrew Jones of Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures based in Port McNeill. Touring with a reputable operator offers the best viewings and has the lowest impact on nature and wildlife, as the operators are knowledgeable about responsible viewing practices. The interpretive information provided by guides and naturalists, gives the visitor a deeper understanding of what they are experiencing.

Passengers aboard the Lukwa site a large bull Orca off the bow. Johnstone Strait.
Passengers aboard the Lukwa site a large bull Orca off the bow. Johnstone Strait.

Historically, September has been the month where we see the greatest variety of marine mammals in the area,” says Mary Borrowman of Stubbs Island Whale Watching in Telegraph Cove. “It is a wonderfully prolific time of year for marine mammal viewing” adds Borrowman. Jackie Hildering, a local marine educator and biologist, notes that, in September, there is usually a chum salmon run and a great number of small schooling fish, creating an abundance of food for marine mammals. September’s large tidal exchanges concentrate these food sources which often allows for the viewing of marine mammals while they are feeding. “The bulk of the tourists leave at the end of August, but the wildlife definitely does not,” says Hildering. “The whole ecosystem is amplified and even more vibrant in September”.

“Resident” (fishing-eating) orca in the area socialize and feed on the chum and Chinook salmon. Sea lions are typically seen in large groups with approximately 100 – 150 in one location and migratory birds such as sooty shearwaters, appear in the thousands. Pacific white-sided dolphins are frequently sighted in much larger groups at this time of year as well, most often in highly gregarious groups of hundreds of animals. As if that were not enough, there is always the possibility of the mammal-eating “transient” orca appearing as well, even of witnessing them going after the dolphins.

Hildering, who is also a photographer, says the lighting in September tends to be magical as well. In sharing another of September’s many secrets, she notes that humpback whales seem to invest more energy into socializing verses feeding at this time of year. This offers visitors a greater opportunity to witness social interactions between these giants.

More information on the rich and abundant marine life can be viewed at

While in the Vancouver Island North region, visitors can learn more about local nature, history and culture at various attractions such as Telegraph Cove’s Whale Interpretive Centre, the Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre in Port Hardy, the Port Hardy and Port McNeill Museums, and the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay.

Vancouver Island North Tourism is a destination management organization representing the communities of the Regional District of Mount Waddington – from Woss north to Port Hardy, including Alert Bay, Sointula and sections of the mainland coast; through the delivery of cooperative marketing opportunities and coordinated tourism management.