No killer whales seen, but plenty of other wildlife off Telegraph Cove

The iconic killer whales that drew us to this tiny community on the northern tip of Vancouver Island were nowhere to be seen, but that didn’t spoil our visit.

The A-11 orca pod swim near Telegraph Cove

The A-11 orca pod swim near Telegraph Cove

TELEGRAPH COVE, B.C. — The iconic killer whales that drew us to this tiny community on the northern tip of Vancouver Island were nowhere to be seen, but that didn’t spoil our visit.

There was plenty of other wildlife on view during a sightseeing adventure on the water.

But earlier, as we embarked on the ferry to Vancouver Island, we got an unexpected thrill. Just five minutes out of the Tsawwassen terminal, a killer whale and her calf crossed the bow of the giant ferry that links the B.C. mainland to the Island.

Someone yelled “whale” and within seconds the boat began to list to port as the 900 or so passengers congregated on one side to see the orcas.

Those were the only killer whales we saw on the trip planned specifically to see the black-and-white marine mammals.

Our destination was Telegraph Cove, about a four-hour drive from Nanaimo where the ferry arrives from the mainland.

The drive north begins along the waters of Georgia Strait and winds through vast evergreen forests, past blue lakes and the occasional colourful totem pole.

Telegraph Cove is nestled in a little bay carved out of the rocky coastline.

The harbour is partially covered with boat slips and surrounded by a boardwalk and small, brightly coloured houses — red, yellow, blue and green — that are rented to visitors between May and October.

We stayed in a small hotel overlooking the harbour. There are also 120 camping and RV sites available just a short walk from the cove.

Getting insight into the history of Telegraph Cove is easy: at the Killer Whale Cafe, one of the few places to eat in town, the walls display framed articles and other material offering stories about the area.

The community started out as a telegraph station before the First World War, was later the site of a fish saltery and grew into a booming sawmill town. The homes around the boardwalk were originally built to house sawmill workers.

These days, Mary and Jim Borrowman, owners of Stubbs Island Whale Watching, are the only people who live year-round in Telegraph Cove proper.

It was on one of their two boats that we set out last July with a few dozen other whale watchers hoping to see killer whales.

Within five minutes, a small pod of Dall’s porpoises started racing along the front bow, flirting back and forth with the boat and showing off their speed and agility.

Their colouring is similar to an orca’s, but they’re much smaller can’t be confused with that species.

While disappointed that we didn’t see killer whales, we were still delighted to see all the other wildlife on the four-hour outing, including humpback whales, harbour seals, sea lions and eagles soaring overhead.

Mary Borrowman said people from around the world come to see the pod of killer whales that spend much of the summer off the northern end of Vancouver Island. July, August and September are peak whale-watching season.

“We are very careful — we have been in business for 30 years (and) we have never guaranteed a sighting, ever,” she emphasized.

“It’s very difficult to explain to people . . . that we are dealing with wild animals in their natural habitat and it is a privilege from Mother Nature when we get to view these animals.”

Dress in layers and take sunblock when you go. It was sunny but cool, and even colder on the water — not warm enough for a woman wearing shorts and sandals on our boat.

The cove is just 12 kilometres away from Robson Bight, an ecological reserve where killer whales are known to swim up and rub their bodies on rocks along the shoreline.

It’s the same area where Springer, a killer whale calf found alone and emaciated off the coast of Washington state, was finally reunited with her pod in a huge effort by experts and environmentalists in July 2002.

On the Net:

Whale watching reservations: www.stubbs-island.com or 1-800-665-3066.

Grizzly bear tours: www.tiderip.com or 1-888-643-9319.

Kayak rentals and tours: www.kayakbc.ca or 1-877-949-7707.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

"They’re angry. They’re frustrated,” Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling says of his members, whose pension assets have been transferred to a provincial Crown corporation. (Photo contributed)
Only 17% of Albertans support draft curriculum: teachers’ association

Fewer than one-in-five Albertans support the provincial government’s draft K-6 curriculum, says… Continue reading

(Advocate file photo)
Lacombe man to apply to withdraw manslaughter guilty plea

Tyler John Campbell wants to change plea after judge rejected seven-year sentence

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine being prepared at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the University of Toronto campus in Mississauga, Ont., on Thursday, May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
Canada to get two million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses as provinces expand rollouts

OTTAWA — Canada is scheduled to receive two million doses of the… Continue reading

Members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation load lobster traps on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., after launching its own self-regulated fishery on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
U.N. committee to consider racism complaint of N.S. Mi’kmaq fishers against Ottawa

HALIFAX — A United Nations committee on racial discrimination is asking the… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Canada's chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Tam warns that full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Canada’s chief public health officer reminded Canadians on Saturday that even those… Continue reading

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh listens to a question as he speaks with reporters on Parliament Hill, Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in Ottawa. Singh says he believes there's a connection between anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests and far-right extremism. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Jagmeet Singh says link exists between anti-maskers and far-right extremism

OTTAWA — Federal New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh is the latest… Continue reading

Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at LifeLabs after being logged upon receipt at the company's lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Iqaluit elders home evacuated after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

IQALUIT, Nunavut — An elders home in Iqaluit was evacuated on the… Continue reading

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Boost in near-term funds, risk should lure more social-finance investors, Hussen says

OTTAWA — Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen says he expects changes to… Continue reading

Justice Minister David Lametti responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday May 7, 2021. Canada's justice and heritage ministers will be recalled to justify a change to the Broadcasting Act that critics warn could erode the rights of individuals users who upload content to social media. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Heritage committee to seek answers from ministers on C-10 changes

OTTAWA — Canada’s justice and heritage ministers will be recalled to justify… Continue reading

Young people line up for COVID-19 vaccines at Downsview Arena in Toronto on Monday, May 10, 2021. Ontario has just opened up vaccines for 18+ in high risk areas. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Vaccine rollouts expand, but COVID-19 caseloads still high in some provinces

There were signs of hope that Ontario and Quebec are making progress… Continue reading

Pharmacist Barbara Violo shows off a vile of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after providing doses to customers at the Junction Chemist in Toronto on Friday, March 12, 2021. Ontario will likely mix and match COVID-19 vaccine doses in light of uncertain future supply of all the shots approved for use in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Ontario likely to mix 1st and 2nd vaccine doses amid lack of AstraZeneca supply

TORONTO — Ontario will likely mix and match COVID-19 vaccine doses in… Continue reading

Opinion piece
Opinion: O’Toole’s carbon taxes would come with big costs for families

Erin O’Toole’s proposed carbon taxes would cost you more to heat your… Continue reading

Pumpjacks pump crude oil near Halkirk, Alta., June 20, 2007 .A flurry of stock sale financings by oil and gas producers in Canada has sparked optimism among investors that the stalled drilling industry will soon go back to work. But analysts warn that’s not likely to happen this year, THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal
Ensign Energy Services reports $43.6M Q1 loss, revenue down 43 per cent from year ago

CALGARY — Ensign Energy Services Inc. reported a loss attributable to common… Continue reading

Most Read