The waters surrounding the southern tip of Vancouver Island teem with orcas (killer whales), harbor seals, sea lions, harbor and Dall porpoises, and bald eagles. All whale-watching companies offer basically the same tour; the main difference comes in the equipment they use: Some use a 12-person Zodiac, where the jolting ride is almost as exciting as seeing the whales, whereas others take a larger, more leisurely craft. Both crafts offer excellent platforms for seeing whales. In high season (June to Labour Day), most companies offer several trips a day. Always ask if the outfitter is a "responsible whale-watcher" -- that is, doesn't go too close to disturb or harass the whales.

Seafun Safaris Whale Watching (950 Wharf St.; tel. 877/360-1233 or 250/360-1200; www.seafun.com) is just one of many outfits offering whale-watching tours in Zodiacs and covered boats. Adults and kids will learn a lot from the naturalist guides, who explain the behavior and nature of the orcas, gray whales, sea lions, porpoises, cormorants, eagles, and harbor seals encountered along the way. Fares for the Zodiac tour are C$129 adults and C$79 children.

Other reputable companies include Prince of Whales (812 Wharf St.; tel. 888/383-4884 or 250/383-4884; www.princeofwhales.com), just below the Visitor Info Centre, which offers a variety of Zodiacs and larger, more leisurely craft, and Orca Spirit Adventures (tel. 888/672-ORCA [6722] or 250/383-8411; www.orcaspirit.com), which departs from the Coast Harbourside Hotel dock.

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Whale-Watching on the Way to Victoria

If you're pressed for time, Prince of Whales (tel. 888/383-4884; www.princeofwhales.com) tours offer a great way to combine whale-watching with your trip to Victoria. May to September, you can book a 5-hour whale-watching tour that leaves from Vancouver's Burrard Inlet and docks right in front of the Fairmont Empress in Victoria. The tour includes an excursion to world-famous Butchart Gardens before heading back to Vancouver. Cost is C$300 for adults, C$225 for children 13 to 17, and C$200 for children 5 to 12; check the website because the company sometimes offers special deals.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.