Travel - Ucluelet whales 

Whales converge on Ucluelet and Tofino in March

Each spring the entire population of Pacific Gray Whales migrates along the West Coast of Vancouver Island. An estimated 22,000 Gray Whales make the 16,000 km round-trip journey between the Mexican Baja Peninsula and the Bering Sea near the Arctic. It is a spectacle unlike any other in the animal kingdom. This annual migration is the largest known migration of any mammal.

To celebrate the arrival of these 36 000 kilogram denizens of the deep, the coastal villages of Ucluelet and Tofino along with Pacific Rim National Park Reserve are staging one of the largest whale festival in North America, March 15-30, 2003.

"If you love whales, the West Coast of Vancouver Island is the place to be in March," says Abby Fortune Event Co-ordinator for the festival. "It is truly an extraordinary natural spectacle and a remarkable two weeks of celebration."

More than 70 events are being offered for the 17th Annual Festival. A few highlights include: the Parade of Whales in Tofino; the Chowder Chow Down in Ucluelet (a seafood chowder cook-off competition); the Whale Festival Raft Race; Artists in Action, featuring local West Coast artists; First Nations traditional whaling stories at Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre; sandcastle building contest and the tug-o-whale competition at Wickaninnish Beach.

"This is a unique combination of three groups working together to highlight and educate both tourists and locals alike," says Fortune. "And above all, it’s fun!"

The Gray Whales, some measuring 13-14 metres, travel close to shore in the spring, pausing to feed in shallow waters, providing excellent viewing opportunities from strategic shore locations. Both Ucluelet and Tofino provide exceptional viewing areas, including a site set up with high quality spotting scopes for optimum viewing. There’s even one at Amphitrite Point Lighthouse. Hiking along the new Wild Pacific Trail offers unparalleled views of the whales as they go by. The Wild Pacific Trail skirts the jagged, black volcanic coastline, opening up a once-impenetrable marine forest to people of all ages, and only minutes from the roadside.

For an even more exhilarating, close-up view of these gentle animals, one can venture out onto the open Pacific aboard local charter boats or float planes offering scheduled whale watching excursions from either Tofino or Ucluelet.

If one can not take in the March festival, visitors to the Ucluelet-Tofino area are afforded the opportunity to view the numerous resident Gray Whales, that reside on western Vancouver Island through the months of February to October.

IF YOU GO:

Location: Ucluelet & Tofino are approximately four and a half hour drive from Victoria and a 45-minute flight from either Vancouver or Seattle to the Long Beach Airport, which serves both Ucluelet and Tofino.

• Pacific Rim Whale Festival Headquarters at 250-726-7742; www.island.net/whalefest

• Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce: www.uclueletinfo.com

• Tofino Chamber of Commerce: www.tofinobc.org

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