West coast herring expeditions
The spring Pacific herring spawn is one of nature’s great wildlife spectacles. It may be less known than the annual salmon runs the west coast is famous for, but it attracts a profusion of marine and terrestrial predators alike. I have teamed up with Seaforth Expeditions to offer the only multi-day tour of this remarkable event on the remote west coast of Vancouver Island. This is the perfect way to shake off the winter cobwebs by immersing yourself in some of Mother Nature’s finest work.
March 2-9, 2023
Trip departure point
Campbell River, British Columbia
About Pacific herring
Pacific herring are one of the most abundant fish in British Columbian waters and a critical part of marine ecosystems. Each spring, tens of thousands of tonnes of herring move from offshore to coastal waters to spawn. The male’s milt turns the waters a milky white – sometimes for kilometers of coastline – while the females lay their eggs in the intertidal vegetation and rocks. Inevitably, the fish and their eggs attract hungry predators. On land, predators like wolves and bears congregate to feed on the rich eggs that are revealed at low tide. In the ocean, dozens of grey and humpback whales, and hundreds of sea lions and seals join in on the feast. In some years congregations of marine birds (eagles, loons, ducks, gulls, shorebirds and more) can number in the hundreds of thousands. Resident sea otters can be found in the midst of it all foraging for shellfish and herring eggs alike.
Once the largest commercial fishery in the province, the catches of Pacific herring used to exceed those from all five species of salmon combined. First Nations up and down the coast have harvested herring for millennia using sustainable spawn-on-kelp and spawn-on-hemlock practices. These methods allow people to harvest the eggs sustainably while letting the adult fish – which can spawn up to 10 times during their lifetime – to spawn again.
Expected trip highlights
On this trip, we have good chances to see and photograph Vancouver Island wolves, sea otters, gray whales, black bears, Stellar and California sea lions, harbour seals, and a whole host of marine birds, as well as the gorgeous seascapes of the west coast. Of course, we have also planned the trip specifically to maximize our chances of witnessing the herring spawn itself.
$7150 + GST (Canadian dollars)
Included: Vehicle shuttle between Campbell River and Zeballos, boat transport to Zeballos and our cabin. All food (prepared by an excellent cook), lodging, boat transportation and guiding services upon arrival at cabin.
Not included: travel to/from Campbell River and any necessary food and accommodations in Campbell River.
A $1500 deposit is required to secure a spot on this trip (see cancellation policy in FAQs below)
Each day we will spend full days in the field to maximize your photo opportunities. We will be in communication with Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s herring survey pilot, as well as a test fishery crew, to maximize our chances of encountering the herring spawn and all the other wildlife in the area. We will also use our personal drones for additional scouting.
Guests must understand that weather is always out of our control and may interfere with our plans and departure times.
Day 1 (March 2)
Unless you live locally on Vancouver Island, you will need to arrive in Campbell River March 1st and stay overnight at a local hotel. We recommend the Comfort Inn. Pacific Coastal Airlines and Central Mountain Air have regular flights from Vancouver to Campbell River at 07:45 and 15:50 respectively on March 1st.
- 7:30 am: vehicles depart from Campbell River.
- 10:30 am: arrival in Zeballos
- 11:30 am: depart Zeballos by boat
- 12:00 pm: arrival at cabin. Guests will quickly get settled, have an orientation, lunch and then head out into the field to explore and look for wildlife.
During this trip, we will maximize our time in the field by packing a lunch and staying out in the field for as long as we have daylight. If we have days with challenging weather, we may return to the cabin for lunch and to warm up. At the end of the day we will return to the cabin for an excellent evening meal and relaxation.
Day 2-7 (March 3-8)
To maximize the chances of wolf encounters, we will rise early and have breakfast at around 6:00 am so we can get out in the field before first light. Wildlife viewing each day will be from a boat and/or from shore depending on weather and where the best opportunities are on any particular day.
Day 8 (March 9)
Depart cabin for Zeballos by 8am, with expected arrival in Campbell River at noon. Central Mountain Air has a 6:05 pm flight to Vancouver that evening.
Immerse yourself in the wild west coast
Skytography created this video during a previous expedition.
How many guests are on each trip?
This is an exclusive trip with just six guests
Are we guaranteed to witness the herring spawn?
No. Herring spawning events can occur numerous times over the course of a 6-week period in the early spring, and the timing of the spawn is impossible to know for certain. However, as mentioned earlier, we have access to the very best information on the herring spawn in our area from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada survey and test fisheries crew. We will be in regular contact with them to maximize our chances of success.
And, regardless of when the spawn actually happens, other wildlife will be congregating in anticipation of the herring.
Will we be taking photographs from a boat or from shore?
Both, depending on weather and whatever method provides the best opportunities.
What level of fitness is required?
Guests need a moderate to good level of fitness and balance for these trips. During boat landings, we are rarely at a dock and you must be mobile enough to scramble off the bow of a boat onto uneven and slippery shorelines. We don’t have to hike up any steep hills, but sometimes we may have to walk considerable distances on gravel beaches, which can be tiring. Please contact Tim if you have concerns, and we can discuss whether this trip is right for you.
What are our chances of seeing and photographing wolves?
Wolves are never a sure thing – which is why trying to photograph them is such an adventure. However, the herring spawn is a strong attraction for wolves, which stacks the odds in our favour. We know from previous experience that wolves frequent this particular area. After that, it is all about timing – the wolves’ timing. In past years, there was a pack of seven wolves in the vicinity of our cabin. At times they were seen for several days in a row, and at times they would disappear for a week before returning.
Although everybody wants to see and photograph wolves – and we will do everything we can to give you the very best opportunities of success – guests should understand that there are never any guarantees. What makes this trip special are the opportunities to watch and photograph a huge diversity of species attracted by the herring spawn. Even if the wolves do not cooperate, you’ll have plenty of photo processing to keep you busy when you return home :)
What are the accommodations like?
Accommodations will be in a small cozy cabin. It could be described as “basic,” but it is warm and dry with a living room to relax in after a day in the wild. The best part is that cabin is in extremely close proximity to great wildlife photography locations. In some years the herring have spawned within a 5-minute boat ride from the cabin.
Depending on the number of single travellers versus couples booked on the trip, some guests may need to share a room with another traveller of the same gender. Bathrooms are shared – there are no ensuites. We will provide you with more details about the accommodations for those who inquire.
What are the temperatures at that time of year? Is it really cold?
While much of Canada is still in the grips of winter in March, it is early spring on Vancouver Island and much milder than in the rest of the country. There is typically still snow on the mountains, but not at sea level. Weather can be calm, cool, and clear, or it can be windy and rainy, creating great storm watching conditions. Temperatures vary from 3 Celsius in the morning if we get a cold snap to a balmy 15 degrees Celsius on nice days (36 to 60 F). But regardless of the weather, there will always be a warm dry cabin to come back to each day.
What kind of clothing will I need to be comfortable each day?
As a first step, guests will want to dress in layers starting with a good pair of thermal long underwear on top and bottom, followed by warmer layers and wind/waterproof outer layers such as Gore-Tex to protect you from wind, cold and rain. All guests will receive a detailed packing list to assist with gear decisions.
Can I bring a drone?
Yes. The herring spawn offers incredible photo and video opportunities with a drone. However, there may be some restrictions on how they can be used for safety, and to ensure wildlife are not harassed.
Is this strictly a photography tour or workshop?
No. People who want to come to view wildlife without taking photos are most welcome. However, most of our guests do like to take photos, so our approach is focussed on maximizing photo opportunities. The west coast of Vancouver Island has endless opportunities for great photography, which means it is also a great place to just take it all in without a camera if that is your preference.
What about Waivers, Medical Forms and Travel Insurance?
To secure your spot on a trip, waivers and medical forms must be completed when you pay your deposit. It is a simple process that takes 5 minutes. It is also mandatory that tour participants purchase independent trip cancellation insurance that includes remote evacuation coverage to protect against any unforeseen circumstance.
Are cell communications and wifi available?
There is no cell phone reception. Limited Wifi is available for comunications. Your guides will have communication devices (Satellite phone and inReach units) in case of an emergency.
What is your cancellation policy?
All deposits and payments are non-refundable, unless, upon cancellation, we are able to fill your spot. If we can fill your spot, we will refund you in full.
What about gratuities for the crew?
There are no expectations around tips. However, for those who would like to provide a gratuity, 5-10% of your trip price is a reasonable guideline.