Where can I see a bear in the wild on Vancouver Island?
June 8, 2016 7:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm visiting Vancouver Island this week and next. I have a free weekend. I am from Australia and have never seen a bear. Apparently Vancouver Island is full of them, but presumably not in downtown Victoria. I've seen tours advertised to go look at grizzly bears, but they are at least 3 days long, over a thousand dollars in price, and I don't care whether I see a grizzly or a black bear: I just want me some bears of any of the varieties.

I don't have a car and am scared to hire one because of driving on the wrong side of the road. I would be willing to pay a few hundred dollars for a tour. I wouldn't mind if it is a more general wildlife tour, but I can see whales and seals at home, so something that is primarily whales but "maybe" you see a bear if you are lucky is not so great (but I would do it if it's the only option).

If it's a tour it needs to have pick-up from Victoria, or from somewhere accessible by public transport. If it has to be an overnight thing, I could leave Friday night, but I'd need to be back by Sunday evening.

If I can't make this thing happen, I swear I'm going to find a bear mask and inflict it on one of the deer that hangs around the university.
posted by lollusc to Travel & Transportation around Victoria, BC (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The extreme (and non-wild) option is to take the ferry to Vancouver to see the bears atop Grouse Mountain.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:28 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Bear tours are long because they're wild animals and thus not 100% predictable. Plus, humans encroaching into their territory is stressful to them.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:36 AM on June 8, 2016


This is reasonable information. There are plenty of black bears on Vancouver Island, even relatively close to Victoria (especially on the west coast of the island). The problem is that you aren't too likely to see them. I think your best bet if you want to see bears in the wild is a tour out of Tofino. You can take a bus to Tofino and stay for a couple nights. It's an incredibly beautiful area.

You aren't likely to get a guaranteed bear sighting within a reasonable distance from Victoria at this time of year (when the salmon run in the fall, you can be reasonably sure where there will be bears, but not so much now).
posted by ssg at 7:44 AM on June 8, 2016


Bear tours are long because they're wild animals and thus not 100% predictable. Plus, humans encroaching into their territory is stressful to them.

As far as I can tell grizzly bear tours are long because grizzly bears are not on Vancouver Island. All the grizzly tours involve most of day of travelling to elsewhere in Canada, the second day is 5-7 hours of tour, and then you have another day like that too, and then most of a day of travelling back. I figured black bears, being local, might let me skip the whole two days of travelling part.

But if it really sucks for the bears to have humans encroaching on their territory, obviously I will reconsider. (But I think their territory is most of the island?)
posted by lollusc at 7:51 AM on June 8, 2016


Okay, so ssg's suggestion would require me to skip a the afternoon of my university event to get a bus to Tofino, as the last one leaves at 2:30pm. Then two nights in Tofino (because the buses back to Victoria also stop running around midday), with a bear tour on the Saturday afternoon. The bear tour itself is remarkably cheap ($99), and the travel would be about $140, plus two nights of accommodation.

So if anyone can suggest a cheaper and/or shorter option than that, it would be awesome, otherwise I'll seriously consider doing this.

Also, the website claims the boats stay downwind of the bears and far enough away that they are unaware of our presence. Is that true, do you think? (I am now second-guessing whether this sort of tourism is fair to the bears.)
posted by lollusc at 8:03 AM on June 8, 2016


The bear watching at Tofino is probably about as good as you can get for not disturbing the bears. Are they completely unaware of your presence? Maybe, maybe not. In the context where we kill hundreds of bears per year in BC because they get into our garbage, etc. I'd feel pretty OK about a bear tour. I think the whale watching is probably a lot worse.
posted by ssg at 8:20 AM on June 8, 2016


Tofino is a beautiful area to visit; unless you are totally uninterested in scenery, it's not going to be a hardship to be there.
posted by praemunire at 8:39 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I second going to see the bears on Grouse Mountain. I had always wanted to see a bear too and was pretty happy to see the ones in the relatively large enclosure there last summer on a family trip. It was cool.
posted by kitcat at 9:00 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have seen bears on Vancouver Island. We stayed overnight in Campbell River then the next morning drove a few hours north on 19 and then turned left on a Logging road headed toward Zeballos / Fair Harbour. We saw many black bears on that road. We then took a chartered boat to Kyuquot where more black bears would regularly wander into and around the town. Did not see any larger bears.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:26 AM on June 8, 2016


lollusc: "Also, the website claims the boats stay downwind of the bears and far enough away that they are unaware of our presence. Is that true, do you think? (I am now second-guessing whether this sort of tourism is fair to the bears.)"

I don't know if the bears are aware but black bears are pretty blase to humans who aren't within charging range (say a couple hundred metres or more). The ski hill I worked at regularly had bears cavort on the slopes within good sight of the base lodges. Viewing from a boat off shore where the bear could retreat into the bush at anytime seems pretty low impact.
posted by Mitheral at 10:24 AM on June 8, 2016


Bears are very large creatures with significant food needs and the easiest way to find them is to go where their food is. Later in the summer it will be (comparatively) very easy to find them feeding at the mouths of streams and rivers with large salmon runs, but in this early part of the season the most numerous species of salmon are probably not yet running on Vancouver Island. I'm several hundred miles north of where you'll be and our king salmon run just started. Kings are big but not very numerous. But when the pinks and keta salmon start running in their much higher numbers bears (and all sorts of other wildlife -- the salmon cycle drives the forest ecosystem to a degree that's almost hard to exaggerate) will start showing up for the feast.

Currently, however, with salmon not yet plentiful, the bears in my area are mostly feeding on salmonberries and other berries that grow in the forest. Bears in the forest are *much* harder to spot than bears on the creek bank (to the point that I have, when walking, startled a bear that was on the other side of a large salmonberry bush from me, both of us being previously oblivious to the other's presence.)

This probably goes without saying but I'll say it anyway -- you're at very low risk of danger when encountering a wild black bear in the woods. I've encountered many and never had any problems, even when I met a bear that was coming down the stairs to my house while I was going up them. But the situation which is most likely to lead to a bad encounter is when you run across a sow with cubs. The protectiveness of "mama bears" is a cliche for a reason. Don't mess with cubs. Don't approach them and don't give the mother any cause for alarm. Hopefully you will get your wish to see bears, but if you do, please enjoy them from a safe distance.
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:52 AM on June 8, 2016


The closest thing to a guarantee to see black bears in the south end of Vancouver Island would be to travel the road between Victoria and Port Renfrew. You're nearly certain to see bears on that road at any time of day, but for 30% More Bear! dawn and dusk are your golden hours. The above is also true for the road between Parksville and Tofino, with especial certainty at dawn in Tonquin Park. But be aware that the bears in the Tonquin Park / Tofino area are very large (600 lbs). Also the parks authorities have lately been issuing wolf warnings in the area between Ucluelet and Tofino.

In my 20's I spent time living in the sheltered coves beyond Tonquin Park and regularly woke to half a dozen or more giant bears ambling around me on the beach. Never a sign of aggression. however a few years ago a black bear attacked a fisherman in his boat at the dock in Port Renfew.
posted by little eiffel at 11:53 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Also, the website claims the boats stay downwind of the bears and far enough away that they are unaware of our presence. Is that true, do you think? (I am now second-guessing whether this sort of tourism is fair to the bears.)"
For the most part I doubt that it's true -- bears are pretty aware of their surroundings and they are almost always more aware of you than you are of them. However, they're also probably not very stressed by your presence (sows with cubs possibly excluded.)

On edit, commenting on the previous response:
You're nearly certain to see bears on that road at any time of day, but for 30% More Bear! dawn and dusk are your golden hours.
Yes, bears are (somewhat) crepuscular -- likely to be more active around dusk and dawn. However, they're also harder to spot as it gets dark -- put a black bear in front of a darkening forest backdrop and you'd be surprised how quickly a 350lb animal can disappear. So the increase in bear activity at the beginning and end of the day is somewhat counterbalanced by the increased difficulty in spotting them.
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:55 AM on June 8, 2016


OK, I am all booked to go to Tofino this weekend! Thanks, everyone!
posted by lollusc at 5:34 PM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Have a great time! I saw a bear near Tofino. If you can split your ticket into two segments on the way back, you might think about stopping at Goats On The Roof at Coombs. It's pretty funny and could make a good lunch stop.
posted by superfish at 1:12 AM on June 9, 2016


Bear!
posted by lollusc at 7:01 PM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


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