Every year, we get a great deal of questions about various tidbits related to the festival. We're going to compile those questions here and provide answers, to hopefully get you the information you seek in your hands faster.
We're still in the process of gathering all those answers, so if there's a question you need answered, please contact us. We'll be sure to add your question to the list and we'll answer it for you too!
- How do we get to the Festival?
If you're coming by car, travel first from the mainland by ferry to either Victoria in the south or to Nanaimo. Ferry service to Vancouver Island via Nanaimo or Victoria by BC Ferries: www.bcferries.com, 1-888-769-3766.
Driving Distances and Travel Times
• Between Ucluelet and Tofino – 26 km (16 mi) and 30 minutes driving
• From Port Alberni – 100 km (62 mi) and 1 hours 10 minutes driving
• From Comox – 208 km (112 mi) and 2.75 hours driving
• From Nanaimo – 180 km (112 mi) and 2.5 hours driving
• From Victoria – 288 km (179 mi) and 4 hours driving
• From Vancouver – 196 km (122 mi), 2.75 hours driving and 1.5 hours ferry
• From Seattle – 422 km (262 mi), 6 hours driving and 2 hours ferry
Driving from Nanaimo:
• Travel north on Highway 19 for 43 km (26 miles)
• Take Exit 60 onto Highway 4 (also known as the Pacific Rim Highway ) heading west for 156 km (97 miles). You will drive through spectacular Cathedral Grove, historic Port Alberni (drive straight downhill and turn right at the junction), and on the winding road around Sproat and Kennedy Lakes.
• You will also drive through scenic Sutton Pass, at an altitude of 250m (850 feet) - where we especially recommend heeding to the speed limit. Travel westward until you come to the junction between Tofino and Ucluelet.
• Turn right at the Tofino/Ucluelet junction and drive north towards Tofino for 28 km (17 miles) or left to Ucluelet 8 km (5 miles).
Driving from the Comox Valley Airport:
• Turn right at the airport entrance onto Knight Road.
• Turn right at the intersection onto Military Row (drive approximately 2 kms).
• At the next stop sign, turn left onto Ryan Road.
• Continue on Ryan Road (past Home Depot and down the hill), watching for signs indicating Nanaimo.
• Turn left just past the Superstore complex following the road to the 17th St bridge, where you will turn right.
• While on the bridge, get into the left hand turning lanes.
• Turn left onto Cliffe Avenue, and continue to follow signage that will direct you to turn right onto the 29th St connector.
• After turning right onto the connector, continue until you see signs that direct you to Highway 19 southbound toward Nanaimo.
• Once on Highway 19 South, watch for signs pointing you to Highway 4 West toward Port Alberni/Pacific Rim National Park Reserve/Tofino, and exit in this direction.
• Once on Highway 4, you will drive through spectacular Cathedral Grove, historic Port Alberni (drive straight downhill and turn right at the junction), and around Sproat and Kennedy Lakes. You will also drive through scenic Sutton Pass, at an altitude of 250m (850 feet) - where we especially recommend heeding to the speed limit. Travel westward until you come to the junction between Tofino and Ucluelet.
• Turn right at the Tofino/Ucluelet junction and drive north towards Tofino for 28 km (17 miles) or left to Ucluelet 8 km (5 miles). Air Travel Tofino/Ucluelet Airport (YAZ) is located near Pacific Rim National Park and is administered by the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. The airport has three 5,000 ft runways and scheduled and charter flights operate from here.
For international air travelers, the nearest international airports are Vancouver (YVR) on the mainland or Victoria (YYJ) on southern Vancouver Island. Other major airports on Vancouver Island are Nanaimo Airport (YCD) and Comox Valley Airport (YQQ).
- Who's in charge of the festival?
The festival society is a voluntary board of directors and a paid full time festival coordinator. During the festival, Directors will be wearing “hoodies” with the festival logo and “Director” on the hoodie. If you have any questions, concerns or ideas about the festival, a Director will be able to assist you.
There are also about 300 volunteers helping to make the festival a success. Volunteers will have distinctive t-shirts and can also help answer any questions.
- What are 'Button Events'?
Many of the festival events are provided at no cost. We ask that people make a one-time minimum $2 donation to help off-set the costs of putting on the festival. Wearing a whale festival button to events, shows your support for the festival and allows you into the event at no further cost. Check the festival calendar for the many ‘button events”.
- Where do funds from the fundraiser events go?
Funds raised at whale festival events to go many causes; the first being to support the festival! This includes paying our coordinator, looking after public information like the event calendar, web site or program book, paying for signs, banners, providing insurance for the festival. Fund raising also allows us to bring in some awesome entertainers, speakers, and more. A portion of the funds are given to local marine researchers.
- What time of the year can I see whales?
There are some whales seen year-round but the best whale watching is March through to October. The grey whale migration is March through to May with a few resident greys staying throughout the summer months. Humpback whales and the occasional pod of orcas also make their way through our waters in the summer months.
- How can I get a Festival poster?
During the festival, you will be able to purchase posters for $10 at a variety of events. For our 25th anniversary, we are having a limited number of embossed, signed poster available as well. Check the event calendar for the artist’s signing opportunity event. After the festival, you can arrange for a poster to be mailed. This costs an additional $15 which covers the mailing tube and shipping costs in most cases.
- Where can I find Festival merchandise (t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc) for purchase?
We will have merchandise available for sale at some of the larger events and also set up locations in each town. Check back for more details!
- How do I become a volunteer?
The festival relies on 300 volunteers to sell buttons, help with decorating, set-up, clean-up and much much more! You can complete the volunteer form found in the volunteer section or email our volunteer coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org
- How can I become a sponsor?
We want to make your sponsorship opportunities easy to access: call the festival coordinator at (250) 726-7798 or email email@example.com and we can discuss the various sponsorship opportunities.
- How would you describe the Whale Festival to people who have never been?
The Pacific Rim Whale Festival is nine days and nights of events designed to inspire, educate and entertain by celebrating our coastal traditions, unique environment and the spring return of the grey whale. The annual calendar includes more than ninety events designed to give local residents and visitors from around the world a real taste of West Coast life and a deeper understanding of our extraordinary marine and forest ecosystems. Events take place in the spectacular settings of Tofino, Ucluelet and the Pacific Rim National Park. The festival coincides with the onset of spring on the West Coast of Vancouver Island and includes events for children and families, nature lovers and adventurers, young and old with a variety of cultural, culinary, musical and educational activities. For event details and to see what’s new, check the website regularly! www.pacificrimwhalefestival.com
- Why was the festival started?
It all started in the 1980s at a Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce meeting where Brian Congdon, owner of a whale watching company, suggested a whale festival - like California celebrated. The details may have blurred over the years but the idea was a great one, the towns got together with the National Park and started the Pacific Rim Whale Festival. Over the years, the festival has grown from a group of volunteers to a registered society. The organization is run by many volunteers including a working Board of Directors and has one staff person, the beloved festival coordinator. Although the formula has been adjusted from time to time, the steady focus and main attraction is the annual spring migration of 20,000 grey whales.
- How far do the grey whales travel?
The migration begins in the warm protected lagoons of Baja California, Mexico where the calves are born. Once the calves are old enough, they begin their first long northern migration in early February. The whales cruise at speeds of 2-5 knots and average 160 km a day, stopping only to feed and rest. They are headed towards the summer feeding grounds in the Bering Sea and will travel 20,000 kilometers (approximately 12,000 miles) between their summer feeding grounds and winter breading grounds. This is the longest marine mammal migration and thought to be the largest migration of any mammal on the planet!
- During the migratory period, how many whales will pass through?
The annual journey of an estimated 20,000 migrating grey whales is designed, by nature, for seeking food in cold, nutrient-rich waters in the north, and utilizing warm, safe calving and breeding lagoons off Baja, Mexico. For 1000s of years our backyard marine corridor along the coast has been an attractive feeding ground for greys on their journey northbound in the spring. Their history has brought them to near demise, and back from the brink to a relatively stable, healthy current population. Fortunately for them, they are no longer legally hunted here, and fortunately for us, roughly 40-50 find enough food and comfort to dine here, as residents, especially during the spring & summer months. They are joined by countless underwater wonders, like acrobatic, fish-feeding humpbacks, resident grey whales, orcas, and the occasional minke that can be seen in these Pacific Northwest waters any time of year.
- Where can visitors go to see the whales?
During the northern migration, the grey whales travel very close to the shores of the west coast allowing for viewing from land! This can and does happen any where along the shoreline as spouts are spotted most successfully on calmer seas between February and April as well as throughout the year.
Tours are available from the comfort of heated cabin cruisers and vessels, or zippy rigid hull zodiacs, giving everyone access to these creatures at a respectful distance.
During the festival, you can learn more about grey whale behavior and how to spot whales with naturalists and biologists from Parks Canada, Raincoast Education Society and the Ucluelet Aquarium. Come and join us on Sunday March 20th at 2:30 at Amphitrite Point Lighthouse for interactive land-based viewing on Ucluelet’s famous Wild Pacific Trail!
- What is the best time of day to go whale watching?
The time of day makes no difference for watching whales – it’s just a matter of convenience for you. The best conditions for watching whales would be a calmer seas for watching from land or ocean.