The coastal black bears we will be photographing are found in Clayoquot Sound, a biologically rich and mostly wilderness area near Tofino, which encompasses 350,000 hectares of land and ocean. There are five communities in Clayoquot Sound with a total population of about 3,000 — the town of Tofino and three First Nations villages (Ahousaht, Hesquiaht and Tla-o-qui-aht). This area’s mountains, valleys and islands are covered with majestic ancient temperate rainforest that contains some of Canada’s oldest and biggest trees. It also where the ancient forest meets the ocean, and the estuaries and tidal zones contain some of the world’s greatest coastal marine-life diversity, including salmon.
Salmon play an integral role for coastal livelihoods, cultures, and ecosystems in Clayoquot Sound. As a keystone species, salmon support life such as orcas, bears, wolves, and eagles while providing nutrients to the ancient rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. But salmon are under significant stress in the environment from climate change and salmon farming.
As we enter this pristine wilderness, you will quickly notice the presence of active fish farms, which have been operating since the 1980s and threaten wild salmon stocks and marine life with diseases and parasites. Friends of Clayoquot Sound is dedicated to defending wild salmon and all marine life by advocating for the removal of salmon farms from the marine environment. As part of this tour, we are excited to be donating to their important conservation work. In addition, we are organizing an exclusive presentation during our time in Tofino to learn first-hand about the challenges of farmed salmon to the ecosystem.
Genetically distinct, the estimated 7,000 Vancouver Island black bears are slightly darker in colour and larger than the mainland black bear. Skeletal remains on Vancouver Island have dated black bears up to 10,000 years, which indicates they have been separated from mainland black bears for a long time.
While most of their diet consists of vegetation, these coastal black bears will often eat crabs, eels, starfish, and whatever they can find along the shoreline. You’ll see them use their paws to push aside huge boulders with little effort to eat delicacies hidden underneath.
This behavior, coupled with the intertidal zone itself, is what makes this place so special and unique. Boulders covered with green algae, barnacles, and a variety of other sea species dominate the shoreline. Every day is special in its own way and you can expect to average 8-10 black bears per day.
Our typical day starts early, with our bear tours departing at 6:30am, 7am, and two mornings at 8am to coincide with the low tide. After a quick coffee and breakfast, we will make the short walk over to the tour office, where we will put on our mustang survival suits and walk to the dock. We will then board our private zodiac and settle in for the approximately 20 minute ride to reliable bear habitat.
Our morning tour will last about 2.5 to 3 hours where we will photograph coastal black bears and possibly seals, sea lions, eagles, and even whales. Once we finish our morning tour, we will then have free time to enjoy the many beaches, short rainforest walks, and other amenities in the area.
We will have one exclusive 2.5 hour whale watching tour during the afternoon and we will organize at least one post-processing session, and one optional sunset photography session.
We want help you to become a better photographer. And to do so, we’re going to go the extra mile. Before the tour, we will have 3 hour long one-on-one sessions with you to understand your shooting style, discuss topics of interest (such as field techniques, composition, post-processing), and provide guidance to help you grow as a photographer and storyteller.
During the tour, we will have at least one optional image review session so that we critique our images and thereby make necessary adjustments while we’re in the field.
After the tour, there will be 3 more hour long one-on-one sessions to help you choose and edit your favorite images from the tour, and discuss other topics of interest. We will also organize a Zoom group event so each of us can present our favorite images and share stories.
Our policy is simple: ask us anything at anytime about gear, technique, strategy, composition, post-processing and beyond. We are here to help you!
The tour departs from Tofino, Vancouver Island, Canada. You must arrive in Tofino by July 12th.
There are several ways to get to Tofino. You can fly non-stop to Tofino-Long Beach Airport (YAZ) from Vancouver on scheduled flights with Pacific Coastal Airlines, or fly right into Tofino Harbour with Harbour Air.
Alternatively, you can fly to Vancouver Island and drive to Tofino. From Victoria it’s approximately a 4.5 hour drive, and from Nanaimo it’s approximately a 3 hour drive. Lastly, you can fly to Vancouver, rent a vehicle and take the 1.5 hour ferry to Nanaimo and drive the rest of the way. We can help you to plan your trip!
How many black bears will I see?
Wildlife is unpredictable, BUT this location guarantees bear sightings. And because we are going at the very best time, when the morning tides are at the lowest level of the month, we will have great opportunities to photograph many black bears of all ages, including cubs. We can expect to average 8-10 different bears per day.
What other wildlife can we see?
We will likely see bald eagles and harbour seals, and we may see California sea lions and other marine life as well.
What whales will we see on the whale watching tour?
We have a 97 percent chance to see grey whales and if we’re lucky, transient orcas and humpback whales.
What do you mean by zodiac?
The “zodiac” is an open 26 feet-long boat that can take up to 12 passengers.
What is the Plus 1 supplement?
Our accommodation in Tofino has the potential for double accommodation and since our we have our own private zodiac, you can bring your spouse, partner, or friend for a $500 supplementary charge. Note, you will be sharing a queen sized room and a row on the zodiac. If your plus 1 only wants to come on the whale watching tour, they can join for free :-)
What focal range do you recommend?
For this location, I recommend a decent telephoto lens. Most of my favorite shots were taken with my 200-400mm zoom lens, though I used my 70-200mm as well. It’s best to have a variety of focal lengths at your disposal so you are ready for all scenarios, including capturing the amazing scenery in Clayoquot Sound.
Can I bring a tripod?
No, not on the zodiac due to space limitations. However, you are welcome to bring a monopod should you need it :-)
You are encouraged to bring a tripod for our sunset photography session :-)
What's the bathroom situation?
There are no bathrooms on the zodiac. Should the moment strike, we will do our best to find a solution.
What's the food situation?
Tofino is a foodie destination and there are amazing culinary experiences to be had, including very fresh seafood :-)
What's the cell coverage like?
Tofino has excellent cell reception. However, we will lose reception once we leave town for our bear and whale tours.
Send us an email and we’ll be happy to arrange a time to chat through everything with you and answer any questions you may have.
- All guiding
- Photography instruction
- Insurance (required)
We value our guests, so everyone who travels with the Wildlife Collective will automatically receive a 5 percent discount on all subsequent tours. It’s our way of saying thank you for your support!
All of our tours have a conservation focus. We will learn about the challenges facing our primary subject and ongoing conservation work. Plus, every tour makes a donation to a conservation partner.
We take you to the world’s most amazing wilderness destinations, which were chosen based on our ability to offer our guests the ultimate wildlife photography experience.
Every tour includes photography sessions before, during, and after the tour. With our hands on learning, you are going to leave our tours as a better photographer. Ask us anything at anytime!
We will never exceed 8 clients per instructor, and in most tours, the ratio will be even smaller. This ensures that you get the personalized attention that you deserve on our tours.
We work with the world’s best wildlife guides, who also happen to be our good friends. They are experienced, keep us safe, and put us in the best possible position to create a compelling image.