Inland and Coastal Water Wildlife Workshops in Canada

We have listed a significant amount of wildlife workshops in Canada that are designed with the photographer in mind.

From bears, to whales, loons and gannets, we have compiled a photo workshop or tour for everyone’s wildlife bucket list trip behind the camera.  

Today I want to focus on our whale and bird workshops and tours we are leading in Canada. The Species we are focusing on in 2016 and 2017 are the following:

Orca Whale - Orca whales are cetaceans, a large group of approximately 80 kinds of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. The largest member of the dolphin family (females can grow as large as 23 feet in length, while males can reach 32 feet), orca whales have highly developed brains, and like all dolphins, use sophisticated biological sonar called echolocation, to communicate with one another. When the Southern Resident Community whales arrive in Haro Strait on the southeast shores of Vancouver Island, they “announce” their arrival to other whales already in the area with their highly developed vocal activity.

Types of Orcas - Orca whales are divided into three separate categories based upon geographical location and behavior. It is speculated that these three distinct groups of orcas in the Pacific Northwest may be the result of food preference and availability.

Resident Orcas tend to have distinct and stable migration patterns and family structures, while Transient Orca Whales are more loosely organized. It is estimated that there are approximately 450 Transient Orca Whales living along the western North American seaboard from Mexico to the Bering Sea. Little is currently known about the third category, Offshore Orcas, although they are being actively studied by scientists. Discovered in 1991, the Offshore Orcas are most commonly seen 15 to 25 miles out at sea off Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands. It is possible that this third category of whales is the ancestral population of the Northern and or the Southern Resident orca whales.

Social Structure - Orca whales generally live in groups known as pods, which are comprised of two or more females, calves, one or more males, and juveniles. These stable, matrilineal pods of orcas often consist of a mother, her offspring, and several generations of family members who travel together. Some offspring stay with their mother for life. This type of familial structured pod has been consistently observed in the Pacific Northwest. While all pods share common sounds, each pod also has its own distinctive sound.

Foraging - With 46 to 50 conical shaped teeth that point slightly inwards and backwards, the orca is well adapted for hunting. While resident orca whales tend to feed on fish species such as herring or salmon, transient whales eat a variety of animals including smaller whales, penguins, porpoises, harbour seals, sea lions, squid and sharks. Orcas generally forage individually, although it is thought by scientists that a coordinated method of group hunting probably occurs.

Breeding - Although very little is understood about the orca's breeding habits, newborn calves have been observed throughout the year, indicating no particular breeding season. Orcas are considered to be sexually mature between the ages of 10 and 18 years of age, with females believed to be reproductively active into their 40's. The gestation period for an orca is approximately between 13 to 17 months, and a newborn calf is generally about 6-7 feet long, and weighs approximately 400 pounds.

Resting - When resting, orca whales generally maintain a slow swimming speed (2 knots or less), and synchronize their breathing with other whales within their social group. They also rest while laying almost motionless on the surface of the water. During these very quiet rest periods, orcas emit just a few discrete sounds, and scientists believe that one group member may remain more attentive than the remaining pod.

In 2016 we are headed to Vancouver Island to photograph the resident and transient Orcas on the following tours:

August 2016

In 2017 we are headed to Vancouver Island to photograph the resident and transient Orcas on the following tours:

August 2017: Details Coming Soon. Contact us to be notified of details when we announce them by clicking here

Humpback Whales - The humpback whale is a large marine mammal that belongs to one of over 80 known species of cetacea.

These marine mammals are usually identified by their enormous size, majestic whale songs and their aerial acrobatic abilities such as their ability to continuously breach the water in spite of their large bodies.

The Humpback is well-known for its majestic whale songs which are often heard during mating season when groups of male whales sing in order to attract a female to mate with.

In addition to playing a role in their mating rituals whale songs are also believed to play other roles in the humpback whales social structure, however as of now little is known about why they produce these sounds.

Due to their large size the sounds these whales make can be heard many miles away and are described as a combination of moans, howls and cries among other sounds which can go on for hours at a time.

In fact whales that are miles apart can be heard creating the same sounds together in unison and will change their songs in harmony with other whales.

Physical Characteristics and Appearance

When it comes to physical size an adult humpback whale can grow to an average length of 40-60 ft. long and weigh as much as 44 tons.

Note: One of the largest ever recorded humpback whales measured in at 89 ft. long.

These marine mammals are generally either a dark grey or black color with white patches on their stomach and knobs (known as tubercles) covering their head.

From a visual standpoint the humpback whales body is thickest in the middle and tapers down towards the head and flukes.

The whales back is largely flat with a small dorsal fin located down the far side of its back, however when swimming the humpback may arch its back and flukes causing its back to look like a large hump.

In order to navigate the ocean these whales possess a large fluke and unusually long pectoral fins (about 1/3 the length of its body) which it uses for swimming, turning and propelling itself through the water.

Because the humpback is a baleen whale it possess baleen plates instead of teeth.

The baleen plates have bristles attached to them that act as a catchers mitt for capturing various small prey.

The bristles are bunched close together in order to prevent small prey from escaping but are spaced apart enough to allow water to easily pass through.

Another characteristic that is unique to baleen whales such as the humpback is the presence of two blowholes which are located on top of its head.

Diet and Hunting Methods

Humpback whales have a pretty diverse diet when it comes to the baleen whale suborder and are known for eating small fish, krill, salmon, herring, mackerel and capelin among other small prey.

Because the humpback does not possess teeth and has to swallow its food whole these marine mammals are limited to consuming small aquatic animals.

These whales hunt and feed during the summer months in cold waters and migrate toward warmer tropical areas during the winter months to mate and bare offspring.

During the humpbacks feeding season these whales hunt using a technique known as bubble net fishing which involves a group of humpback whales swimming around their prey in a circle and blowing bubbles around their prey in order to herd the fish into a tight ball.

The whales will also create loud vocal sounds to scare the fish to the surface of the water and slap their fins against the water to stun the fish and immobilize them.

Once the fish are unable to move the whales will swim up and lunge at the fish with an open mouth and engulf hundreds or thousands of small fish in a single gulp while using their baleen bristles to separate the water and debris from their prey.

After capturing a mouth full of fish the humpback will then push the water out of its mouth using its tongue and swallow the remaining prey.

Humpback whales feed most frequently during feeding season and use this time to build up their blubber stores in preparation for mating season.

During mating season humpback whales will fast (stop eating) and live off of the body fat/blubber reserves they acquired during feeding season so that they can focus on migration and mating.

Although they may feed from time to time during mating season it is rare.

Habitat and Migration - Humpback whales are known to migrate to different locations depending on the time of year.

These marine mammals are known for their massive size and haunting whale songs that are often produced during mating season when male humpback whales sing to compete against other males for the right to mate with a female humpback.

In terms of location and habitat humpback whales can be found traveling throughout all of the worlds major oceans.

During the summer months which is their feeding season these whales can be found inhibiting the colder regions of the world such as Alaska and Antarctica where large quantities of fish, squid and krill can be found.

Once the winter time rolls around and large ice caps begin to form these whales can be seen migrating to locations such as Hawaii and the gulf of Maine where they spend the majority of their time mating and bearing offspring.

As with other species of baleen whale the humpback whale has two primary seasons known as feeding season (the summer months) and mating season (the winter months).

During their migration these whales are known to travel as far as 16,000 miles making them one of the furthest migrating species in the world.

Despite being able to consume large quantities of food these whales are known to almost completely forgo eating during the mating months and will live primarily off of the fat stores they obtained during feeding season.

Once these whales have finished mating and bearing offspring they travel back towards the northern and southern polar hemispheres where they can stock up on large quantities of food and prepare for the next mating season.

In many cases the mature and experienced whales will travel ahead of the younger whales during migration trips and lead them to the right destinations.

Interestingly, although these whales can be seen migrating, hunting and mating in large groups they are generally very solitary and non social creatures that prefer traveling alone or in small groups of two to three.

In these cases a pod may consist of a mother whale and her child or two friends that have formed a temporary loose bond.

When it comes to hunting, traveling or mating however several dozen whales may be seen aggregated together and working cooperatively in order to obtain their goals.

During reproduction cycles female whales will bear a single offspring once every 2 – 3 years while they are fertile with the average gestation period lasting 11 – 12 months.

The 11 – 12 month gestation period allows the female whale to return to its warmer, safer mating environment where it can bear its young, nurture it and prepare for the long migration trip back to its feeding grounds.

*Info supplied by

In 2016 we are headed to Canada’s coastal waters to photograph the humpbacks on the following tours:

June 2016:

July 2016:

In 2017 we are headed to Canada’s coastal waters to photograph the humpbacks on the following tours:

June 2017:

northern gannet.jpg

Northern Gannet - One of the largest seabirds of the North Atlantic, the gannet is spectacular as it plunges into the sea in pursuit of fish. With a spear-like bill and spiky tail, it looks "pointed at both ends." Nesting colonies are on northern sea cliffs; one at Bonaventure Island, Quebec, has become a famous tourist destination. In winter off southern coastlines, the gleaming white adults may be outnumbered by brown and patchy immatures; it takes four years for gannets to attain full adult plumage.

Feeding Behavior - Forages by plunging headfirst into water, sometimes from more than 100' above surface. Also forages while swimming, submerging head to peer below surface and then diving and swimming underwater. May take food at surface, or may steal food from other birds.

Eggs - One. Pale blue to white, becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by both sexes, 42-46 days. Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Age at first flight 84-97 days. Only one young raised per year.

Young - Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Age at first flight 84-97 days. Only one young raised per year.

Diet - Mainly fish. Feeds mostly on small fish (1-12" in length) of types that live in dense schools, including herring, sand lance, cod, pollack, menhaden. Also may eat some squid. Sometimes scavenges for scraps and offal around fishing boats.

Nesting - Usually first breeds at age of 5-6 years, and may mate for life. Breeds in tightly packed colonies, with much competition for prime nest sites. Male claims nest territory and displays to attract mate, with exaggerated sideways shaking of head. Mated pairs greet each other by standing face to face, wings out, knocking bills together and bowing. Nest: Site is on ledge or flat ground, often within 2-3 feet of other nesting gannets. Nest (built mostly by male) is pile of grass, seaweed, dirt, feathers, compacted and held together by droppings, used by same pair for years and gradually building up to tall mound.

*info supplied by

In 2016 we are headed to Quebec to photograph the largest Gannet colony in North America.

In 2017 we are headed to Quebec to photograph the largest Gannet colony in North America. Our 2017 trip information is not live yet, to go on our waiting list, click here,

Common Loon - The Common Loon is one of the five loon species. Its closest relative is the other large black-headed species, the Yellow-billed Loon or White-billed Diver.

Adults can range from 61 to 100 cm (24–40 inches) in length with a 122–152 cm (4–5-foot) wingspan, slightly smaller than the similar Yellow-billed Loon (or "White-billed Diver"). The weight can vary from 1.6 to 8 kg (3.6 to 17.6 lbs). On average a Common Loon is about 81 cm (32 inches) long, has a wingspan of 136 cm (54 inches), and weighs about 4.1 kg (9 lbs).

Breeding adults have a black head, white underparts, and a checkered black-and-white mantle. Non-breeding plumage is brownish, with the chin and foreneck white. The bill is black-blue and held horizontally. The bill colour and angle distinguish this species from the similar Yellow-billed Loon.

Bone structure contains a number of solid bones (unlike normally hollow avian bones), which add weight but help in diving.

Distribution and habitat - The Common Loon breeds in North America, Greenland, Iceland, and Great Britain. This species winters on sea coasts or on large lakes of south Europe and the United States, and south to northwestern areas of Africa.

Behavior - Chicks will ride on their parents' backs. This species, like all divers, is a specialist fish-eater, catching its prey underwater, diving as deep as 60 m (200 ft). Freshwater diets consist of pike, perch, sunfish, trout, and bass; salt-water diets consist of rock fish, flounder, sea trout, and herring.

The bird needs a long distance to gain momentum for take-off, and is ungainly on landing. Its clumsiness on land is due to the legs being positioned at the rear of the body: this is ideal for diving but not well-suited for walking. When the birds land on water, they skim along on their bellies to slow down, rather than on their feet, as these are set too far back. The loon swims gracefully on the surface, dives as well as any flying bird, and flies competently for hundreds of kilometers in migration. It flies with its neck outstretched, usually calling a particular tremolo that can be used to identify a flying loon. Its flying speed is about 120 km/h (75 mph) during migration. Its call has been alternately called "haunting," "beautiful," "thrilling," "mystical", and "enchanting."

The Common Loon nests are usually placed on islands, where ground-based predators cannot normally access them. However, eggs and nestlings have been taken by gulls, raccoons, skunks, minks, foxes, snapping turtles, and large fish. Adults are not regularly preyed upon, but have been taken by sea otters (when wintering) and Bald Eagles. Ospreys have been observed harassing divers, more likely out of kleptoparasitism than predation. When approached by a predator of either its nest or itself, divers sometimes attack the predator by rushing at it and attempting to impale it through the abdomen or the back of the head or neck.

Breeding - The female lays 1 to 3 eggs on a hollowed-out mound of dirt and vegetation very close to water. Both parents build the nest, sit on the egg or eggs, and feed the young.

Relationship with humans - These birds have disappeared from some lakes in eastern North America due to the effects of acid rain and pollution, as well as lead poisoning from fishing sinkers and mercury contamination from industrial waste. Artificial floating nesting platforms have been provided for loons in some lakes to reduce the impact of changing water levels due to dams and other human activities.

This diver is well known in Canada, appearing on the one-dollar "loonie" coin and the previous series of $20 bill, and is the provincial bird of Ontario. Also, it is the state bird of Minnesota.

The voice and appearance of the Common Loon has made it prominent in several Native American tales. These include a story of a loon which created the world in a Chippewa story; a Micmac saga describes Kwee-moo, the loon who was a special messenger of Glooscap (Glu-skap), the tribal hero; native tribes of British Columbia believed that an excess of calls from this bird predicted rain, and even brought it; and the tale of the loon's necklace was handed down in many versions among Pacific Coast peoples. Folk names include big loon, black-billed loon, call-up-a-storm, ember-goose,

We often see Loons on our workshops and have experience anticipating their movement to offer you the best opportunity to photograph them in the environment.

Annually we take small intimate groups up to photograph the Common Loon in Ontario.

In 2016 you can read about our trips here.

In 2017 our schedule is not complete, but you can contact us to go on our waiting list.

I hope you consider joining us on one of our Canadian trips in 2016 and 2017. All of our Canadian workshops can be seen here,





Kevin A Pepper

Kevin is a photographer and educator based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first love is photographing nature, regardless of the season or weather condition; the Ontario landscape and its wildlife are his inspiration. But you will also see other styles of photography in his portfolio. From street photography to urban exploration of abandoned buildings and architecture, he loves to capture it all with his camera for his corporate clients and his growing personal portfolio. Kevin’s images have been featured in Canadian Nature Photographer, PHOTONews Canada, Photo Technique Magazine, The London Free Press, The Weather Network, and National Geographic Online. His diverse client list includes the City of Cambridge, Olympus, GORE Mutual, TVO, and African Lion Safari. Kevin also operates “Northof49 Photography”, a company launched in 2012 dedicated to teaching amateur photographers through International and Canadian-based workshops. In the coming year, Kevin will be leading workshops in Iceland, Mongolia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Provence, and numerous destinations across Canada. Website: