Orcas at Risk? Culture & Conservation of West Coast Killer Whales

The plight of Southern Resident Killer Whales has received international attention in recent years.  Too much noise, disturbance and contaminants, and­ –– perhaps most importantly –– insufficient food, have all played a role in putting this population at serious risk.  But while Southern Residents are struggling, other killer whale populations along the west coast are thriving.  In this lecture, cetacean research biologist Dr. John Ford describes the importance of cultural traditions in the lives of orcas and how these dictate where they go, who they associate with, what they eat, and, ultimately, how well they can cope with a changing marine environment.

Raincoast Walk

Come learn about local ecology and the connection between the land and the sea, with Raincoast Education Society biologist. Meet at the Whale Lot (Lighthouse Loop). Rain or shine!

Shorebird Shoreline Clean up

In preparation for an annual feeding frenzy, and to salute World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD), the Raincoast Education Society, along with partners, the Tofino Botanical Gardens, Surfrider Pacific Rim, and Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society, will be cleaning up plastic pollution from the mudflats shoreline.

The Tofino Mudflat areas and adjacent beaches bustle with busy bills frantically fueling up for a long and arduous journey. With 10’s of 1000’s of these feathered friends due to arrive on the shorelines, and the 22nd annual Tofino Shorebird Festival both quickly approaching, the aim is to help restore this critical stopover site and ensure the success of each bird along its migration route.

If you’d like to learn more, stop by The Tofino Botanical Gardens, on April 13, 2019, from 10:30-1:30. Better yet, grab a bucket and some friends, head to your favourite beach or area of the Inlet, and help us this spring, as we welcome back the birds.

Birds of the West Coast

This course is now full! Email us to be added to the waitlist in case of cancellation.

The west coast of Vancouver Island features some of the best birding opportunities in North America. Lying directly along the Pacific Flyway, this region hosts huge numbers of migrating birds of all kinds each spring and fall. In the winter, the diversity and abundance of non-breeding birds remains high thanks to wide range of habitats and a mild climate. Tofino in particular is well-known birding hot-spot. Expansive mudflats provide an ideal stopover site used by tens of thousands of shorebirds each spring and fall, highly productive coastal waters sustain several large colonies of seabirds, and a mix of coastal rainforest and deciduous forest habitats attract a wide variety of breeding songbirds.

In this three day workshop (Friday evening until Sunday noon), participants will be introduced to the general ecology and biology of birds with an emphasis on the species commonly found in and around Clayoquot Sound. Topics covered will include basic ID skills, breeding biology, physiological adaptations, migration ecology, and conservation issues. This course is designed as a way to learn more about birds in general rather than how to ID specific species. Although participants will certainly learn how to ID common species, extensive birding experience is NOT required.

Course Registration is $280 per person, and includes Sunday’s boat trip and lunch on Saturday and Sunday.

Course instructor Mark Maftei’s passion for birds has taken him around the globe, from Ellesmere Island in the Canadian High Arctic to South Georgia Island in the Southern Ocean. Although he specializes in Arctic species, Mark’s more recent work with Environment Canada focused on ecological studies of colonial seabirds along the BC coast.  Mark has been involved with several projects right here in Clayoquot Sound, and he has a unique insight into the ecology of the region. Mark is also the Executive Director of the Raincoast Education Society.

Weekend Schedule (subject to change):

Friday (7:00 pm – 9:00 pm)
Darwin’s Cafe at the Tofino Botanical Gardens

  • Introduction to the general biology and ecology of birds.
  • What makes birds unique?
  • How have they adapted to the habitats in which they live?

Note: this evening talk will be open to the public. Course participants do not have to pay admission as it is included in the cost of the course.

Saturday (8:30 am – 10:00 am)
Darwin’s Café

  • · Basic ID skills – what to look for in the field

(10:00 am – 4:00 pm) Field

  • We will spend the day outside looking at birds in a number of habitats around Tofino

(6:00 pm – 8:00 pm) Darwin’s Café

  • Life History – what are the strategies and adaptations birds have evolved to thrive in virtually every single habitat on earth?

Sunday (6:00 am – 1:00 pm)

  • Boat trip! We will spend the day on the water observing and learning more about seabirds, the coolest birds of all!

Recommended Equipment and Reading
Any good bird guide (Sibley’s, Peterson’s, National Geographic)
A decent pair of binoculars
Field notebook and pencil
Appropriate clothing for all day in the field—rain or shine


Marine Ecology – TAP Session

This three-hour session focuses on the rich marine environment that plays an integral role in life on this coast. This course will cover the intertidal and pelagic ecosystems of Clayoquot Sound, including seaweeds, invertebrates, and marine mammals (and more!) as well as local oceanographic conditions.

Small Town, Big Picture is a suggested prerequisite for this course.

Location: Tofino Community Hall in the multi-purpose room (351 Arnet Road)

Time: 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Dates: April 30, May 16, June 3

Participants of the Ambassador course will receive an Ambassador Card. Show your card for discounts and benefits at many local businesses!

This program is offered as a joint initiative of the Tofino Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Raincoast Education Society. Thank you to the District of Tofino for donating this space. Tourism Tofino is the main sponsor of this FREE program, along with the Chamber’s Business Excellence Awards gala event (May 9th).

Small Town, Big Picture – TAP Session

This three-hour orientation session delivers the “big picture” of living in Tofino. Learn about local history and basic ecology, cross-cultural understanding, businesses and activities, festivals, host etiquette, and important civic information. This is a great way to get up-to-date locals information about living and working in Tofino.

This course is a suggested prerequisite for other courses.

Location: Tofino Community Hall in the multi-purpose room (351 Arnet Road)

Time: 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Dates: May 1, May 8, May 9, May 15, May 22, June 5, June 12, June 13

Participants of the Ambassador course will receive an Ambassador Card. Show your card for discounts and benefits at many local businesses!

This program is offered as a joint initiative of the Tofino Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Raincoast Education Society. Thank you to the District of Tofino for donating this space. Tourism Tofino is the main sponsor of this FREE program, along with the Chamber’s Business Excellence Awards gala event (May 9th).

Opening Night of the Tofino Shorebird Festival

Welcome to the 22nd Annual Tofino Shorebird Festival!

with guest speaker Dr. Grant Gilchrist, Research Scientist with ECCC

6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Middle Beach Lodge Conference Room (400 MacKenzie Beach Road)

$20 per person ($15 for kids) *tickets must be purchased in advance, limited seating

We will kick off the Tofino Shorebird Festival with a social evening to celebrate the migration of the shorebirds, meet other bird enthusiasts, and go over the festival schedule while enjoying food and drink. The meet and greet will be followed by a presentation from Dr. Grant Gilchrist, an ECCC Research Scientist.

Research in a Changing Arctic:  Conservation Biology of Arctic Birds

We often view the Arctic as a pristine wilderness largely free of environmental threats, but times are changing. Climate change can influence species directly by modifying their physical environment, or indirectly by altering interactions among organisms. For example, changes affecting the ecology of top predators are expected to be a particular concern because variation in predator behaviour has the potential to restructure food webs and lead to cascading ecological impacts on prey populations. From egg-eating polar bears to insatiable snow geese, Grant will examine a number of fascinating case studies tracking the response of waterfowl, seabirds and shorebirds to shifts in climate and local conditions on their Arctic breeding grounds.

Space is limited, with tickets available for purchase to the left of this page.

Ticket purchase includes hors d’oeuvres, one drink ticket, and the evening presentation. This event will fill up quick so please get your tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment!

Dr. Grant Gilchrist is a Research Scientist at the National Wildlife Research Centre in Ottawa (Environment and Climate Change Canada) and currently an adjunct professor at Carleton University, Acadia University, McGill University, and the University of Windsor. Early in his career he was influenced and inspired by several long-term ecological studies led by Jamie Smith (song sparrows, University of British Columbia), Tony Gaston (seabirds, Environment Canada), and Ian Stirling (Polar Bears, Environment Canada). These studies not only quantified environmental change over time, but also the often-complex responses of wildlife to these changes. These rare studies were instrumental when detecting ecological change driven by extreme weather events, diet shifts, the emergence of diseases, and climate change; all issues that might otherwise have gone undetected.

After joining Environment Canada in 1995, Grant worked to emulate these studies when designing his own research program to address Federal priorities to conserve Arctic birds and ecosystems. He now leads multidisciplinary research programs in the field to provide insights into the underlying processes of Arctic bird ecology. These include foraging behaviour, reproduction, migration, winter distribution, and how birds are affected by changing climate and emerging diseases in the north. His studies are very collaborative and multidisciplinary in nature; linking academia, government, industry, and Indigenous organizations. He takes a particular interest in communicating his scientific discoveries to the public and supporting early career scientists.

Offshore Birding

with seabird guide Mark Maftei (Sat) and Daniel Donnecke (Sun) from the Raincoast Education Society

7:00 am (depart dock) to ~ 4:00 pm

Ocean Outfitters (368 Main Street)

$220 per person + tax

This trip will be an all-day excursion to some of the offshore banks and canyons in search of albatrosses, shearwaters, storm-petrels and other pelagic birds. Exact route to be determined based on local weather, fishing activity, and recon of where birds seem to be concentrating. Our goal is to bird out to, and then along, the shelf edge near some of the large offshore canyons about 55 km off the coast.

Previous years have turned up some amazing birds and marine mammals and this is a one-of-a-kind experience and a unique opportunity to explore the pelagic waters off of Vancouver Island. Early May is the transition when wintering species begin to move out and summer migrants arrive. This is a trip specifically designed around finding seabirds, led by seabird scientists, and is not a pleasure cruise.

Space is limited to 12 people, and seats are first-come, first-serve. Book online at Ocean Outfitters  or call 1-877-906-2326. The trip is weather dependent. In the event of cancellation, there will be a 100% refund. No refund for no-shows. Dress warm, bring your own lunch and water.

Birder’s Breakfast

with Chef Shaun Snelling from the Long Beach Lodge Resort

7:30 am – 11:30 am
Long Beach Lodge Great Room (1441 Pacific Rim Highway)
Menu price

Take advantage of all Tofino has to offer by starting your day with breakfast at the spectacular Long Beach Lodge Resort. Chef Snelling has prepared a special “birders breakfast” for this year’s Shorebird Festival – fuel up for a big day of events while enjoying the crashing waves and sanderlings at Cox Bay.

Birding by Kayak

with bird guide Shanti Davis from the Raincoast Education Society

8:00 am – 1:00 pm
Paddle West Kayaking (606 Campbell Street, same as Jamie’s Whaling Station)
$115 per person + tax

This five-hour sea kayaking tour will take you on a journey to experience extensive areas of prime shorebird habitat only accessible by water. The trip will leave at low tide and paddle into Lemmens Inlet to observe birds in the Tofino Mudflats Wildlife Management Area. We will return near high tide and have the opportunity to paddle while the tide is flooding for a more intimate experience. Sea kayaking experience is not necessary – double kayaks available so you can alternate with your partner paddling and birding!

Space is limited to 12 people. Please book online through Paddle West Kayaking or call 1-877-479-3232 *Note: bookings go through Jamie’s Whaling Station.