The Pacific Rim Whale Festival is breaching for a COVID-safe return in March. Poster photo by Owen Crosby

The Pacific Rim Whale Festival is breaching for a COVID-safe return in March. Poster photo by Owen Crosby

Pacific Rim Whale Festival aims for virtual return in March

Educational celebration scheduled to arrive in Tofino-Ucluelet on March 15.

Like the grey whales it salutes, the Pacific Rim Whale Festival is poised to return to the Tofino-Ucluelet region this March.

Every March, tens of thousands of grey whales splash through the region’s waters during their roughly 16,000-kilometre migration from Mexico to the Arctic. To celebrate the annual spectacle that migration brings to local waters, the West Coast launched the Pacific Rim Whale Festival in 1987.

Following last year’s cancellation due to COVID restrictions, Whale Fest will make its 33rd appearance this spring, though it will require a creative approach due to ongoing pandemic-related restrictions, says festival coordinator Sarah Watt.

“Obviously, because of the current regulations in place, we’re not going to be putting out any events which encourage crowding of any type or outside visitors to the West Coast, so we’re putting the majority of the events online so everybody can be involved from the safety of their own homes,” Watt says.

Scheduled to run March 15 to 21, a calendar of events is expected to be posted to the festival’s website – pacificrimwhalefestival.com – in the coming weeks.

READ MORE: Whale Trail helps a Prairie girl spot whales from shore

Some public festivities during the week may target solo revellers and small “bubbles,” such as potential art features, public displays and scavenger hunts.

Many of the West Coast’s local organizations are onboard with the online-based format and have all become well-adapted to online presentations during the pandemic, she adds.

Hosting inspiring talks and presentations online could also open the festival up to a broader audience as marine life lovers across the globe will be able to tune in.

“I definitely think that’s a plus. In future years, when it’s safer to travel, if it reaches people who may never have heard about the Whale Festival before or know the beauty of all the nature along our coastline here, hopefully it can plant the seed in their minds and it will inspire them to come visit us,” she says, adding she’s excited to showcase the West Coast’s abundant research groups and organizations.

“It would be a great way to get it out there and reach potential crowds that maybe we’ve never targeted before and also give them an idea of all the great organizations based on this coast and what they’re doing to help conserve our ecosystem.”

While the festival is focused on grey whales, there’s no shortage of wonders to celebrate locally.

“It’s a great way to get the community together and feeling inspired about what is along our coastline,” Watt says. “The main focus is on the grey whale migration, it’s an epic migration, the grey whales return to us every year and whale watching is one of the core activities in our communities, but also we just have so much great nature and wildlife and all the organizations in the area who celebrate it and put so much time and effort into serving our marine ecosystems as well.”

READ MORE: Long-lost BC orca pod returns home for first time in more than 20 years

There will also be a keen focus on the region’s arts community and how the ocean connects with West Coasts residents.

“As much as it’s about the wildlife, I think it’s a way to celebrate the people along this coastline and what they’re doing for the wildlife,” Watt says.

Information for how to participate in the festival will be posted at pacificrimwhalefestival.com as well as on its Instagram and Facebook pages.

Anyone interested in reaching out, getting involved or sharing ideas is encouraged to reach out to watt at whalefest.coordinator@gmail.com.

“The dates are fast approaching,” she said. “As much as this is for national and international visitors, we also just want it to be a celebration between our communities along the West Coast here.”

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Please note that Provincial Health Protocols currently advise against travelling outside your region to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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