Our History

founded in 1980 with whales as our primary focus

Dolphins - Stubbs Island Whale Watching

Stubbs Island Whale Watching was started in 1980 in Telegraph Cove and is British Columbia’s first company to specifically offer tours with whales as the primary focus.

When you visit Stubbs Island Whale Watching and Telegraph Cove there is an energy that surrounds this unique destination. There is something indisputably special about operating out of the epicentre of where both Whale Watching and Killer Whale research both began. 

Back in the mid 1970’s a young man known as Jim Borrowman relocated to Telegraph Cove to work at the local sawmill. During this time logging was big business and offered a variety of opportunities. While working at the mill Jim met Bill McKay and a friendship developed quickly between the two men. Both men shared a passion for diving and could often be found around their favourite spot, Stubbs Island. 

During this time Killer Whale research was in its infancy. Dr. Mike Bigg and his colleagues were working to develop new techniques to study Killer Whales and would eventually conduct the first population census ever on these animals. During this population study local researches became aware of Robson Bight and the rubbing behaviours of Northern Resident Killer Whales in this area. 

During the late 1970s a local logging company was looking to develop this critical habitat into a dry land sort which would bare great impact on this Northern Resident Killer Whale habitat. Jim and Bill spent many hours on the water and were friendly with the local researchers. When news began to circulate of the dry land sort development Jim and Bill teamed up with Dr. Mike Bigg, Graeme Elllis, Dr. John Ford and journalist Eric Hoyt to establish the Robson Bight (Mike Bigg) Ecological Reserve. 

After their involvement in the development of Robson Bight Jim and Bill decided they wanted to make a living on the water. Not owning a boat of their own they rented the ‘Gikumi’ from Mr. Fred Wastell and started running charters for both diving and to see Killer Whales in the wild. In order to “stay a float” Jim and Bill also used the Gikumi to run freight back and forth from Alert Bay. Eventually Jim Borrowman and Bill McKay bought the Gikumi and incorporated Stubbs Island Charters in 1981. They named the company after both men’s favourite diving site, Stubbs Island. 

In 1996 Jim and his wife Mary purchased the company from Bill and his wife Donna. With the continued development of Vancouver Island’s highway and a shifting mentality towards whales in the wild, tourists from around the world travelled to Telegraph Cove just to see the Orca and this still rings true today.

Years passed and tourism in Telegraph Cove was booming. Jim and Mary continued running wildlife and whale watching tours for many years to come. Then in 2011 Jim and Mary decided they wanted to start slowing down and possibly soon retire, so they put the company up for sale. 

News began to circulate that British Columbia’s first whale watching company was for sale. It did not take long for it to reach Heike Wieske and Geord Dunstan of Discovery Marine Safaris, a whale watching company operating out of Campbell River, B.C. only two and a half hours away. 

Heike and Geord had been operating Discovery Marine Safaris for five years and were growing frustrated with the lack of local support for tourism in Campbell River, a situation which has since changed drastically. Looking to brainstorm on how they would continue to move forward with their company the two decided to take a road trip. They headed north on Highway 19 and on the way decided to call Jim and Mary Borrowman to see if they could meet with them to discuss Stubbs. Driving home later that day Heike said ‘I think we are going to buy this company,’ and she was right.  

Months passed and the pair never heard from Jim and Mary. Then one rainy December day the phone rang. It was Jim Borrowman and he was curious as to whether the duo was still interested in making an offer. Excitement grew with the possibility of taking over an icon in their industry but the two would need a partner to complete the deal. Both Heike and Geord knew Roger McDonell another Campbell River local. Heike and Geord approached Roger about the deal and the three formed a partnership to complete the sale and continue to work together to this day. 

Part of the anticipation in purchasing Stubbs Island Charters was the way they operated and the ethical standards they uphold. The company has been involved in research since its inception and still is to this day. They regularly contribute sighting reports to the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) and the team also lends support to groups like Orca Lab by raising funds through their “I Saw Blackfish in the Wild” t-shirts.

In Telegraph Cove there is an energy that shapes things, from the diversity of the wildlife to the people who visit. There are so many things that make Stubbs Island and Telegraph Cove a truly special place to visit and invest your time. Guests are able to see so many different animals from Killer Whales and Humpbacks Whales to Steller Sea Lions and Eagles. It is jaw-dropping to be able to observe the “wild” in wildlife. This is one of the unique offerings of the North Island. You can look out onto the horizon, take in the wilderness and feel like you just might be at the end of the earth. For lack of better phrasing, it is a true escape form the ordinary and a gift to be able to operate at the epicentre of where research and whale watching began. 

After 31 years at the helm, Jim and Mary Borrowman turned over Stubbs Island Whale Watching in 2011 to a trio of partners. They remain in Telegraph Cove still to this day.