Watching in Washington State
was created to help potential whale watchers make an educated
choice regarding their next whale watching vacation or day trip
in Washington State and the San Juan Islands. These days there
are many choices of whale
watch boats and
whale watching companies in the Puget Sound region. It is important
that the consumers know a little about the industry in order to
make a decision that works for them and their families.
is the best place to see whales in Washington?
eco-travelers, and serious whale watchers agree that the water
around the San Juan Islands is the best place in the world to
view Orca Whales in the wild..
Anacortes is located on the east side of the
San Juan Islands on Fidalgo Island and is a natural
place to join a whale watch trip.
Easily accessed from either Seattle, or Vancouver BC, this is
the only San Juan Island that has no ferry hassles to deal with
in order to access it. You can drive right to it over one of two
bridges. We have tried other places and this is our favorite by a
wide margin. Follow the link to Whale
Watch Departure Locations for more!
area lies in the "rain shadow" of the Olympic Mountains.
Consequently, the weather is much drier and sunnier than elsewhere
in Western Washington. The average rainfall is less than 25 inches
per year. The Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island protect this
beautiful archipelago from the ravages of the Pacific Ocean and
the water is generally very calm. This adds to the appeal of whale
watching out here, especially if you've experienced the stomach
churning whale watch trips off of the coast of New England.
172 named islands in the San Juans. They are surrounded by deep,
cold waters that support an incredible variety of wildlife all
year long. The best whale watch companies design their trips so
that people spend a lot of quality time with the whales and also
see a long list of the other creatures that call this place home.
If you are not given the opportunity to experience more than just
whales, you are not getting the most "bang for your buck."
quick overview of the whales around the San Juan Islands
- The local Resident Orca whales are what
the region is most famous for. There are three resident pods,
or families, of orcas that call the San Juan Islands home.
About 90 individuals are in J-pod, K-pod, and L-pod. The
Center for Whale Research began studying these animals
30 years ago and gives each individual a name and number.
These professional researchers can identify the whales at
a glance and spend enough time with them to consider them
friends. What makes whale watching out here so fun is the
very social nature of these particular whales. It is not uncommon
to have whales swim very near the boats. Photographers love
the them because they tend to breach (jump out of the water)
more than other whale populations. Even the amateur with a
disposable camera is often rewarded with an incredible shot.
- There is another type of Orca out here as well. The Transient
Orca population regularly patrols the waters around
the San Juan Islands looking for prey. Unlike the Resident
whales who eat only fish, the Transients are seeking out warm-blooded
marine mammals. Coming upon a group of these killer whales
in the process of making a kill is like watching the Discovery
- Orca whales are only one of the whale species that can be
enjoyed in Washington. Minke Whales are commonly
encountered when the boats head out to the more open waters
of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Minkes are the smallest of
the baleen whales (this is like referring to a "small"
elephant, they are still big), and feed on small baitfish
in the water column. Watching them lunge out of the water
as they scoop up their food is a dramatic event. Check out
the photo, 3rd from the left, below.
- Gray Whales
migrate from Baja, Mexico to Alaska each year and visit the
islands in the spring. Often they arrive in March and stay
until May, but over the last three years there have been Gray
whales staying in the San Juan Islands all summer long.
Humpback Whales used to be a rarity in the San Juans. These days
the population of North Pacific Humpback Whales has increased
to the point that they are now often seen in Washington and Canadian
waters. Usually they are encountered predominately in the late
summer, but they have been seen in all of the summer months. Humpbacks
(AKA "the Big Guys") in the area can put on an amazing
show, as can be seen on the filmstrip below. Two big guys breaching
companies will guarantee whale
sightings in the San Juan Islands. This shows their confidence
in being able to give you what you paid for. If they aren't guaranteeing
success then they may be hiding something. You will find that
nearly every company will boast of high sucess rates in finding
whales, but very few will actually post their record in real numbers,
and fewer still will post daily sightings. Go with a company that
is not hiding being fuzzy statistics.
Adventures in Anacortes posts a record
breaking 235 successful whale watch trips....in a row, in 2005, and 258 out of 264 in 2008!
They also post a daily whale report that talks about the trips
and what was encountered. This is a company that backs up their
claims with facts. And they have an ironclad guarantee.
Look around, and ask
a lot of questions,
a whale watching company. Your choice could make the
difference between a disappointment, and an unforgettable experience.
The website for thePacific Whale Watch Association
is a great place to begin.
Happy Whale Watching!