With so many different departure locations, companies, and boat styles to pick from when choosing a whale-watching trip, it can get confusing. The goal of this site is to help give a little more insight to the whale watching industry and to help the consumer make the best decision for what is going to work best and fit the needs of for their whale watching expectations.
What kind of whales do you want to see? What time of year will you be visiting Western Washington? These are two questions that you will want to keep in mind when planning a whale watching trip and picking your departure location. There are different whales that can be seen more commonly during a particular season from a particular departure location: Spring (March – May) is the best time for gray whales, Summer (May – September) is the best time for orca and minke whales, and the Fall (September – November) tends to be the best time for humpback whales.
Northbound migration Gray whales stop to feed in the calm, protected waters of Saratoga Passage for about 3 months. The rich feeding grounds have been attracting these whale for decades. The calm protected waters, high sighting success rates, and convenient location (no ferry necessary) makes Everett a perfect departure location to see these gentile giants.
Researchers, eco-travelers, and serious whale watchers agree that the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands, known as the Salish Sea (ecosystem composed of Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Strait of Georgia), is the best place in the world to view orcas (other wise known as killer whales) in the wild.
Anacortes is located on the east side of the San Juan Islands on Fidalgo Island and is 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.
Port Angeles is located directly south of the largest whale watching fleet on the West Coast of North America, in Victoria BC. Departing from Port Angeles gives the consumer the opportunity to go farther west into the Strait of Juan de Fuca than any other US company. The Strait of Juan de Fuca is home to a vast amount of wildlife such as Pacific White-sided dolphins, Elephant seals, sea otters, humpbacks, minkes, and orcas: Residents, Transient, and even the occasional California Transients (referred to as Exotics by the Pacific Whale Watch Association).
If you are planning on going out to visit the Olympic National Park, which is highly recommended, you should definitely take the opportunity to go whale watching from Port Angeles.
The best whale watching companies design their trips so that people spend the maximum amount of time with whales and other wildlife. Finding a company that enjoys showing its customers a vast amount of scenery and wildlife will give you the most “bang for your buck”!
Companies are so competitive: beware of shorter trip lengths, ferry type services, slower/smaller boats, and no whale guarantee. If a company could guarantee whales, they would. Nearly every company will boast of a high success rate, but will not back their statements with real numbers or with a daily sightings log.
Look around and ask a lot of questions before choosing a whale watching company. Everyone will want something a little different in his or her whale watching experience, so make sure your choice is carefully selected. The website for the Pacific Whale Watch Association is a great place to begin.