Commercial whale watching in the San Juan Islands is roughly 25 years old. Over the last decade the boats have become larger and faster, and the captains have become better at prediction the location of the whales on any given day. In the 1990s whale watch vessels would leave the docks with little more than a guess and a prayer that they would see whales — today they leave with total confidence that their search for the animals will prove fruitful.
How do these captains have such confidence? Keeping track of up to 5 kinds of whales (humpback whales, resident fish eating orca, transient mammal eating orca, minke, and gray whales), some of which can travel around 100 miles in a 24-hour period, is no easy task.
Well, over these last 25+ years an incredible network of whale-savvy people has come together to keep daily tabs on these most remarkable creatures:
All of these individuals working together has resulted in the most comprehensive knowledge of orca whale movements anywhere in the world. This has been extremely beneficial to the scientific research community as well. When anything unusual or interesting happens there is generally someone on scene who can alert the researchers and get them on scene rapidly.
These days every company has a greater chance to see whales on any given whale watch tour. There are even a few companies that are so well informed, and so confident in their ability to find whales that they guarantee sightings on every trip!
To keep track of the whales in the Salish Sea, check out the Whale Report on the Island Adventures website. Island Adventures also has a Satellite Link for the whale locations that is a lot of fun — here you can see where their vessels, the Island Explorer 3 and Island Explorer 4, have seen whales over the last 7 days.
For basic whale information, to ID guides, current whale sightings, or to Adopt a Whale, Orca Network, the Center for Whale Research, and the Whale Museum are all great sources for all things whale related.
The Pacific Whale Watch Association promotes research, education, and responsible wildlife viewing. When you choose a boat, make sure that they are members of this progressive organization.