Looking for Whales

Common Whale Watching Misconceptions

You can see orca whales everyday from Lime Kiln State Park on San Juan Island.

False! Although Lime Kiln (also known as Whale Watch Park) is one of the best places for a chance to view orcas from land, they do not swim by the location everyday. There are, unfortunately, days that there are no orcas seen within a 90-mile radius of the San Juan Islands. An equally great place to view wildlife from shore, that does not require a ferry ride, is Washington Park located right in Anacortes. Anacortes is home to many hiking travels, beautiful beaches, and stunning views of Rosario Strait, a waterway that the resident orcas frequent in the summer months.

Orcas Island is named after killer whales.

False! Orcas (pronounced “orcus”) Island is actually named after a regal official who sent an expedition out to the islands in the late 1700’s.

If it is raining you will not see whales.

False! Rain does not generally affect whale sightings. This is wildlife in the wild. Whales still need to eat, they still need to come to the surface to breathe. They don’t just “go away” when the weather is not perfect. The biggest thing that is effect by the rain is how comfortable you will be while watching the whales and wildlife. Choosing a comfortable boat is key when booking a whale watching tour.

Smaller boats get closer to the whales.

False! All vessels in the Salish Sea region departing from mainland Washington, the San Juan Islands, Vancouver, or Victoria (whether they be commercial or recreational) all must abide by county, state, and federal laws when operating around whales. Federal law states that when in operation around orca whales, which are an endangered species, you must obtain a safe viewing distance of at least 200 yards from the animals. Of course, the animals do not know what the laws are and may approach a vessel on their own. When this happens it is nothing short of spectacular and makes for great lifetime memories, but in no case can any vessel purposely get closer than any other boats in this area.

The whales are tagged so you know where they are all the time.

False! The wildlife here in the San Juan Islands is not tagged. All whale watching companies in the area leave the dock everyday and need to go out and physically find the whales. With whales moving over 100 miles in a day, each day, each tour is new. The whales will not necessarily be in the same spot as they were yesterday, or the day before that. The companies that are apart of the Pacific Whale Watch Association do all work together in finding whales and relaying any related whale information to each other. Even if the whale were tagged, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that they would be within range on a given day.

The resident orca pods are always here.

False! Unfortunately, there are not always orcas in the area. These animals thrive on food supply. The resident orcas, in particular, feed on salmon and are consistently following the fish runs; this means that some days they are off the west coast of Washington or the west side of Vancouver Island, sometimes over 100 miles away from the San Juan Island and unreachable via a whale watching tour. There are, however, other whales and wildlife to be seen (seals, sea lions, sea birds, a variety of porpoise, as well as minke whales, humpback whales, and gray whales). Choosing a company that has fast, safe, comfortable vessels, has ability to cover a lot of water during their tour time, and that guarantees whale sightings should be a priority when making your decisions. Companies like Island Adventures and Port Angeles Whale Watch Company are great choices that hit all the marks of a great whale watching company.