Whale Watching off San Juan Island

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I couldn’t stay on the San Juan Islands chain and not go whale watching!   This area of the U.S is particularly abundant in wildlife, especially in the summer.  And the summer also brings along the infamous Orca.

I’d already been won over by the beauty of the San Juans, therefore was chuffed when San Juan Island Visitors Bureau told me they’d arranged for me to go whale watching with San Juan Island Whale and Wildlife Tours.

Whale Watching with San Juan Island Whale and Wildlife Tours

Operating out of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, this tour company was, to me, special because their boat – Natsilane – only holds six passengers, hence making the trip very personal…not full of people crammed together.

Excited to be going whale watching with San Juan Island Whale and Wildlife Tour
Excited to be going whale watching with San Juan Island Whale and Wildlife Tour

We aim to make this an educational, not just a tourism trip

our Captain for the evening, Alan Niles assured us.  He was right – but not educational in a dull way, far from it!

Two types of Orcas

As the six of us pulled out of Friday Harbor on the 2.5 hour evening tour at 17:30, Captain Niles was visibly exited as he explained the difference between the two types of ‘killer whales:’

Whale watching off San Juan Island
Whale watching off San Juan Island
Resident

Resident Orcas are named because they live specifically in inland or coastal waters. In the Pacific Northwest they are an endangered species with only 81 whales left. They feed on Chinook Salmon which is very calorie rich and hunt in groups as they are highly social animals.  As the salmon are not particularly sensitive to sound, these orcas can successfully communicate to each other when underwater with their unique vocalisations.

Transients

These are your National Geographic style stealth killers! As their name suggests, they disappear for months, even years at a time and hunt in small groups, usually up to approximately six whales.  These are the seal-eating Orcas, the real ‘killer whales’ if you like (although I dislike using that term if I’m honest – nature is nature after all!)  In contrast to the Residents, because their prey may hear them if vocalisations are used, then these whales rarely breach or splash. They spend long periods of time swimming underwater looking for their prey, occasionally popping their head up to see what’s around – then BOOM!

Orcas hunting seals on our whale watching trip!
Orcas hunting seals on our whale watching trip!

Captain Niles was particularly excited on our trip.  Having already been out once that day, his adrenaline was still rushing as he told us that Transients were in the area, and lots of

blood and guts

had occurred with seals – let’s get back out there!  And so we did…me with mixed feelings, but assuring myself that this is nature, after all.

Seal toast? Whale watching off the San Juan Islands
Seal toast? Whale watching off the San Juan Islands
Popping head up for a look - where are the seals? Whale Watching off San Juan Island
Popping head up for a look – where are the seals? Whale Watching off San Juan Island
The whale watching trip

We ended up seeing so much activity that evening, we couldn’t help staying out past 2.5 hours – more like three.  This meant we ended up seeing the sun set – and yes, we saw stealth in action:

  • seals sleeping
  • whales approaching
  • seals getting worried
  • seal enters water
  • seal is toast

(Remember, this is nature!)

Whales spouting at sunset
Whales spouting at sunset
Popping head up to have a look around - whale watching off San Juan Island at sunset
Popping head up to have a look around – whale watching off San Juan Island at sunset

Whale watching Facts

  • The cost of a 2.5 hour whale watching tour with San Juan Island Whale and Wildlife tour is $105 for adults, $85 for Children aged 4-12 years and infants = free.  This is excluding tax.
  • Bring a waterproof jacket, wear trousers and a jumper as it does get chilly (as you can imagine!), even in the summer.
  • San Juan Island Whale and Wildlife Tours give a lovely list of recommendations here on how you can help the whales in your daily life. I suggest reading it.

**My thanks to San Juan Islands Whale and Wildlife Tours and Captain Alan Niles for his permission to use some of his amazing shots of the evening. Also, thanks to Katie Flynn, office staff of San Juan Island Whale Watching Tour. Friendly, helpful and informative, she even offered me a ride back to my accommodation – not before we’d had a drink and fish and chips in the pub.**

**This amazing opportunity was arranged for me through the San Juan Island Visitors Bureau and was offered free of charge.  All opinions are my own.**

4 COMMENTS

  1. Rebecca,
    It was such a pleasure meeting you on the Natsilane this summer. That was a fantastic evening with the Transit Orcas, I’m so glad we got to hang out afterward as well. You’ve had so many amazing experiences in your travels and it was fun to learn about them.
    Until we meet again, I will visit with you on Facebook and read about your adventures on Life Beyond Bordors!

    All the Best!
    Katie Flynn
    San Juan Island Whales and Wildlife Tours
    http://Www.sanjuanislandwhales.com

    • It was a pleasure to meet you and the team Katie. It was an amazing evening – as Alan said: “pure National Geographic stuff”!

  2. What a great opportunity you had to see some of nature’s most amazing creatures up close and personal. Whale watching in the San Juans should be on everyone’s bucket list!

    • I completely agree Mark. I loved it – and it was very educational too. I love these kind of wildlife tours…I think everyone should educate themselves about our natural habitat.

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