Minke, gray, humpback, and, on very rare occasions, blue are all whales sighted off the coast of the Evergreen State. But the most notable cetaceans swimming off the shores of Washington are the sleek black-and-white orcas, commonly referred to as killer whales.
These large mammals have lured tourists from all over the world, causing a number of boat excursion and kayak tour businesses to sprout up all along the coast. In September 2017, Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams traveled to the San Juan Islands to catch a glimpse of some of the breathtaking Pacific Northwest marine wildlife.
About 90 miles (144.8 kilometers) north of Seattle, on the edge of Fidalgo Island, sits Anacortes. It’s a small city, home to just over 15,000 people, but its outdoor recreational activities and access to the San Juan Islands make it a must-visit destination. From hiking to kayaking, Anacortes offers it all, and its proximity to the Strait of Juan de Fuca provides some of the best opportunities to spot a variety of whales.
The water surrounding the small town is home to three pods of resident orcas, and viewers are likely to catch glimpses of humpback, minke, and gray whales along the ride. Anacortes offers three boat excursions for tourists and locals alike: Island Adventures, Mystic Sea Charters, and Blackfish Tours by Outer Island Expeditions.
While the Emerald City may seem a little too busy with ferries for the large mammals to swim freely, they’re occasionally spotted along West Seattle and in Elliott Bay. But for more intimate, uninterrupted sightings, watchers may want to hop onboard the Seattle Orca Whale Watching Tour. It’s pricier than some of the other excursions on this list, but that’s because the whale-watchers shuttle to their tour by a Kenmore Air seaplane.
Tour package prices range from season to season, costing anywhere from $355 to $389. Tourists can expect to depart from Seattle’s Lake Union where they then make their way to Friday Harbor. The journey provides possible aerial sightings and expansive views of the Pacific Northwest. After landing, watchers hop onboard a San Juan Safaris Whale Watching and Wildlife Tour boat and make for the water.
On the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula sits Port Townsend, a small town with no more than 10,000 residents. From its 40-year-old Wooden Boat Festival to Fort Worden State Park, one of three military forts that makes up the Admiralty Inlets “Triangle of Fire,” the town’s history is deeply connected to the surrounding water.
Docked along the shores of Port Townsend is the Puget Sound Express, a four-hour whale-watching tour. The 40-seat boat, which departs twice daily, allows for both indoor and outdoor seating. Visitors can expect to start seeing everything from tufted puffins, California sea lions, humpback and minke whales, and, of course, orcas about 90 minutes into the journey.
Friday Harbor, the witchy setting for the 1998 film Practical Magic starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock, is a whale-watching hot spot. Located on San Juan Island with no more than 2,500 residents, Friday Harbor is accessible by floater planes and the Washington State Ferry. Once there, the small town offers a number of taxis, mopeds, and bicycles for tourist transportation.
Because of its prime location on the Puget Sound, whale-watchers don’t need to rely solely on boat tours for sightings. Viewers have spotted these large mammals from the shores of Lime Kiln North State Park, which requires a Discovery Pass that costs anywhere from $10 for the day to $30 for the year. But for those who prefer a closer look, Friday Harbor offers a total of 15 tours, including the San Juan Safaris, Western Prince Whale Watching, and Sea Quest Kayak Tours, just to name a few.
Port Angeles rests along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on the northern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. Like many of the towns situated on the Olympic Peninsula, Port Angeles sits underneath the Pacific Northwest’s rain shadow, meaning it gets significantly less rain than many other Western Washington cities. Its lack of rain, location, and deep harbor are a perfect combination for whale-watching enthusiasts.
One such opportunity is the Port Angeles Whale Watch Tours, which offers five-hour tours that head east along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Along the way, tourists have the chance to see everything from elephant seals, Steller sea lions, salmon-eating and mammal-eating orcas, and the tour’s highlight, humpback whales.