Today we were fortunate to have an amazing morning with a group of transient orca whales (T65A’s) only 20 minutes after leaving the dock. We were the first vessel with them, meeting up with them in the waters between Lummi and Eliza Islands. There were 5 adults and a baby – all were quite playful for a while (especially the baby), with tail slaps, flips and a spy hop. After a bit they pointed north and at about 4 kts, went up Hales passage. Combined with beautiful blue sky and plentiful sunshine, it was an incredible start to the day!
I started working for San Juan Cruises as finals week was wrapping up, not really knowing what I was getting into. As a student at Western Washington University, I was looking for a fun summer job so I could stay in Bellingham for summer break. I had never been whale watching before applying, so I was pleasantly surprised that I would be “required” to go on the Deluxe Whale Watching cruise after being hired. I chose to go out on a Saturday and I was not going to let the dreary Washington weather or the choppiness of Bellingham Bay deter me that morning. We headed out, making our way towards San Juan Island for our shore visit to Friday Harbor. Along the way, Captain Jeff entertained us with facts and history about the various islands we passed, pointing out wildlife like harbor seals and porpoises.
I spent the hour and a half visit in Friday Harbor perusing the art galleries and the San Juan Island Farmers Market, which boasted an array of local farmers and artisans. I left with a warm chocolate croissant in hand, and returned to the boat for a much awaited lunch of BBQ chicken and wild salmon, hot, buttery biscuits, rice pilaf, and fudgy brownies for (my second) dessert. By the time we left Friday Harbor, the skies had cleared and the sun was shining; it had turned into a beautiful day for whale watching. As we ate, the captain announced that there had been whale sightings just south of Victoria. We arrived on scene just in time to see a group of Transient orcas moving in from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, dorsal fins towering out of the water and blow holes spouting. I had never seen anything so beautiful or captivating.
After sticking with the orcas for some time, the captain gave us a choice—there was a humpback sighting not too far from where we were. The decision was unanimous, and we set off in search of a whale named Split-fin. Split-fin is frequently seen in the waters around the San Juan Islands and has made an appearance every summer since 2006. We were able to watch Split-fin for quite a while, his fluke at least six to seven feet across. As someone who had never seen a whale in real life, I was astounded by the sheer size of this amazing creature. Split-fin would dive for about ten minutes, resurface for a few minutes, and then dive again, flashing his fluke each time.
I spent the majority of the ride back to Bellingham on the outdoor deck, which had been warmed by the sun during our stop to watch Split-fin. As we made our way through Rosario Strait we past several Dall’s porpoises, a handful of sunbathing seals, and two stoic eagles perched atop a buoy. As our cruise came to a close and we entered Bellingham Bay, I was reminded again of how beautiful and unique this part of the world is. The Salish Sea and the San Juan Islands are one of a kind, and this cruise definitely reaffirmed my love for the Pacific Northwest.
This weekend was a reminder that summer isn’t too far away – beautiful sunny weather in the San Juans, the perfect setting for whale watching. Saturday and Sunday were all about humpback whales – we had great sightings both days up north of Patos Island, very close to the Canadian border. We have a few school field trips going out this week, with our next public whale watching tour scheduled for this Saturday. After that, we’ll be running whale watching tours daily through the end of September. We hope to see you aboard sometime soon!
The season is going great so far, with lots of great orca and humpback whale sightings. We’ve now done 4 Deluxe whale watching tours, plus several school field trips, and have seen orcas and/or humpbacks on every trip so far, with tours taking us west and north of the San Juan Islands so far. With great sightings so far, and a forecast for sun coming into the weekend, now’s a great time to join us. The Deluxe whale watching tour includes a tour of the San Juan Islands, a shore visit in Friday Harbor and our Northwest salmon & chicken buffet.
Our 2017 season kicked off with decent weather, but excellent whale sightings! We found a playful, active Humpback on Saturday, just north of Saturna Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands, and Sunday was Orca whales – lots and lots of Orcas (J-Pod) on the west side of San Juan Island. Thanks to Jim Bachman, we have some great photos from Saturday’s cruise. In addition to the Humpback whale, we also saw lots of other wildlife. For more info on our Deluxe Whale Watching tour, visit: https://whales.com/whale-watching/full-day-whale-watching-adventure-cruise/
This summer we have added a new whale watching tour that will go out Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during July and August. It’s a great chance to see the islands when summer weather is at it’s peek, while having a great chance of seeing whales and other wildlife. The evening is capped with a delicious, freshly prepared lasagna and Caesar salad dinner.
Departing at 4 pm from the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, we’ll cruise into the San Juan Islands, using information from our whale spotting network to find the best locations for viewing whales that evening. You’ll enjoy great views from the outdoor upper deck and along the bow of the boat, enjoying informative and entertaining narration from our captain.
The Salish Sea has ample indoor and outdoor seating, a bar with beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages available for purchase, and a restroom.
We had a great bird watching cruise this past weekend, a trip that took us through the middle of the San Juans, then north to Sucia and Patos Islands. We saw a nice variety of birds, with seals, sea lions and a Humpback whale as well. Thanks to Jim Bachman for his incredible photos from the day!
It’s been an amazing period of whale watching – great, sunny weather combined with lots of Orca and Humpback whale sightings. Thanks to former crew member Eric Creitz, who came aboard our August 12th tour and shared these photos with us.
We had a beautiful sunny day for special bird trip to go see the elusive Tufted Puffins of the San Juan Islands.There is only one nesting colony left in the San Juan Archipelago, although there use to be several. Remote Smith Island, several miles south of San Juan Island has an ever increasing population of tufted puffins. Tufted Puffins are long lived birds: up to 25 years, and they return to the same spot to nest year after year. The monogamous pair raise one chick together. Once that chick has fledged, their job is done. They might linger for awhile while the food supply lasts. They eat small fish. Then they take flight and head out to the open ocean, sometimes 100s of miles offshore.
We had lunch at Smith Island (on the boat) and observed 30+ Tufted Puffins. We also spotted a Long Tail Jaeger, which was a first for many people, and an Ancient Murrelet. Ancient Murrelets are here in the late fall and winter, but not widespread.
Stopping at Bird Rocks, a National Wildlife Refuge, we saw many Brandt Cormorants, black turnstones and surfbirds. A last stop at Chuckanut Rocks revealed a flock of Harlequin Ducks, and Surf Scoters.
Great Blue Heron
Red Tail Hawk
Long Tailed Jaeger
Glaucous Winged Gull
Tufted Puffin 30+
One of our passengers, Erich T., sent us some great photos from our whale watching tour this past Sunday. It was a great, sunny day in the San Juans, with lots of whales seen.