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.
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.
It’s been a spectacular season so far, with lots of great Orca and Humpback whale sightings, with several days that we’ve had multiple sightings. Summer weather has finally arrived as well, so now is really a great time to go out to the islands on a whale watching cruise. Our deluxe and half-day whale watching tours are available, with reservations recommended – you can call 1-800-443-4552 or book online.
What an amazing season this was – the weather was close to perfect with lots of warm sunshine, but this was topped by the number of whale sightings. With the season over we saw whales on just over 95% of our cruises, and there was a great variety of whales to be seen as well. In addition to the three resident pods of Orca whales (J, K and L pods), we saw lots of transient Orcas, Minke whales, Humpback whales (especially in May and September), Gray whales and towards the end of the season we even saw a Fin whale a few times.
This season also saw the resident group grow by 5 – 4 of these babies just received names (Scarlet, Nova, Sonic and Windsong) and a fifth (L-122) was just born a few weeks ago and will be given a name soon.
Thanks to everyone who joined us on a tour this season – we’re already at work getting ready for next summer!
On our final Bird Cruise for the season we went to Smith Island. Smith Island is the only place left in the San Juan Islands where the elusive Tufted Puffins nest and raise their young. It is a remote island and offers the birds an isolated nesting spot. Tufted Puffins usually have the same mate every year and return to the same nesting burrow. Here in the sandstone bluffs of Smith Island they raise their one chick in deep burrows. Both parents take care of the chick and spend their days carrying fish back to the burrow. Within a few short weeks, the chick will leave the nest and start foraging for itself. The thick kelp beds here provide habitat for the small fish eaten by the puffins. By late summer, the puffins will head out to the open ocean where they will spend their winter.
In previous years, Smith Island has always been a place to go and maybe see a couple of puffins. With this nesting colony becoming firmly established, we see puffins on every trip. There were also many other species of birds seen on this trip. There are certain islands where we always see the colorful Harlequin Ducks and Black Oystercatchers. Rhinocerous Auklets, Pigeon Guillemots, Common Murres, and Marbled Murrelets are other Auk species that we see.
(Photo Credit to Jim Bachman). Jim has been coming out with us on nearly every bird cruise for the last three years. (When Jim is on the boat, I don’t even take my camera out of its case) He has always generously shared his beautiful photos with us.)
It was a great day in the San Juans yesterday, lots of warm sunshine and whales. A former employee, Eric, was onboard and took some great photos which you can view on his blog. We’ve included a few of our faves below.