Our whale watching tours have been very successful, with sightings of transient orcas, humpback whales, minke whales, and a few gray whales so far. The resident orcas are back as well, and with the weather becoming more and more summerlike each day, now’s a great time to join us on one of our tours! (The chart above shows the locations of our sightings so far this season)
This season turned out to be one of our best ever, with sightings on nearly 95% of our whale watching cruises. We had three different whale watching tours, all of which were popular, with folks enjoying frequent sightings of Orca, Humpback and/or Minke whales. If you came out with us this summer, thank you! We are already getting ready for another great summer in 2018!
Included here are photos taken by Jim Bachman on the last day of the season – what a way to close things out, with a group of Orcas, as well as harbor porpoises, a Stellar sea lion, and a variety of sea birds, including marbled Murrelets.
We are definitely in the midst of prime whale watching season, with great sightings over the past two weeks. We’ve primarily spotted Transient / Bigg’s Orca whales, as well as Humpback and Minke whales. Combined with beautiful, sunny weather it’s been quite a summer, but it’s not over yet. We’re running for a few more weeks, through September 24th, so now is a great time to avoid the crowds and come aboard for a memorable whale watching experience.
The photos here are courtesy of Jim Bachman, who joined us on our Deluxe Whale Watching tour on Sunday, September 3rd – in addition to great viewing of Transient Orcas, we also saw seals and a wide variety of sea birds.
It’s been an amazing, and interesting whale watching season so far. Our success rate for seeing whales on our whale watching tours has never been better – since we started in early May we have seen whales on nearly 98% of our tours. While we have occasionally seen the resident pods of orca whales, most of our sightings have been of transient orcas and humpback whales. Unlike resident orcas, which primarily feed on salmon, transient orca whales feed on larger prey such as harbor seals. The large population of harbor seals in the San Juan Islands has resulted in more transient orcas being “less transient” this summer.
Sightings have been equally good on all three of our whale watching tours – our Deluxe, Express and Evening tours. If you would like to see whales in their natural habitat, with the stunning scenery of the San Juan Islands, now is the perfect time to sign up for a tour!
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.
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.