One of the perks to living in the Pacific northwest (PNW) is marine wildlife–more specifically orcas (or killer whales).
As a local or tourist, it’s still incredible to see whales, so I was excited when Clipper Vacations invited me to join them on a tour. I knew we’d be in good hands as we’ve taken the Victoria Clipper weekend trip a couple years back. It was also perfect timing as my twin sister was visiting Seattle for the first time. Anxious and nervous to provide a trip they wouldn’t forget, I signed us up–four adults and one toddler.
The best time to see whales (orcas and/or humpbacks) are when they are migrating north to Alaska (May) or south to Hawaii (October). However, if you’re familiar with Seattle weather, those months can bring cool, rainy weather, which was on the forecast for our trip in late June.
Almost anywhere you can find locals or tourists, which is very similar to the populations of orca whales you can find in the Salish Sea. Whales referred to as locals are the resident whales and ones migrating are transients.
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Let’s introduce the trip members:
The locals (residents) – Andy and Angela
The locals, Andy, my husband, and myself, normally are found in the mountains or less-crowded areas known to be tourist attractions. The locals live here year-round and know the migration patterns of tourists. However, on this rare occasion, they decided to come out and play. Even though we didn’t see any residents on the tour, we know they are were tucked at home on a typical rainy day.
The tourists (transients) – Bethany, Todd, and Weston
Bethany, my twin sister, her husband, and 20-month old son, Weston, “migrated” to Seattle for a short week vacation to feed off of the local flavors of the PNW. The tourists were greeted to the Salish Sea on their first day in the area by the transient orca whales. Just like the tourists, the whales traveled as a family as they migrated in search of food.
The tour takes an entire day, so it allowed the residents to chat and catch up with the transients. New to walking, my nephew was entertained on the playground of stairs between decks. Fortunately, the weather conditions had most people sitting inside throughout the main voyage to Friday Harbor. We snacked on packed food and occasionally splurged with a few purchases from the boat.
My sister raved about the boat’s naturalist, Justine. She was knowledgable and a great speaker throughout the long tour providing us local factoids about the islands we passed, along with helping passengers identify wildlife.
Photo by Bethany K Photography
This was my second whale watching tour in the northwest. Even though we didn’t see humpback or minke whales, we did see a family of transient whales. Did I mention seeing whales never gets old? As we followed the whales (at a safe distance), I’d run around the boat trying to get another view. This resident was caught up in the moment with pure excitement just as the transients were pointing and waiting for the dorsal fins to break the surface of the choppy water.
Photo by Andy Crampton
It’s also possible to see other types of wildlife like Dall’s porpoises, seals, otters, and bald eagles. The outside viewing deck is on the top of the boat, where the wind can be a little much if the weather isn’t perfect. As whales are spotted, the lower outside decks open up as well. Don’t forget to pack layers, especially a wind-breaking one.
Photo by Bethany K Photography
There’s plenty of seating throughout the boat. We chose the dining deck where the food and gift stand was with a table for the kiddo to eat. Seating is comfortable but can fill up early. We thought we arrived early but all the outer seats on the boat were already taken. I didn’t mind because the window seats were benches and didn’t look as comfortable as the inner seating.
After the whale watching, passengers get roughly 2 hours at Friday Harbor to explore or eat. We grabbed a late lunch and walked around the art shops close to the piers. It was the perfect amount of time to see the town as the rain pushed us into shops for shelter.
Sharing my love of the with my family was definitely a highlight. It was my nephew’s first boat ride, and by the end of his trip, we had him saying boat. I hope they enjoyed the trip as much as I did. Spotting orcas will never grow old and might be the reason why “Free Willy” was one of my favorite movies as a child.
The Tour: Seattle To San Juan Islands Whale Watching & Sealife Search Day Trip
The tour lasts for roughly 12 hours and is suggested to travel with kids starting at the age of 6. Starting early in the morning during rush hour traffic, it’s best to give yourself plenty of time to fight traffic and find a parking garage (Clipper Vacations provides a discount on parking in the garage across the street). Make your way to Pier 69 to check-in. The tour starts at 8:15 a.m. and cruises between the mainland and the many islands in the Puget Sound. A naturalist is onboard to provide local information about towns and islands as the boat passes.
After 3 hours on the boat, some disembark at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island for either an overnight tour or for more time on the island than those who are whale watching. Passengers signed up for whale watching stay onboard for a few more hours as the boat navigates around San Juan Island and crosses into international waters into Canada in search for whales and other prominent wildlife. After a hopefully successful whale watching cruise, all passengers disembark at Friday Harbor around 2:30 p.m. for some island time. To return back to Seattle, the boat departs at 5 o’clock and takes another route back to the city. If you’re lucky, it’s your last chance to see whales as the water is more open than the outbound trip. The ride back is normally more relaxing and somber after a long day and finally ending the trip at 7:45 p.m.
Clipper Vacations offers a variety of trips and tours around the Seattle and Puget Sound area–they even go to Victoria, B.C. We signed up for the day trip to the San Juan Islands combined with whale watching. They provide a return voucher if passengers on the whale watching excursions don’t see one, which definitely benefits residents over transient humans.
Disclosure: This is a “sponsored post.” Clipper Vacations provided discount tickets and tickets to raffle in exchange for writing a review. All opinions and observations are 100% my own.