Seattle Whale Watching 101 | Visit Seattle

By Anna Edlund

There’s nothing quite like seeing Puget Sound’s tallest and most majestic residents from an up close and personal perspective. Although we are lucky enough to spot killer whales, gray whales, and humpback whales year-round in the Pacific Northwest, southern resident killer whales typically pass through the San Juan Islands from May through October. The strait is also home to transient pods (mammal-eating orcas) which make regular rounds in search of harbor seals, sea lions and porpoises for their next meal. With any luck, you’ll likely see one of the two on any given visit.

There are a number of places along the coast to spot whales from shore, and local excursion options include guided kayak and boat trips off the San Juan Islands to catch a boat or seaplane straight to Seattle. Whichever whale watching itinerary you choose, don’t forget a camera!

Courtesy of San Juan Islands Whale and Wildlife Tours

Before you leave

While most outfits guarantee a 90% chance of sighting a whale, you might consider booking an extra trip if it’s high on your to-do list. Some companies offer a free exit if your trip ends without sighting – check the policy before booking.

The whales are listed under federal endangered species law, so many boats keep a respectful distance – the regulated distance for most species are 100 meters; Bigg’s (transient) killer whales are 200 yards away; and endangered southern resident killer whales are 300 meters away. You can find more information here.

Be prepared if you go out on the water. Bring warm diapers, binoculars and a camera. Snacks for the trip won’t hurt either.


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