Whale Watching in the Seattle Area

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The Seattle area is one of the best places for whale watching. There are plenty of whale watching tour options that take you out to sea, but there are plenty of places on shore that you just can’t miss. Look out to sea, and if you’re lucky you might spot a whale’s beak in the water or a whale’s tail hitting the top of the waves. If you are really fortunately, you might spot a whale breaching.

Here are some places to watch whales in the Seattle area and resources on how to spot them. There is so much to learn about these majestic marine mammals, while observing them from land. As a bonus, no seasick stomach!

Who’s there (and what do they look like)

First you need to know what you are looking for there. Two organizations in Washington provide excellent information on the whales that roam the Salish Seas. The Whale Trail and the Orca Network educates people about the different pods of whales in the sea through outreach and advocacy.

Learn about the different types of whales

Provided by The Whale Trail, illustrated by Uko Gorter

As you watch the whales, keep an eye out for other marine life

Provided by The Whale Trail, illustrated by Uko Gorter

There are generally five types of whales roaming the waters of the Salish Sea. The Salish Sea encompasses Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia. There are the iconic southern resident killer whales and Bigg’s (transient) killer whales, which are identified by their unique dorsal fins and saddle plates. Then come three other whales, which are the most migratory species: grays, humpback whales and minkes.

Also keep an eye out for other marine life, such as dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions and otters. You can see a full list of whales and sea animals on The Whale Trail website.

Where to go: The best places on land to watch whales in the Salish Sea

San Juan Islands: Lime Kiln State Park

Lime Kiln State Park is known as one of the best places in the world for whale watching. From May to September, three groups of Southern Resident killer whales (groups J, K and L) can be seen, often close to shore. Also keep your eyes peeled for minke whales and other marine life. Families like to visit the lighthouse, the interpretation center and the snack bar, which are open during the summer. While on the island, you can also explore three additional Whale Trail sites.

Also visit the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor and learn about whale bones, conservation, sightings and more. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are free for ages 5 and under, students $5, seniors (65 and over) $6, and generals $10.

Good to know: Getting to San Juan Island requires a ferry ride. The park is approximately nine miles from the Friday Harbor ferry dock. During the summer, it’s best to have a reservation, if you’re driving on the ferry. A discovery pass is required at Lime Kiln State Park.

Whidbey Island

In the spring (March-May), catch a special group of gray whales known as “The Sounders”. They may be feeding on ghost shrimp just off Langley. Then, in the fall, the southern resident killer whales visit Admiralty Inlet. Additionally, orcas and Bigg’s (transient) humpback whales come throughout the year. The Whale Trail has six sites across the island that you can visit for shore viewing.

The island is also home to the Orca Network, a non-profit organization connecting people and whales since 1996. Be sure to visit their free museum in Langley and print out these fun activities for kids. They also have a public Facebook page where a network of volunteers post whale sightings throughout PNW. The organization has also created a map of land locations with links to hydrophones so you can listen to whales underwater.

Ring the bell if you see a whale

If you want more whale watching fun, visit the Langley Whale Center (105 Anthes Ave, Langley) and nearby Whale Bell Park (100 Anthes Ave, Langley). At the park, if you see a whale, ring the bell to let others know.

Good to know: From the south, you can take a ferry to Mukilteo. If you are coming from the north, you can cross Deception Pass Bridge.

Vashon Island/West Seattle

Here are two options for whale watching. For both, fall and winter are the best times to spot southern resident killer whales as they track salmon. Bigg’s orca (transient), harbor seals and otters are usually sighted year-round, and humpback and gray whales occasionally. On Vashon Island, Point Robinson is the official Whale Trail site where families can enjoy beach games and a lighthouse (not currently open for tours). If you wish to stay overnight, two lighthouse keeper accommodations are available for rent.

West Seattle has four fantastic sites: Alki Beach, Charles Richey Viewpoint, Emma Schmitz Overlook and Lincoln Park.

Whale watching takes a lot of patience, so if you’re looking for a way to get your hips going, stop by Whale Tail Playground near Alki Beach.

Good to know: To get to Vashon, take a ferry from the Fauntleroy ferry dock in West Seattle.

Other suggestions on where to go whale watching in the Seattle area:

• Head to Port Townsend, then visit the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC).
• Take a trip to Salt Creek (near Port Angeles) then check out Feiro Marine Life Center.
• Visit Redondo Beach then head to MaST (Marine Science and Technology Center).
• View a map of all California Whale Trail sites in Canada.

Good to know before you go:

  • Set expectations with your children. You may not be able to spot a whale on the day you choose to go, but the fun is in the search.
  • Find out where the whales are on the Facebook page of the Orca network.
  • Check out the viewing guide on The Whale Trail website for helpful tips on where and how to view marine life, as well as responsible monitoring.
  • Bring a pair of binoculars that are lightweight, smaller (easy for kids to hold) and sturdy.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen or rain gear, water and snacks.
  • Lily: Orc Rescue! The true story of an orphan orca, named Springer, by Donna Sandstrom. Donna founded The Whale Trail organization and lives in West Seattle. The book is based on his personal experience rescuing a baby killer whale.

There is more:

Watch whales at Lime Kiln State Park, then spend the weekend there. Here’s how.

Going to Whidbey Island to watch the whales? Then take the hike from Evey’s Landing to the beach.

Don’t stop at whale watching on Vashon Island, check out these amazing places as well.

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