Being in close proximity to an animal that can reach 30 or 40 tons brings a rare perspective on life and is truly unforgettable. Few places in the United States are more ideal for whale watching than the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula and the Salish Sea. This region offers unbeatable land-viewing and boating opportunities to get up close to these marine giants.
The best places to watch whales
Although whales can be spotted almost anywhere along the Olympic Coast, several areas are perfect for spotting these giant sea mammals. May is designated Whale Watching Month in Kalaloch Lodgewhich is part of whale trail, a collection of over 100 viewing locations that stretches from British Columbia south to California. For the best land-viewing opportunities, explore the shores of Second Beach, Rialto, Shi Shi, or Neah Bay, but be sure to plan before you go, as some spots are currently closed to visitors. Other places that provide an excellent viewing platform for whales in the Salish Sea or the Pacific Ocean are Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, Tongue Point Marine Life Sanctuary (also known as Salt Creek Recreation Area), Ruby Beach or Haynisisoos Park. So bring a chair and binoculars and find your spot anywhere along the Olympic Peninsula’s 117.5 km of public coastline.
Whale Watching Tours
There are almost countless options for whale watching tours, ranging from large outfitters to small boats for a quieter experience. We’ve picked out some of the best options to get you started.
If you’re departing from Seattle/Edmonds or Port Townsend, the Puget Sound Express is one of your best options for a boat tour. Their tours vary in length depending on the tour you are taking. Their fleet of four boats will meet your needs and allow you to fully enjoy your experience on the water. Several of their ships are even equipped with a hydrophone, allowing passengers to hear whales talking underwater. Expect to spend between 2 and 5 hours on board. These tours will cost you between $85 and $135 per adult or $65 and $95 for children (2-10). Anyone under the age of 2 gets a free ride! A major draw to taking a tour with the Puget Sound Express is their guarantee to see a whale or they will give you a voucher for a free ride. For those without sea legs, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center offers educational events and exhibits for land lovers.
Island Adventures Whale Watching Company is another boat tour provider that offers guaranteed whale sightings. Tours depart from Anacortes between March and October and from Everett between February and May. Each boat offers heated interior cabins, viewing decks, onboard naturalists, concessions and restrooms to make your experience memorable. Depending on the tour you choose, plan to be on the water for 3-5 hours. While discounts may be available, be sure to budget $109 for adults and $69 for children ages 3-17.
Whale watching season
Whale-watching tours in the Salish Sea typically follow the migration patterns of several species of whales as they move from their rich northern waters used for feeding to their warmer, shallower, and deeper calving grounds. such as the Sea of Cortez in the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. Find these massive creatures on their biannual journey beyond the Pacific Northwest, either between april and may Where october and november. You will also be able to see some of the incredible flora and fauna of the area, such as eagles or other marine mammals such as seals, otters or porpoises.
Bigg’s killer whales (all year)
One of the whale species you are likely to spot is Bigg’s killer whale (Orcinus orc, also known as orca. They use these waters to hunt and feed together. These whales travel in family groups of 4 to 7 and it is estimated that there are over 400 individuals feeding year round in the Salish Sea. Unlike some of the other whale species you might spot here, these whales do not migrate seasonally.
Gray Whale (Spring, Fall)
gray whales (Schrichtius robustus) are known to have the longest migration route of any mammal. They tirelessly travel 10,000 to 14,000 mi (16,093 to 22,531 km) each year, traveling from Alaska to Mexico and back. These noble underwater beasts stop to feed and refuel in the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula.
Humpback Whale (Spring, Fall)
One of the most recognized whale species found all over the world is the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Known as one of the largest mammals on the planet, this animal was nearly hunted to extinction. Thanks to worldwide legal protection and conservation efforts, this species has come back from the brink to be seen and enjoyed from a distance. How lucky are we to have been able to preserve this majestic creature.
Of all the whales that frequent this area, the minke whale (pronounced mink-ee) (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) is the hardest to see. Due to their feeding habits and shy nature, these cetaceans are not frequently seen and little is known about their migration habits. Try your luck on a cruise to see a whale that few humans have the chance to see.
Tips for whale watching
Spending time on a beach or in a boat can expose you to unpredictable weather conditions. In the rainy and sometimes foggy Pacific Northwest, be prepared for a windy and wet period.
what to wear
Be sure to dress for the occasion in layers to stay warm and insulate against the possibility of wind and rain. Although most tours offer sheltered viewing spots, having a rain jacket is not a bad idea. On sunny days, be sure to use sunscreen, as the water can reflect the sun’s rays, increasing the risk of sunburn.
What to bring
Come prepared with snacks and drinks to keep you energized for several hours of cruising on a boat. To get a better view of any wildlife you might encounter, binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens are a great idea.
Where to stay
The Olympic Peninsula is a popular tourist destination and as such is home to a great selection of hotels, campgrounds, bed and breakfasts and Airbnbs. For a comfortable stay on the Pacific coast, head to Kalaloch Lodge. For something a little more rustic, visit one of the many campgrounds located within the park.
When can you see whales in Washington State?
May is the best time to see the whales during their migration, but the National Park Service also recommends April, October, and November as prime times.
What time of day are killer whales most active?
The best time of day is when sunlight is overhead between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Is morning or afternoon best for whale watching?
Morning is the best time of day for whale watching when the water is calmest.
ask a question